Agua Caliente and Vallecito Regional Parks
San Diego County, California
Vallecito and Agua Caliente Regional Parks are among 30 facilities administered by California's San Diego County. They are located only 6 miles from each other in the Carrizo Valley Region of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
At Vallecito, the perfect oasis of "little valley," as its Spanish name is translated, has been preserved as a a 71-acre county park built around a reconstruction of the historic Vallecito Stage Station.
Agua Caliente is best know for its heated springs, which have long attract visitors eager to soak in their soothing therapeutic mineral waters. Spectacular vistas and miles of trails that meander through the park's canyons and across its hillsides are additional attractions.
Seasons / Hours
- Open Labor Day through Memorial Day, 24 hours a day.
- Campground Hours: 9:30 am - 9:00 pm, Friday & Saturday; 9:30 am -5:00 pm Sunday-Thursday
Daily Rates & Fees
Day Use: $5.00 per vehicle
Day Use: $5.00/ vehicle (includes pools)
(Please note that fees are subject to change, so check with park authorities for the most recent rates.)
Hot Spring Pools at Agua Caliente
8am to sunset, daily
8:00 am - 5:30 pm, Sunday - Thursday
8:00 am -5:30 pm, Friday & Saturday (non-campers)
8:00 am -8:30 pm, Friday & Saturday (campers only)
- There are no food or supplies within the parks There is a small general store, just outside Agua Caliente on route S-2.
Located at the extreme western edge of the Sonoran Desert, these two parks experience extremely hot summers and mild winters. For this reason, the parks are closed between June 1 and September 1 each year.
Both parks are located in Earthquake Valley on California's County Road S-2 between SR 78 and Intertate 8. These two parks are completely surrounded by the Blair Valley Region of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
For the Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years, for Spanish conquistadors, for explorers and soldiers such as Kit Carson and General Stephen Kearny, for emigrants in the early part of this century who still traveled by wagon, Vallecito has always been a green refuge in an often harsh land.
Countless generations of Native Americans camped and lived at Vallecito, because of the natural springs along the earthquake fault here. But a single generation of 19th Century Americans left indelible impressions. One example, the stage station, is testimony to the most dynamic decade of this area's history. First used as an army supply depot, then as a rest stop on the "Jackass Mail" between San Antonio and San Diego, the building was busiest during the lifetime of the Butterfield Overland Stage (1858-61). The stage line carried mail and passengers over the 2,800 miles separating Tipton, Missouri and San Francisco in 25 days. It was said to be the longest stage ride in the world. Note sometimes it is closed for the summer - Phone Number: 760.765.1188
Stage stations scattered along the route offered the weary passengers a brief meal and rest as the horses were changed. Then it was on to the next stop on the 24-hour-a-day journey. Vallecito was a favorite such station, since it was the first place with greenery that travelers saw after crossing the hostile desert west of Yuma. But the Civil War ended the southern mail route, and Vallecito went into a slow decline.
In 1934 San Diego County purchased the crumbling building and surrounding land, and rebuilt the station using original materials. But it's not only human history that is preserved here. The extensive vegetation in the small valley supports abundant wildlife, including foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, and many reptiles. Birds are especially attracted to the mesquite and acacia thickets; among the avian residents are desert specialties such as cactus wrens and black-throated sparrows.
Centuries ago, the Kumeyaay Indians were initially attracted to the springs at what we now call Agua Caliente ("hot water" in Spanish). Spanish explorers, miners, then pioneers, soldiers and prospectors eventually made their way here as well.
The seismic activity that long ago shaped the Tierra Blanca Mountains to the west and created the fault that runs beneath both parks, also enabled water to come to the surface and form the park's natural springs.
A wide variety of wildlife is attracted to the springs, including foxes, Coyotes, Bobcats and Mountain Lions. The abundant water supply also supports lush plant life, such as mesquite, willows, Washingtonia palms, and acacias. Depending on the season's rainfall, wildflowers and succulents some times put on a colorful show in early spring.
Pet Fees: Pets are $1.00 per night (note that dogs are not allowed at Quail Gardens or Volcan and Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserves). Horses are $2.00 per night at Sweetwater Summit, collected at the park upon check-in.
Learn about the history of the Vallecito Stage Station by touring the reconstruction and reading the many exhibits.
Two naturally fed pools provide different ways of enjoying Agua Caliente's hot springs. A large outdoor pool is kept at its natural 96°, and an indoor pool is heated and outfitted with Jacuzzi jets. Spring-fed, warm showers are also available.
A small picnic area is perfect for day users. Hiking trails, horseshoe pits, shuffleboard courts, and a children's play area offer plenty to do in the 910-acre park.
Surrounding both Vallecito and Agua Caliente is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest state park in the U.S.
There are 44 developed campsites at Vallecito Park (with table, fire ring and nearby water) available on a first-come first-served basis. The Youth Area is reservable at 858-565-3600.
Many of the 140 campsites have full and partial hookups for RVs. Individual campsites may be reserved 3 to 12 weeks in advance at 858-565-3600. There is a $3.00 reservation fee per site. A dump station is located in the park.
Rules, Regulations, Precautions
- Camping is allowed only in designated areas
- Site maximum of 8 people
- Two tents per site, maximum
- Camping limit 14 days
- Quiet Hours are 10 pm to 7am
- Stay limit is 14 nights within a 30 day period
- Generators are not allowed at Agua Caliente
- Checkout time 1:00 pm
- Fires must be confined to existing stoves or fire rings.
- No off-road vehicle use allowed in the parks.
- Firearms, fireworks and weapons are not allowed in San Diego Community Parks.
- Pets are permitted at Agua Caliente and are allowed at Vallecito. There is great wildlife and it is an oasis. So keep your dog on a leash at all times. Don’t leave unsupervised. Be dog sensitive.
- All persons under 18 must be accompanied by a legally responsible adult.
- All plants, animals, natural features and archeological resources are protected and may not be damaged, injured or removed.
- DesertUSA Trading Post
- Vallecito Stage Coach Days
- John Butterfield & the Butterfield Overland Mail
- Villager Peak Walk , Part 1
- Villager Peak Walk, Part 2
- Elephant Trees Trail
- A Desert Valentine - Anza-Borrego
- Last Refuge of the Desert Bighorn Sheep (1 of 3)
- The Plight of Anza-Borrego's Desert Bighorn Sheep (2 of 3)
- Last Rites for a Desert Bighorn (3 of 3)
- Fish Creek Walk
- Was Pegleg's Gold Found?
- Fossil Hunting in the Yuha Basin
- A Visit To Fossil Canyon and Painted Gorge
- The Ghost Mountain Experiment: Marshal & Tanya South
Cities & Towns
- Borrego Springs, California: 44 miles northeast.
- Julian, California: 38 miles west
- San Diego, California: 95 miles west.
- Ocotillo, California: 25 miles south.
- El Centro, California: 54 miles east.
- Warner Springs, California: 49 miles north.
Parks & Monuments
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Adjoins these parks.
- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park: 48 miles west.
- Palomar Mountain State Park: 100 miles west.
- San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park: 60 miles west
Recreation & Wilderness Areas
- Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area: 50 miles east.
- Imperial Sand Dunes: 70 miles east .
- Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge: 80 miles east
- Salton Sea State Recreation Area: 125 miles east .
Historic & Points of Interest
- Tumco/Hedges Ghost Town (BLM): 85 miles east.
SEARCH THIS SITE
The Saguaro Video
The Saguaro often begins life in the shelter of a "nurse" tree or shrub which can provide a shaded, moister habitat for the germination of life. The Saguaro grows very slowly -- perhaps an inch a year -- but to a great height, 15 to 50 feet.
Desert Food Chain Video
A food chain constitutes a complex network of organisms, from plants to animals, through which energy, derived from the sun, flows in the form of organic matter and dissipates in the form of waste heat.
Prickly pear cactus Video
Prickly pear cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest. Most prickly pears have large spines on their stems and vary in height from less than a foot to 6 or 7 feet.
Click here to see current desert temperatures!