Less than two hours’ drive from the neon-lit streets of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico’s rugged Sierra de la Laguna range is home to a rich diversity of eco-regions, endemic plants and wildlife.
Although more than 28,000 acres were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Biosphere Reserve in 1994, the region remains poorly mapped and largely untouched, a mystery to all but the most intrepid travelers and a handful of local rancheros.
A few adventure-tour companies offer guided trips into the highlands, but you don’t need a guide, a four-wheel drive or a mule train to experience Baja’s Sierra. The lower elevations are strewn with gentle walking trails, particularly on the eastern slopes. With a handful of government maps, some good local advice and a 20-year-old camper van, we set off to find three easy walks with big rewards.
Venture inland from Highway 1 and within a few miles, southern Baja’s familiar coastal scrub gives way to dry forest, then subtropical coniferous forest and woodlands. As you drive, the mountains beckon with cooler temperatures and a refreshing change of scene. Dotted with tiny ranching communities, the foothills of the Sierra have much in common with southern Mexico, where the best trails often lead to water. Follow our trail to one of these lovely mountain oases—just don’t try to see them all in one day.
Cañon de La Zorra
Cañon de la Zorra waterfall, also called Sol de Mayo or just La Cascada, is easy to locate once you have clear driving directions. A good dirt road leads to the parking area, and from there a 10-minute walk along the canyon rim offers wonderful views over the valley. The trail also provides a good vantage point for photographing the 30-foot cascade and watching hawks circle overhead. To access the water garden below, you descend a short, steep staircase carved into the rocks.
Bring a picnic and bask on warm, flat slabs of granite after a swim in the invitingly clear green lagoon. A sandy floor and shallow edges make this swimming hole a good choice for all ages. It can get busy on holidays and summer weekends, but during the week you might have it all to yourself, as we did. Wildflowers flourish here after the midsummer rains, and bird watching is good year-round.
For a longer walk, a well-used section of trail continues beyond the top of the steps for another 2 to 3 miles, traversing shallow streams through a lovely woodland canopy and eventually leading to other waterfalls.
Time: From Santiago, drive 20 minutes, then walk 10 minutes.
Cañon San Bernardo
Baja’s cavernous San Bernardo gorge bisects the Sierra from east to west, providing a critical water source for the surrounding area. Depending on the season and rainfall, its carved granite pools may fill up to 30 feet, deep enough for a real swim.
Local guides will give hiking directions to the pools from Miraflores; however, it’s a long, hot walk, and there’s road access directly into the mouth of the canyon. The drive-in route is used mainly by an adventure-tour company, but it isn’t a private road. From the end of the road, a five-minute stroll brings you to the lower pools.
Take care getting in and out of the water—it’s often brisk, and the bottle-green color comes from a slippery lining of moss. The surrounding forest serves as a cover to raptors and other wildlife, which you might spot while you’re floating.
Time: From Miraflores, drive 30 to 40 minutes, then walk five minutes.
Cañon San Dionisio
In theory, you could cross the entire mountain range on this trail, although it would take a couple of weeks. From the wide, shallow basin above Rancho San Dionisio, it’s easy to imagine that cattle-rustling banditos once did just that, using the stream to water their stock and taking advantage of long lookout views down the riverbed. Fortunately, there are no banditos here now, just a peaceful and scenic oasis.
Following the driving directions to the last ranch at the end of the road, you’ll find the trailhead to the left of the gate. An undemanding, well-marked path meanders through lush mixed forest of pine, oak and cactus. About a mile in, a clearing on the right leads down to the arroyo, where you can splash in the sparkling creek or soak your feet in shallow pools.
Banked by soft, flat sand studded with boulders, the dry riverbed is perfect for picnicking and bird watching, offering spectacular canyon views in both directions. Enormous date palms and rock formations stand out dramatically against the pine-covered hills, and the valley is alive with winged things, from hummingbirds and butterflies to herons, ducks, cardinals and woodpeckers. Although we didn’t see any mammals during our visit, we did spot numerous fresh paw prints around the watering holes: raccoon, deer and bobcat. Shortly beyond the oasis, the trail becomes rough and crosshatched with cow paths, so don’t continue too far without a compass and some serious hiking shoes.
Time: From Santiago, drive 45 to 60 minutes, then walk 25 minutes.
Driving Directions and Tips
Directions are given from the closest towns, Santiago and Miraflores, which are easily located from Highway 1. When the pavement ends, dirt and gravel roads are passable by your dinghy or tow vehicle or camper van but aren’t built for larger RVs. Be sure to check the weather before you leave—a thundershower can significantly alter road conditions. There’s a park fee of $6 per person, per day.
Santiago to Cañon de la Zorra or Cañon San Dionisio
From Highway 1, take the exit for Santiago. Just before you reach the center of town, near the Pemex, turn right onto the paved road leading north, then zero your odometer. Go straight on this road until the pavement ends at the edge of town. Continue straight ahead on the dirt road and up the small hill.
To continue to La Zorra waterfall, take a left at the top of the small hill. (If you go straight here, the road leads to Cañon San Dionisio. The right fork goes up to a cell-phone tower). Stay on the dirt road for .3 miles, then turn right. In another 1.5 miles, turn right again. You should pass small blue signs for La Cascada (the waterfall), but they’re easy to miss. The road ends at a parking area 6.3 miles from where you zeroed your odometer.
To continue to Cañon San Dionisio, go straight at the top of the small hill. This dirt-and-gravel road runs directly toward the mountains, then rounds a bend and goes straight into the canyon. Used mainly by local ranchers, the road is moderately challenging in parts. Drive slowly and check the weather before you leave—mud could make this route impassable. About 13 miles from where you zeroed your odometer, the road dead-ends at a private gate. There’s no official parking area. Just pull off the road and avoid blocking the gate. The trailhead is off to the left.
Miraflores to Cañon San Bernardo
From Highway 1, take the exit for Miraflores and stay on the same road all the way through town. When the road dead-ends at a T, turn right. Follow the signs for Ecoadventures and the small village of Boca de la Sierra. On the left-hand side, just as you reach the village, there’s a gate with a small kiosk manned by the Ecoadventures group. Explain that you’re on a private trip to the pools, and the guard will let you in. Follow a winding, rough gravel road for about 2 miles, passing through the Ecoadventures base camp and rounding a bend to the right. The road ends at a small parking area. From here, it’s a five- to 10-minute walk to the lower pools. Look for the trailhead at the far end of the turnaround.
Where to Stay
While any of these walks would make a good day trip from Los Cabos, we preferred the tranquil beach towns of La Ribera and Los Barriles. Both offer RV facilities and water activities, particularly sport fishing. Los Barriles is also a well-known windsurfing and kite-boarding destination. The town offers all the necessary services and several good restaurants, including the friendly Roadrunner Café. Of the many RV parks, we chose Playa Norte RV Haven (www.playanortervpark.com) for its quiet location on a long stretch of beach, away from the main roads and still convenient to town.
La Ribera is a much smaller place, with only a few services and a rambling, often empty beach. Its single RV campground, La Trinidad (www.latrinidadrvranch.com), is well worth seeking out. Both the restaurant and the engaging owner have a loyal following. Though not directly on the beach, the park is only a half mile from the sea, and the path winds through a salt marsh favored by nesting herons. The restaurant is open on weekends only, when folks come from miles around for barbecue and surf-and-turf nights, sometimes accompanied by live entertainment.
Good Sam Parks
The Trailer Life RV Parks and Campgrounds Directory lists another 30 places to stay in your RV in Mexico’s South Baja.