Updated: Feb 20
There's more to Baja than pristine beaches and surf breaks with perfect barrels. For those willing to venture off the beaten path, a series of hidden palm oases awaits, hidden in the rugged canyons and arroyos of the Sierra Juarez and Sierra de San Pedro Martir mountains.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 301 miles, 5-10 days
Season: Year round, but October - May recommended to avoid excessive heat.
Technical Rating: Mostly green, but some of the wash and canyon trails that lead to oases can get rocky and moderately technical. Avoid driving on Laguna Salada when the lakebed is wet or muddy.
Typical Terrain: Well graded dirt roads on dry lake beds, sandy washes, and some rocky jeep trails.
Recommended Vehicle: Truck/SUV with 4x4 and AT tires.
Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s will be able to manage the main route, but may struggle with some of the moderately technical trails that lead to some of the oases.
Alternative Routes: n/a Passports, Permits & More: You will need a passport and Mexican vehicle insurance to cross the US-Mexico border. Check Baja Bound for the lowdown on traveling in Mexico.
For those seeking to explore the interior of Baja, the Oases of Baja Trail is the perfect introduction to what lies inland from the sea. Yes, we know Baja is famous for its seafood, tacos, charming villages and perfect surf breaks. But beyond the wild and rugged coastline lies an interior with towering mountains, hidden hot springs, and palm oases. The route begins in northern Baja, just outside of Mexicali, in the Laguna Salada Basin (DP2), which translates as "salty lake". Thirty feet below sea level, Laguna Salada sits on a hotbed of seismic activity. The San Andreas fault sits nearby, and it was the epicenter of the 7.2 magnitude Baja California earthquake in 2010. To the east of Laguna Salada sits the Sierra Juarez, and to the south of the Sierra Juarez, lies the mighty Picacho del Diablo (elev. 10,157) and the Sierra de San Padro Martir mountains. The creeks, streams and springs within the domineering mountains and canyons feed lush palm oases. The playa of Laguna Salada is a favorite route for many of the off road races through Baja, and for good reason, you can drive at warp speed on the playa! Some travelers opt to drive on one of the roads that cuts north-south through the playa, while others prefer to make good time and follow the flight of the crow. Whatever you choose, you should find yourself making good time on this section of the route, save for the time spent exploring canyons and oases. You may have noticed that the GPX track doesn't feature tracks to every oases. And while you can drive to a very close proximity to most of the oases, the roads, paths, and washes may change from one season to the next. You'll want to bring those hiking boots and brush up on your map reading skills, as you'll need them to reach some of the more obscure oases. The first oasis on the route is Cantu Palms (DP1), which can be reached by following the wash to the waypoint (your first test at navigating off the main route!). Next up is Guadalupe Canyon Oases, which is by far the most well known oasis along the route and is actually a private campground. Don't worry, this one is easy to find and you can drive all the way to the campground without issue. While you'll need to pay a fee to stay at Guadalupe Canyon, the facilities and soaking baths and hot springs are well worth it! Unlike Guadalupe Canyon, you'll most likely have seldom encounters with other people while visiting the other oases. South of Guadalupe Canyon lie the Vibora Canyon Oases, which are a bit trickier to find given their distance from the main route. You'll need to go on foot to reach the Vibora oases, and if you're lucky you may even stumble upon the petroglyphs up one of the canyons. At the southern end of Laguna Salada sits el Palomar (another one that requires hiking) and El General's Villa (DP7). Rumor has it that a general from the Mexican army was building a villa, but was imprisoned before it could be completed. The ruins El General's Villa remain and are certainly worth the visit. As you make your way south, if you don't have a long range tank or extra jerry cans, you may want to consider bailing for fuel. Look for the waypoint "road to gas" and follow the road east to highway and then backtrack to the route. As you make your way south crossing highway 3 the Sierra Juarez gives way to the Sierra de San Pedro Martir mountains. The mountains create a dark and brooding presence over el Valle Chico, which sits nearly 10,000 feet below Baja's highest peak, Picacho del Diablo (DP8). Like Laguna Salada, you should expect to travel an expedited pace through Chico Valle given its flat, expansive nature. Parral Canyon and Matomi Canyon Oasis are both worth a visit. Parral is more challenging to reach compared to Matomi. Matomi Canyon also features a nice waterfall and swimming hole. If you're feeling adventurous, you can try your chances by following the Matomi Wash back to highway 5 and Baja's eastern coastline. We should note this is not part of the official route, so make sure you plan in advance if you plan to attempt Matomi Wash. We strongly recommend searching "matomi wash" on Youtube before you jump in head first! This trail is a bit of a crapshoot, as some years the sand covers a series of large boulders, and other years, the boulders become exposed creating a moderately technical trail that would be best suited for vehicles with 2" lifts and 33" tires or larger. The "official" route follows the much mellower Parral Canyon trail back towards the coast. Canon el Parral follows a winding wash for many miles before the route passes the old Sulphur Mine (DP14), which is used as a common navigational reference point among the locals. While the route officially ends at the beautiful Percebu Beach, we still think visiting El Valle de los Gigantes (DP17) is worth it! Valle de los Gigantes features some of the largest saguaro cacti in the world. A fully mature saguaro cactus is impressive an impressive sight, but the size of these cacti are truly something else.
The inland portion of this route from Laguna Salada down to Matomi Canyon is littered with dozens of canyons and washes that also make for spectacular campsites. Guadalupe Canyon is a favorite campground (privately owned and comes with a fee) among those traveling the Laguna Salada corridor. Many of the ranchos along the route also offer camping-- don't be scared to ask even if it's not advertised.
DP1 - Cantu Palms
DP2 - Laguna Salada Playa
DP3 - Old Olive Tree Plantation
DP4 - Guadalupe Canyon Oasis
DP5 - Vibora Canyon
DP6 - El Palomar Oasis
DP7 - El General's Villa
DP8 - Picacho del Diablo
DP9 - El Diablo's Canyon Oasis
DP10 - Agua Caliente Oasis
DP11 - El Berrendo Oasis
DP12 - Parral Canyon Oasis
DP13 - Matomi Canyon Oasis
DP14 - Old Sulphur Mine
DP15 - Estero Percebú Sandbar
DP16 - Oh Shit Dip!
DP17 - Valle de los Gigantes
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (NatGeo Baja, Gaia base layer)
Download GPX files
TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.