Shell Reef Expressway

Total Miles


77.83 ft


0.75 Hours

Technical Rating



Best Time

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Trail Overview

Welcome to the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicle Recreational Area, the largest SVRA in California with more than 85,000 acres. OWSVRA is over 130 square miles with hundreds of miles of desert track open to all forms of off-highway vehicles. The SVRA borders the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with many of the trails transiting between both areas. Only street-legal vehicles are allowed in the ABDSP. Shell Reef Expressway is a 7.5-mile point-to-point trail rated 3 of 10. As with most trails within the OWSVRA, the track is predominately sand and hard-packed desert soil. The trail's western end is the intersection with Quarry Road and Main Street, with the eastern end meeting with Tarantula and Cahuilla Trails. Made up mostly of hard-pack sand wash, there are two areas of interest along the trail. The first is "Devil's Slide." This is a 200-foot-high granite and sand island named for the challenge it presents to the OHV enthusiast. It is actually an ancient decomposing mountaintop. A dark coat of desert varnish covers the rocks as a result of exposure to sunlight. There are several old hidden mine shafts along the mountainside. The second highlight along this trail is a stop at "Shell Reef," a large hill in the middle of the desert. Park at the enclosed fence area and start climbing to the top. You will find not rock or sand fragments but fragments of fossilized oyster shells. Look closer and you will find entire shells, even pieces of the reef that have fallen down the slope. Yes, this area was once completely underwater. The reef is estimated to be 4 million years old! It was pushed out of an ancient sea during a time of tremendous upheaval when the distant mountain ranges were formed. The Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (OWSVRA) is administered by the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, now commonly referred to as California State Parks. Travel within the OWSVRA is generally unrestricted, relying on the driver's sense of responsibility for protecting natural resources. There are no entrance or camping fees here, and open camping is permitted for up to 30 days per calendar year. All vehicles operated off-highway on public lands in California are required to be (1) street-licensed or (2) registered as an off-highway vehicle (OHV). Purchase of a California Nonresident permit is required: Whether a beginner or an adrenaline junkie, you'll find something to your liking in the SVRA (hiking, dirt bike, ATV, UTV, dune buggies, or 4x4s). It is open to the public 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, go out and ride whenever you want. The off-road season is usually between the cooler months of October and May, so these months are usually the most crowded. Cell phone service is intermittent. Vehicle repair shops, telephones, groceries, hotels, motels, RV parks, and restaurants are available in the surrounding communities of Borrego Springs, Ocotillo Wells, and Salton City. Fuel is available in the communities of Borrego Springs and Salton City.

Photos of Shell Reef Expressway

Shell Reef Expressway
Shell Reef Expressway
Shell Reef Expressway


The trail consists of loose rocks, dirt, and sand with some slick rock surfaces and mud holes possible. No steps are higher than 12 inches. 4WD may be required, and aggressive tires are a plus.

Technical Rating


Status Reports

There are no status reports yet for this trail.

Access Description

Located in eastern San Diego and western Imperial Counties, the SVRA is bound by Highway 78 to the south, Highway 86 to the east, and State Route 22 to the north.

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