Mushroom caves is a true hidden gem in San Diego. It used to be off limits to the public but now it’s open, so set your GPS to N Rio Ave, Solana Beach and park at the end of the street where you’ll see the trail head. (see below for another longer route) From here you’ll be heading inland for a short walk to the caves. Soon you’ll get a choice of doing the ‘Moderate’ or the ‘Strenuous’ route. We did the strenuous route twice in less than an hour. It’s short and fairly easy. If you’re any kind of claustrophobic, then choose moderate. If you choose the strenuous path you’ll be coming down the moderate path so you wont miss anything there.
The start of the strenuous path is wide and easy to navigate. The beauty and magic of this place is impossible to portray in photos. You will find small caves like the one on the left side in the photos above. You can climb up into them, but just keep in mind that this is all sandstone and it will get slippery. Getting back down might be more of a challenge.
The canyon gets really tight and there are a few steep spots where you have to step up pretty high. Bringing large dogs is not a good idea and smaller dogs will need help. (There are signs that dogs are not allowed) There is a straight up ladder that they will not be able to climb, so if you can’t carry your dog, don’t bring it. Kids of all ages should be able to do this but might need a boost up a few times.
This Wow experience will leave you mesmerized… The patterns are not only very beautiful but also so delicate in their shapes and wavy designs.
The delicate sandstone canyon walls unfortunately invite easy carvings, and everywhere you look you’ll see words and drawings. This obviously takes away from the beauty. But the area is easily accessible and it seems that places like that get targeted a lot. Mushroom caves were once one of those best kept secrets and used as a party spot for locals and people who liked to do graffiti. The whole area became run down and was off limits to the public, but thanks to a large donation by a woman known as Annie, and groups of volunteers, the canyon was cleaned up, restored and opened to the public. You can still see a bit of paint if you look closely. The carvings are still there though and it seems new ones appear constantly.
Bunnies… but also snakes. It’s very tempting to look up all the time but watch your step too.
At the end you’ll find this ladder that will take you to the very top.
And from here you’ll get a great view of the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and the Pacific Ocean. When you’re done you can follow one of many side trails to the reserve and look at ducks and other wildlife there.
If you’re up for a longer walk/ hike and want to see more of the lagoon then walk in from Cardiff by the Sea where there’s a tunnel that goes under the train tracks. Small trails inland from there will lead right to N Rios where you’ll join the path from there the rest of the way.
A Few Things…
– Dress in layers. It can be chilly inside the canyon and very hot at the top.
– Wear shoes with a good grip. Sand stone is slippery.
– No parking lot. Street parking only. It fills up quickly so arrive early and please be respectful of the homeowners there.
– Don’t bring a lot of gear. It simply wont fit!
– Bring patience and lots of it. Especially if you’re arriving later in the day and there are more people. The tight path can be a challenge to some. There’s no passing and no turning around once you enter.
I’ve been willing to hike many, many miles to see waterfalls but here, at Ortega falls, you only have to walk (I wouldn’t call it a hike) a very short distance from the turnout/parking lot to be met by lots of clear running water and multiple falls. I’d say it took about 10 minutes only because we stopped to take photos.
As soon as you park you’ll hear the playful and roaring sound of water rushing down the rocks and there will be no doubt as to which direction to go even with the sign gone.
A spooky and haunted history surrounds this area. Not only have many bodies been hid here along the road (some by serial killers), but legend has it that a clown… a CLOWN!! haunts this highway. Many locals claim to have seen him and it is said that he appears to be a statue, but as you move closer to take a look he moves further and further away. Don’t get too close though… they say he can mess with your soul.
Dead Man’s Curve and Blood Alley are just a few of many nicknames Ortega Hwy carries. It is said to be the most dangerous road in the state and many accidents happen here, so needless to say, be really careful.
We decided to get to the falls from Lake Elsinore. It’s a beautiful drive up a winding mountain road and it’s fairly short. The falls are not marked, but Google Maps will get you to the turnout where you can park.
Most people head onto the right path from the parking area which will take you to the largest of the three falls (the middle one). We went to the left to start at the bottom and after trying a few intertwined, rugged and at times steep paths, we were faced by what seemed like endless sets of incredible cascades and pools scattered in between large boulders and rocks.
Numerous mini waterfalls tinkled softly leaving the impression that nothing exciting had happened above them, but the roar from above gave away that secret; inspiring us to want to climb our way to the very top.
The lowest of the three falls:
The waterfall in the middle is about 35 feet. (pictures right below here) Climbing up the rocks to each level is not terribly hard. It can be done by kids and dogs with a little help here and there.
After the largest waterfall you can climb further up to a smaller one. The water is much deeper and the rocks in the water seemed more slippery there. But this area is quieter and a perfect spot for resting.
Being that Ortega falls is so close to the highway and easily accessible, there is, sadly, a lot of graffiti. Some more interesting than other. Some spots have been painted over a few times but that task appears to be an endless battle. No red balloons…
The waterfall at the top:
One more climb and you’ll be above the falls. From here you can find many small and not so traveled paths back to the parking lot. You may feel a bit lost at times but you will get there!
There are numerous colorful treasures other than graffiti surrounding the waterfalls
We didn’t get to see any clowns, but had an amazing day rock climbing and exploring all the many pools Ortega falls has to offer.
A few tips…
– Wear shoes with a good grip. It can be slippery
– Winter and spring are the best times to go to see the falls. This area is known to be dry the rest of the year, but still fun for rock climbing.
– Don’t be afraid to go barefoot. The water is amazing
Many, many years ago before the Anza-Borrego desert was a desert it was bustling with life, forests and lakes. Fossils from a large variety of animals like saber-tooth cats, mammoths and even camels, have been found in the area.
A lot of these animals that have called Anza-Borrego their home are now recreated into large, extremely impressive and very artistic, metal sculptures made by Ricardo Breceda. Over 130 of them, and even though word around Borrego is that no more are being made, sometimes new ones still pop up.
Combining the colorful history of the area with myth Ricardo also created fantasy sculptures made from pure imagination like the huge 350 ft sea serpent, you can see above here, swimming happily in the desert sand. If you’re lucky you’ll even spot a few historical characters like cowboys, Native Americans and even a full sized stagecoach. Every single one of these sculptures are worth a visit. Be ready to travel on sandy roads and walk a lot.
If you’re interested in more on this artist there’s a book out called “Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist” https://www.amazon.com/Ricardo-Breceda-Accidental-Diana-Lindsay/dp/0932653995
The Sea Serpent up close
The drive to the desert can be very entertaining. You can stop at a camel farm, Oasis Camel Dairy, for camel milk chocolate, shortly after that you’ll spot buffalo, visit that tall guy below here and the store he stands next to for refreshments (you’re going to want to bring a lot of drinks and snacks with you) and if you have time, a few stops and short hikes in the mountains can surprise you with incredible views.
A few tips…
-If at all possible, go during the week. Weekends can be very crowded in Borrego Springs especially during spring when the wildflowers bloom.
-You’ll be driving on unpaved roads, make sure you’re in a vehicle that can handle that.
-Bring lots of food and drinks. The restaurants can be very crowded.
-Fudge at The Fudge Factory in town.
-If you’re staying for dinner around the area and the waits are not too long, try Coyote Steakhouse or you can take the 78 up to Julian and have some great apple pie for desert…