The Slot is one of the best hikes to do in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It’s also one of the most popular, so there are some very important things you need to know before you go.
In this guide, we cover the best hiking routes (there is more than one way to do this hike), and important planning details, such as how to get here, how much does it cost, and more.
The Slot Hiking Stats
Distance: 1 to 2.2 miles
Total Ascent: 330 feet (if you do the full loop)
Length of Time: 1 to 2 hours
Map of The Slot hiking trail. This is the full loop. To do this hike, start at the trailhead and hike the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. You can hike the entire loop or turn around after hiking through the slot canyon.
The Slot Elevation Profile (the full loop)
There are two different ways to do this hike: out-and-back and as a loop. We will discuss these two routes in more detail later in this guide, but if you want to take the shortest, fastest route, hike to the far end of the slot canyon and then retrace your steps back through the canyon to the parking lot. The total hiking distance comes in at about 1 mile.
If you hike the full loop, the total distance is just over two miles. You are not repeating any part of the trail (although hiking the slot canyon would be just as much fun the second time), and you get some great views of the surrounding area from the hiking trail.
Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
How to Get to The Slot in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The Slot is located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near Highway 78.
On Google Maps, the trailhead is labeled Slot Canyon Trail, so you can simply type this in and follow Google directions to this point.
The trailhead is located at the end of Buttes Pass Road. Note: the park brochure calls this road Buttes Pass Road but the northern portion of this road is labeled as Borrego Mountain Wash on Google. From Highway 78, look for a dirt road with a small sign that reads “Buttes Pass.” This road is 2 miles long and it is a gravel road that is suitable for standard vehicles.
The road leads to the parking lot. There are restrooms here as well as a pay station.
The Slot parking lot
How Much Does it Cost to Hike The Slot
There is a $10 day use fee per vehicle to hike The Slot, or visit the other sites in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
In the parking lot, there is a pay station. There are envelopes that you insert your $10 fee (cash only and there is no way to get change here…unless you can get it from another hiker).
Fill out the envelope with your information, including the make and model of your vehicle. Detach the parking pass (the tab on the envelope). Insert the envelope, with your payment, into the black box and put the parking pass on your dashboard. This is your proof of payment and it will cover any other sites you visit on this same day.
You can also pay the fee using the App (there is a sign next to the pay station with information on how to do this). However, cellular service is spotty so I wouldn’t rely on this. Make sure you have $10 just in case you don’t have cellular service.
Get Here Early!
This is very important.
There is now crowd control at The Slot.
During our visit, a park ranger was stationed on Buttes Pass Road and was turning cars away once the main parking lot filled. On our visit (end of February 2022), this started around 9:45 am.
I recommend getting here before 9 am but even earlier is better. We arrived at 8:30 and there were just a few cars in the parking lot.
By getting here early, not only will you get a parking space, but The Slot will be less crowded. Many people do this hike out-and-back and the two-way traffic can create traffic jams.
Hiking The Slot
The trailhead is located next to the parking lot. Below is a view of the trailhead.
The trail briefly heads uphill before making a turn to the left and dropping down into the slot canyon. Despite what you might have read online, this trail is now well-marked and easy to follow.
At first, the walls are low and the canyon is wide. It doesn’t take long until you enter the best part of the slot canyon. Walls of siltstone rise up around you. As you head deeper into the canyon, The Slot will narrow, the walls become scalloped and curving, making this a thrilling place to explore.
As you hike through the slot canyon, you will have to squeeze through a few tight spots and do some easy rock scrambling. If you are here with kids, they should do just fine, and their smaller size might make it even easier for them.
Here are a few more photos of The Slot.
There is one point where you will rock scramble up and over an obstacle. You climb a little higher for this view down into the canyon.
Approaching the end of the slot canyon.
Once the canyon widens and the walls get shorter, you are approaching the end of the slot canyon. At this point, you have a choice to make.
Hiking The Slot Out-and-Back
If you choose to turn around at the end of the slot canyon, the total hiking distance is 0.8 to 1 miles (depending on where you turn around) with a total ascent of 100 feet. It will be an uphill walk back to the parking lot.
If it is crowded, consider hiking the full loop rather than going out-and-back. This will cut down on the number of people in the slot canyon and make it a better experience for everyone. It can be tricky in some spots, passing other hikers in the canyon.
We chose to keep going. Sure, hiking back through the slot canyon would be lots of fun, but we were curious about the rest of the hiking trail. Plus, it only adds on one mile.
Hiking The Slot as a Loop
Once you exit the slot canyon, continue down the wash. At this point, the trail is deep gravel and you are totally exposed to the sun. In fact, there is zero shade for the rest of the hike.
When the wash meets up with the Jeep road, turn left to walk this road back to the parking lot. You know you are in the right spot if you see a steep, sandy road heading uphill to the top of a plateau. This is also the hiking trail.
This is the worst part of the hike. It’s a short but strenuous hike up this hill and the deep sand makes things even harder. But once at the top, the views are very nice and it’s a flat walk back to the parking lot.
Looking down the Jeep road from the top of the hill.
It may not be that exciting, hiking along a Jeep Road, but we loved the views from this part of the hike.
View from the Jeep road
The Jeep road. In the distance is the parking lot for The Slot.
The Jeep Road meets up with the parking area, ending the hike. The entire loop is 2 miles long.
FLASH FLOODS: Do not do this hike if rain or thunderstorms are in the area. These can create flash foods, which can be dangerous, or even deadly, if you are in a slot canyon.
What to Bring
Hiking shoes. You can also get by with a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes for this hike.
Water and snacks. Bring 1 liter of water in the summer.
Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. You will be in the shade while hiking through the slot canyon. If you choose to do the full loop, you will be exposed to the sun for about 1.5 miles of the hike.
Camera. Even a smartphone will do.
Pack all of this in a small backpack. A large backpack will make it difficult to hike through the narrower sections of the slot canyon.
Don’t forget your $10 cash to pay the park fee!
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
If you have any questions about how to hike The Slot canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to California:
ANZA-BORREGO DESERT: How to Spend One Day in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
JOSHUA TREE: Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park
JOSHUA TREE: How to Hike the Hall of Horrors in Joshua Tree National Park
SAN DIEGO: Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego
MOJAVE DESERT: Top 10 Things to Do in the Mojave Desert National Preserve
DEATH VALLEY: The Complete Guide to Death Valley National Park
USA ROAD TRIP: Best USA Road Trips: 18 Ideas for Your Next Big Adventure
YOSEMITE: Everything You Need to Know to Hike Half Dome
KINGS CANYON & SEQUOIA: The Perfect One Day Itinerary for Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks
CALIFORNIA TRAVEL GUIDE: All of Our Articles and Guides about California
Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.
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