Updated: Nov 10, 2020
For those who aren't blessed with months on end to explore Baja, the TSE Trail is the perfect opportunity to explore and discover the northern Baja backcountry. Why TSE? Well it's because the route travels through the cities of Tecate, San Felipe and Ensenada.
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 583 miles, 6-12 days
Season: Year round, but Oct - May recommended. Snow can occur during the winter months in the mountains. We recommend checking with Constitution 1857 NP and/or Sierra de San Pedro Martir NP regarding road conditions leading to their parks.
Technical Rating: Green to Blue. While the majority of the route can be easily traversed in a crossover with AWD, there are sections which are susceptible to seasonal erosion where a truck or SUV with 4x4 is required.
Typical Terrain: Graded dirt roads, sandy tracks, and eroded jeep tracks, and some pavement (400+ miles of dirt).
Recommended Vehicle: Truck/SUV w/ 4x4 and AT tires.
Adventure Vans: Yes! Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage most, if not all of the route. Again, seasonal conditions and erosion come into play. Recommended Gear: An air compressor (you'll want to air down on the sandy roads near San Felipe), a full size spare tire, and a tire patch and plugging kit. Baja is notoriously hard on tires.
Alternative Routes: n/a Passports, Permits & More: You will need a passport and Mexican vehicle insurance to cross the US-Mexico border. Check Bajabound.com for the low down on vehicle travel in Mexico.
While there is a small group of adventurers that have months on end to explore Baja's vast deserts, mountains, and beaches, most of us are relegated to a matter of days, or maybe 2-3 weeks at best. This route is for those people, who want to maximize the Baja experience in a week or two. And if you don't have an entire week, well consider tackling a portion of the route- hopefully this guide can help identify the experience you're looking for. The route can be broken down into four separate legs. The first leg from Tecate travels through the Sierra Juarez, the second departs the mountains for the sandy lowlands, playas and beaches surrounding San Felipe, the third section ascends back into the highlands of the Sierra del San Pedro Martir mountains, and the last leg hugs the coastal headlands and secret surf spots along Baja's west coast, ultimately concluding on the cliff's above the ocean just north of Ensenada. So whether you're looking for a bit of alpine hiking, culinary exploits (of the taco and seafood variety of course), sunbathing, or surfing, this route has got you covered. We begin our journey in Tecate, which sits between Baja's two largest cities, Tijuana and Mexicali. It was here, in 1943 that Tecate beer was founded. Tecate also happens to be the starting point for the well known bikepacking route, the Baja Divide. Bikepackers travel up to 1700+ miles to reach Cabo under the volition of their own power. These guys and gals are hardcore, and would certainly appreciate a cold cerveza if you come across them. From Tecate, burn the pavement to the northern tip of the Sierra Juarez.
The Sierra Juarez mountains loom over the dried lake bed of Laguna Salada, San Felipe, and the Sea of Cortez. Don't expect to see a lot of travelers on this portion of the route until you reach Constitution 1857 National Park (DP6). The granite boulders are exquisite in the Sierra Juarez, with many hidden campsites and side trails to explore. As you ascend the mountains, the desert lowlands give way to forests of pine and oak. For the most part, the road through this section of the route tends to be in relatively good condition, but keep in mind, most dirt roads and trails in Baja are seldom maintained, and conditions in the desert can deteriorate rapidly from heavy precipitation. There are a number of viewpoints (miradors) along this section of the route, including Octopup's (DP2) hideout and Mirador Cañon del Tajo (DP3). At higher elevations, the Sierra Juarez (and Sierra de San Pedro Martir to the south) does see occasional snow. Laguna Hanson (DP5) and the surrounding pine forest is a favorite stop for Mexican tourists visiting and hiking Constitution 1857 National Park. The route also happens to have a decent amount of history, and passes a number of missions, and in some cases, what remains of them. Before the Spanish missionaries built missions in California, they were building missions across Baja California. The first of these missions you will pass, is Mision Santa Catarina Virgen y Martir, established in 1797. Only the very scant remains of the Mission can be found today. Not far from the mission, the trail meets highway 3, which takes you to San Felipe via highway 5 once near the Sea of Cortez.
The S in TSE stands for San Felipe, which happens to be a favorite destination among the off road recreationist community. Expect to see a lot of 4x4s, ATVs, side-by-sides, motos, dune buggies, and anything else capable of traversing the desert trails and beaches. There are a number of great beachfront campgrounds in the San Felipe area-- just don't expect to have the place to yourself like in the Sierra Juarez. We recommend at least spending a day in San Felipe exploring the town, its locals, and the local eateries. Theres a good chance the locals or a fellow traveller will fill you in on some of the local secrets of the area, especially of the off road and camping variety. Before departing San Felipe, be sure to top of your tank, as the next fuel along the route isn't available until you reach Camalu, along the Baja's west coast. As you head west along the sandy tracks of the flatlands and playas, the Sierra de San Pedro Martir dominates the skyline. Standing at an elevation of 10,157 feet, Picacho del Diablo (Devil's Peak) is the highest point in Baja. It's said that you can see both the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean from its summit on a clear day. Much of the track west of San Felipe is dusty and sandy. Below Picacho del Diablo sit's the dried lake bed of playa del diablo, which leads to a number of oases in the canyons of the Sierra de San Pedro Martir (check out the Oases of Baja Trail). The route backtracks along highway 3 as it ascends into the mountains. Mike's Sky Rancho (DP14) is a favorite stop and lodging location among the off road crowd. We highly encourage all travlers to at least make a short stop at Mike's, but you should seriously consider staying the night. Mike's also happens to be adjacent to one of the few trout streams in Baja-- yes, there's trout in Baja! You'll likely encounter more vehicle in the vicinity of Mike's Sky Rancho. Next up is Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park (DP15), and the spectacular viewpoint from Mirador el Altar (DP17), which does entail a short hike. It's along this leg of the route that your'e most likely to encounter snow during the winter months, as the route climbs to an elevation of 9,200 feet just below the observatory. The road descending the western flanks of the Sierra de San Pedro Martir is mostly dirt, and doesn't see much traffic. Your first opportunity to refuel is in pueblo of Camalu. It's here that you'll begin to encounter the beach bums who flock to Baja for its winter swell and what seems like an endless supply of surf breaks. The section from Camalu north to Punta San Jose is littered with dozens of oceanfront camp sites. Some like Coyote Cal's are professionally run campgrounds, while most sites tend to be unmanaged dispersed campsites that require no form of payment. Once you reach highway 1 in San Tomas, the rest of the route is pavement, but there's still some great places to see and experience. Capo Bando, which forms the southern barrier of All Saints Bay features La Bufadora. A world famous sea blowhole that's capable of blowing ocean water 100' into the air. About 12 miles west of Capo Bando sits Todos Santos island, famous for its massive swell which attracts big wave surfers from across the globe. The route passes through Ensenada, the E in TSE. Ensenada is the third largest city in Baja, and like San Felipe, is extremely friendly to the off road crowd. Ensenada widely known as the start and finish to the various Baja races, like the Baja 1000 (although other cities like Mexicali have served this purpose in the past). Compared to the quaint pueblos and fishing villages to its south, Ensenada seems like a sprawling metropolis. The route concludes at Mirador Salsipuedes (DPxx), which provides a truly breathtaking view of Salsipuedes Bay and the coastline to the south. If you've got a drone with you, be sure to arrive to Mirador Salsipuedes with your batteries fully charged-- this place is awesome!
Baja is a wild place with what seems like an infinite list of backcountry and beachfront campsites. This route is no different, but always be respectful of private property. Locals tend to be friendly and accommodating. Don't be shy when asking ranchers or other locals about camping accommodations, you may be surprised what you discover if you just ask.
The granite boulder fields of the Sierra Juarez (explore the side roads)
Playa del Sol
Rancho Punta Estrella
Mike's Sky Rancho
The endless number of oceanfront sites north of Camulu
DP1 - Tecate
DP2 - Octopup's Hideout
DP3 - Mirador Cañon del Tajo
DP4 - Rancho los Gavilenes
DP5 - Laguna Hanson
DP6 - Constitucion de 1857 National Park
DP7 - Mision Santa Catarina Virgen y Martir
DP8 - San Felipe
DP9 - Malecon San Felipe
DP10 - Guadalupe Shrine
DP11 - Faro de San Felipe
DP12 - Pichacho del Diablo
DP13 - Playa del Diablo
DP14 - Mike's Sky Rancho
DP15 - Sierra de San Pedro Martir National Park
DP16 - San Pedro Martir Observatory
DP17 - Mirador el Altar
DP18 - Mision Santa Domingo de la Frontera
DP19 - Coyote Cal's
DP20 - Punta San Jose Lighthouse
DP21 - Mision Santo Tomas de Aquino
DP22 - La Bufadora Sea Blowhole
DP23 - Ensenada
DP24 - Mirador Salsipuedes
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Google Maps (offline enabled)
Gaia GPS (NatGeo Baja, Satellite w/ Labels by Mapbox, 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.
National Parks of Mexico
Baja Bound (great resource for travel tips + MX auto insurance)
Baja Nomad (get the low down from locals and experienced travellers)