The Coyote Mountains Wilderness California is a Bureau of Land Management property with a total of 18630 acres that became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1994. The main feature is the Coyote Mountains which occupies a significant area of the wilderness. The range is about two miles wide and extends for 12 miles with a hook shape on the southeast end where the range trends north. The rest of the wilderness area is made up of desert terrain, washes, and low ridges. The Carrizo Badlands and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are located to the north and Carrizo Mountain at 2408 feet and the Painted Gorge are in the non-wilderness area that extends into the BLM lands on the east side.
Coyote Mountains Wilderness California features unique sandstone geological formations that are approximately six million years old. Much of the area consists of sand dunes left over from an ancient sea. Where the wind has hollowed out the sand dunes, wind caves have been formed. The wilderness area attracts recreational users for hiking and wildlife watching. There are no designated trails; however, if you are vigilant you may spot unique wildlife in the region such as the barefoot gecko, jackrabbits, and sparrows, and fossil remnants of marine life from when the Gulf of Mexico occupied the area. Vegetation includes ocotillo and creosote, devil's spine flower, desert holly, rush milkweed, and Mojave mound cactus.
To reach the Coyote Mountains Wilderness California there are two options. You can take Interstate 8 and turn north on Painted Gorge Road which extends to the wilderness boundary or use State Route S2 for 7.2 miles to the Fossil Canyon Road-BLM dirt road 93 on the east side of S2, and head north to the wilderness boundary. There is an information kiosk and parking area at the wilderness boundary here. Please note motorized vehicles are not permitted in the BLM lands and vehicles must be parked 30 feet from the wilderness boundaries. You need a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate these dirt access roads. Having extra water for cooling systems, supplies, tools, and spare tires is a good idea as the roads can be rough and result in mechanical breakdowns,
El Centro, California is a large town located 35 miles to the east and has many amenities and services that can be accessed by Interstate 8, which is a well-paved route for RV travel. Some basic services and amenities can also be accessed in Ocotillo which is just 11 miles south of the BLM lands.
When traveling in this desert area you will encounter high temperatures in the summer months. Be sure to have plenty of water for passengers in case of an emergency. Never leave pets or people in parked vehicles as the temperature in a parked, closed vehicle rises rapidly to dangerous levels.
Primitive backcountry camping is permitted in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness. However, this is a harsh environment, with no reliable water supplies. See How to Camp in the Desert for helpful tips on backcountry camping. There are no motorized vehicles permitted in the BLM lands so campers need to hike into sites.
Neary Mountain Palm Springs Campground is located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and provides primitive camping that is accessible for RVs on a graded dirt road. This is a rugged desert campground surrounded by Cholla cactus which have a reputation for sticking to clothing so keep your distance from these prickly residents. There are no designated campsites, drinking water, or hookups, however, there is a vault toilet. Campfires are permitted in metal containers only, no open ground fires!
The campground is free and accommodates RVs up to 35 feet in length. Open all year on a first-come, first-served basis, there is virtually unlimited room, and the campsites are only lightly used so you shouldn't have a problem getting a spot and enjoying the secluded wilderness area.
The Plaster City OHV areas East and west also provide primitive camping just southeast of the Coyote Mountains Wilderness California on Interstate 8. This is a Bureau of Land Management property and provides free, dispersed, primitive camping with unlimited RV lengths and over 30 sites.
The Bow Willow Campground is a developed campground with 16 campsites located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is located on the southern end of the state park. Because of its small size, the campground gives visitors the feel of a secluded primitive campground while providing some amenities.
The campground is situated where an old Indian village was once sited and relics from the village and cattle ranching activities in the area are located nearby. There are hiking trailheads from the campground that lead into the Carrizo Badlands and to Mountain Palm Springs. There are also four-wheel-drive trails near the campground. Each campsite at Bow Willow Campground has a fire ring, picnic table, and shade ramada.
There are also flush toilets, showers, and drinking water supplies on-site, dependent on the season. The campground is open year-round, although camping here in the summer months is not recommended due to extreme temperatures. The campground accommodates RVs up to 35 feet in length.
Shooting is permitted in BLM lands. You are required to pick up all spent cartridges. Using glass bottles or clay pigeons is discouraged as it is difficult to collect all debris.
The parking lot area at the end of the dead-end road accessing the area is a popular place for shooting, but be respectful of other users, and maintain an adequate distance from access points where other users are located so as not to interfere with other recreational activities. Shooting activities are best engaged in during the off-season when there are fewer hikers and recreational users in the region.
OHV areas abound at the Coyote Mountains Wilderness region. Although OHVs are not permitted in the BLM lands, there are several designated areas nearby to enjoy a little off-roading! Plaster City OHV is just a short distance east on Interstate 8 and has two staging areas east and west. The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - Mortero Wash to the west has a 17-mile OHV trail with packed dirt and some rocky outcroppings to look out for. The Ocotillo Wells OHV area is located to the north and boasts 85000 acres of open desert for OHV explorations.
North of the Coyote Mountain Wilderness California, visitors can take a drive down Borrego Springs Road, near the town of Borrego Springs, and spot the prehistoric creatures stalking the desert landscape. This is a great activity when the weather is too hot or cold for outdoor activities in the region.
Spot a saber-tooth cat, ancient camel, T Rex, and a giant bird of prey sculpture on the roadside. Some creatures are fantastical, such as the large 350-foot arching serpent, while others are replicas of prehistoric animals that once resided in the area. The sculptures are the work of artist Ricardo Breceda and were commissioned by a local philanthropist.
The Coyote Mountains Wilderness California was once an ancient inland sea, the Sea of Cortez. The terrain remaining is characterized by sand dunes and sandstone, raised mountain ranges, and occasional quartz seams. Many fossils remain in the area from the receded sea. Look carefully for sand dollars, snails, oysters, sea biscuits, conch shells, scallops, and tubeworm fossils. It is illegal to remove fossils from the wilderness area so take a camera or sketch pad to record your fossil finds.
There are no marked or maintained trails in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness. However, hikers in the area can follow washes and the bases of dunes and mountains. Loose dirt and sand make hiking a challenge, so ensure you have appropriate footwear for rough loose terrain.
A popular route in the area includes a steep climb up a muddy hill into the wilderness area, follow the old jeep road to the main wash, continue to a second wash and drainage and then climb the path along the slope where you will find marine fossils. Cross two small canyons and follow the trail up the mountain for a spectacular view and some wind caves. Continue southeast around the ridge to the dome-shaped wind cave.
Hike up to the wind caves at the higher elevations to relax and enjoy these unique geological formations. Wind caves in the area were formed by high desert winds carving the fossilized sand dunes and sandstone to create hollowed out cave formations. These caves make interesting destinations in the Coyote Mountains Wilderness California area and are a great place to do some photography, meditation, or just take a rest with shelter from the sun after a strenuous hike.