Goat Canyon Trestle Bridge Hike: Worlds Largest Wooden Trestle

Only 15 miles from the Mexico border, in the Southern section of Anza-Borrego sits one of the largest freestanding wooden trestles in the entire world. This bridge is accessible by a 6 mile round trip hike that should NOT be attempted without a lot of research, a GPS, a four-wheel drive car and mental preparation. I would suggest only experienced hikers try taking it on and I cannot stress enough that you should not do it when it is hot. I hike a lot and this is one of the most difficult short hikes I have ever done. Luckily I had Last Adventurer leading the way, who had been there before, and Shoestring Adventures experiencing the hike with me. Read on for all of the information on this magnificent adventure.

Goat Canyon Trestle-25

Details

  • 6 miles round trip
  • 2500 feet of elevation gain. This is hard elevation too, half of it is class 2 to 3 scrambling that is difficult heading down and heading back up.
  • No shade on the entire trail
  • Requires 4 wheel drive to get to the trailhead. Yes, you cannot do this without 4 wheel drive, we even got stuck in one section with it.
  • Bring 3 liters of water

History

Hailed as the impossible railroad when it was completed, many said it was a triumph for man over harsh nature. The line itself was completed in 1919 and it connected San Diego with Yuma. Originally the line went through the now caved in tunnel, the entrance of which you can see below.

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After the cave in happened they decided to build the trestle in 1932 and it is still standing to this day and is 600 feet long and 200 feet high. It is the largest freestanding wooden trestle in the world. I was surprised by how it is still in amazing shape, I would assume that is because of how difficult it is to get there as you will see in the rest of this post.

The Drive

From San Diego you will head out on Highway 8 to the “town” of Ocitillo. There really is not much there in the town other than a few restaurants and a gas station.

Goat Canyon Trestle-1

The unmarked dirt road you will turn on is the road out to Dos Cabezas train station. This used to be a very popular station but there is not much there now other then this cool old water tower. This is a popular road for offroad vehicles but we didn’t see anyone else on it when we went.

Goat Canyon Trestle-2

I would recommend getting a GPS track on the drive out here as I could not even tell you how we got there 100%. Last Adventurer was the driver and he knew all the dirt roads that you needed to turn down to get to the trail head. There are two main obstacles that require 4 wheel drive. One is over the tracks themselves but it has been built up so that it is not too hard and the next is a large rock that you must traverse over and that would not be passable without 4 wheel drive. After getting over the two obstacles you will finally make it to the unmarked trailhead.

The Trail

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Like I said before, do not make this blog your only research to get here, it really does require route finding and general knowledge of the direction you are heading at all times or else it would be pretty easy to get lost.

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The trail starts flat as you head to the mountain you will be climbing but it doesn’t stay that way for long. This section even has green plants that must have some water flowing under them and an old watering trough from the 1940’s.

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From here you head up on a steep and sandy incline for the next mile to mile and a half. This section climbs and climbs until you finally reach the top of the small mountain you are heading up. I would say it is about 500 feet of elevation.

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From here you can look up and the furthest saddle that you see is where you will be heading. It seems tough and it is but you just take your time and keep following the trail, which is faint.

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When we were there the trail had many cairns that at least helped to point you in the right direction but I would not rely on it as that could always change and some sections did not have them very often.

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After getting to the saddle you will be walking along straight along the ridge line for about a quarter-mile till you start the challenging portion of hike. 

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The Descent

Goat Canyon Trestle-13

As you start the descent through the canyon you will notice that it is steep and slippery, remember that every step forward you take is another step back up you will have to go. Do not push yourself if this becomes too hard. I found myself dreading the hike back up as I descended.

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The decline continues for about a half mile until you reach the top of an old dry waterfall. This area is where you will need to do some class three scrambling and we headed to the left for our descent as you cannot go down the old waterfall without rope. Be careful here as a slip could easily injure you.

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From here you will see your first view of the bridge, which should motivate you to finish it the hike strong. The last section is just more steep downhill until you finally reach the bridge and it is probably the toughest of the entire trail.

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Remember that when you reach it you are only half way. You still need to climb all the way back out of the canyon you are in and all the way back down the other side, it is a tough hike.

The Bridge

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When you finally make it to the bridge you can sit and marvel in how long and tall it really is. The bridge is in fantastic shape and I was actually surprised that it is was as nice as it was.

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You can explore all around it as there is an old train car, tunnels and the bridge itself. I didn’t walk through the tunnels but I did duck in to eat my lunch and get out of the brutal sun.

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Always be careful when near the tracks, they are not in use right now but you never know when they could be in the future and it is not worth exploring a tunnel when there is the possibility of an active train.

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There are a few other unique sights here as well such as some old machinery that sits along the trail. I didn’t walk across it myself, it seemed like it was in good shape but I am not a huge fan of heights so I just marveled at it from afar.

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I was in awe of this bridge, it had been on my list to visit for a long time and it absolutely lived up to the hype. I even got a chance to fly my quadcopter around it as well which provided some awesome photos.

Goat Trestle Quad-1

After exploring the bridge to our hearts content we set out for the hike back. It was brutal climbing out of the canyon and there was no shade the entire time so be sure to have enough water and be prepared. This is a fantastic hike with a lot of great history and adventure but it is in a remote area of CA so you need to take every possible precaution.

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We saw no other hikers or offroaders the entire day, so make sure if you go you do your research and really know the path. Seeing the bridge is fantastic but not worth getting lost or hurt over.

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Here is a video I made of the hike itself.

I would love to hear what you think about this hike in the comments below and here is some additional information from other blogs if you are looking to make the journey yourself.

Additional Info

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  • 1st – great pic with the drone, I’m envious. Another way to get out to the trailhead without really needing 4 wheel drive is to turn left at the Simons Power building right off the Imperial Hwy. https://www.google.com/maps/dir//32.7534448,-116.0489112/@32.7468938,-116.0541468,3761m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en.
    I have found that you will still need a higher clearance vehicle on this route, but you do not need 4 wheel drive.

    • Thanks for the suggestion I am sure this will be helpful for others!

    • Seth Burgin

      Thanks! I may take my Blazer out there, and hike in. I’m old and in poor health (compared to when i was young), but I am from Phoenix, so if it’s not 120 degrees in the shade, and I take it slow, it’s all good. I found a cool work train stuck way the ____ out on the old MOPAC tracks in east Colorado. I picked the locks, and took pictures only, then locked it back up. It was like stepping back in time 40 or 50 years. I could have grabbed some killer Proto wrench sets, and other tools, but that’s federal time. ICC involves dealing with the FBI, and after 9-11 they might think terrorism. Most of the modern locks that matter now are MulT and those take me a day or two to open, without keys. I take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.

  • Last Adventurer

    Great post Josh, and great disclaimers! 🙂

    • Thanks I try haha

  • Josh, the drone footage was great. I haven’t seen the trestle from those angles before. Supercool

    • Thanks! It was pretty brutal caring it out there but it was worth it for the shots!

  • Jeff Hester

    Love the drone footage! Somehow I lost my invitation to this hike… 😉

    My first trip to Anza Borrego was camping at Dos Cabezas. I was able to get my 2WD Xterra back there with no issues.

    I’ve heard rumors that the train sometimes runs, and where I was there, there was an entire train parked on the tracks. Not sure if that’s just a rumor, or if it still actually is used from time to time.

    • Seth Burgin

      Railroads will store rolling stock on abandoned or seasonally used tracks. The abandoned MOPAC tracks that run from Pueblo to St Louis are usually jammed up with seamless rail cars & coalgons (rotary dump coal cars). The remote mountain tracks between Alamosa & Antonito Co. will be jammed with empty grain & sugar beet cars, awaiting the harvest. (30 or 40 miles of them x 2 tracks) The abandoned tracks south of the Gunnison will be jammed up with ore cars from a uranium mine, so that area is really remote, and those cars are best left alone. If it’s still tied into active tracks, expect anything. The railroad could stuff a MOW work train back in there for storage, along with a bunch of coal gons, which are not in use at this time, but a spike in natural gas prices and they will want those Coalgons & Coalporters back on the line ASAP. Then they will also do a periodic inspections, so as not to shove a string of cars onto trackage that falls down the mountainside.

  • Maureen Green

    Did you ever consider organizing group hikes? You’d be really good at it.

    • Thanks for the comment, I will consider doing that in the future as it would be fun!

    • Charity Dominic

      Agreed! I used to do this hike often but could use a refresher on the route!

    • May

      I agree!! Would be great!!

  • SDR

    Thank you!!! Beyond my capabilities but wonderful to see vicariously.

    • Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the post!

  • Les Gutierrez

    i just read this morning that this is a haunted place! do you know anything about that?
    something about a train and hearing it in the background. i remembered seeing it on your blog and then i read that and i was like neeever! (cause im a huge chicken)

  • ian

    Can you camp.out there?

    • I have no idea and I am not even sure how to find that out, sorry about that!

    • Benjamin de Marseille

      yes you can if you’re quiet

  • peter mackenzie

    That’s really interesting and well done Josh, so thanks. Good drone footage.

    • Thanks Peter I appreciate it!

  • Jim Doss

    I was out there very recently. We hiked the tracks both ways. While a lot easier than the route you show, it is about 12 miles round trip.

    • Nice that is awesome, I haven’t done that way before!

    • Kevin K

      I’ve heard that SD MTS is continuing the project on the railroad. Do you know if we can still hike through this 12 miles route track? I really wanna go this weekend. Thanks!

      • Jim Doss

        I haven’t been down that way since summer. But I would image that the track route is most likely doable, especially on a weekend.

        • Kevin K

          Sounds good, thanks for the info!

  • Benjamin de Marseille

    where is there a safe spot to park your car? Were you guys worried about vandals??

  • Billj357

    do the tracks still continue to Yuma? are tracks ‘narrow gauge’? couldn’t a ‘track capable’ vehicle navigate all the way ? hmmm?

    • gruntled

      People have come in on the standard gauge tracks for many years. Whether it’s “allowed” is another matter. The long-gone SP Railroad didn’t want people in there and they patrolled it.

  • gruntled

    Has anyone tried going in by way of Dos Cabezas Road? A 4WD road goes westerly from Dos Cabezas Road to the RR track at.32.7618 -116.1869. From there it’s less than 3 miles south to Goat Canyon. This looks like the shortest, flattest, easiest way, even if you have to walk the 4WD road.

  • aarky

    I just stumbled into your site and it brings back memories of being in the US Customs Patrol in the early 1970’s. Customs Inspectors had to check the train every time it arrived at San Ysidro as it came back from the section of tracks in Mexico. Finding ten men sitting in a hopper car full of wheat was not unusual. A Border Patrolman would tell me that he walked into a steep canyon further west from the bridge and an entire train was still at the bottom after it ran off the rails. We watched a tunnel where the tracks came back out of Mexico near a local camp ground near Campo. The smugglers would drive through with a 4-wheel drive P/U full of marijuana, drive across a large wooden bridge, down an access road to the local highway, cut the padlock, and away they would go. PS: We never did catch those rascals

  • Zorro

    Would love to do that Hike but I in no way take the deserts of California lightly.

    The desert can be deadly if you get lost.

    • I agree, this is a tough one that should not be taken lightly as it has route finding and there is pretty much no shade.

  • That is awesome, thanks for sharing!