RoadTrip America

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The "Impossible" Goat Canyon Trestle

Goat Canyon Trestle
October, 2003: Engine #3878 crosses the Goat Canyon Trestle on the "Impossible Railroad"

This is a road trip for people who like to include four-wheeling and hiking in their adventures. The desert mountains to the east of San Diego include rugged wilderness areas noted for bighorn sheep, Swainson's hawks, golden eagles, and oases surrounded by native California palms. The Carrizo Gorge at the southern edge of Anza-Borrego State Park is a spectacular chasm and home to the Goat Canyon railroad trestle. Two hundred feet tall and 750 feet long, it's the tallest curved wooden trestle ever built in the world.

The construction of the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad began during World War I in the steep-walled Carrizo Gorge near the town of Jacumba. Many people were convinced at the time that it couldn't be done, but John D. Spreckels, the "Sugar King," didn't rest until the "impossible track" was completed in November, 1919, at a cost of US$18 million.

In the eleven-mile stretch between Jacumba and the desert floor near Ocotillo, the tracks descend only 900 feet while the sheer canyon walls have drops of over 2,000. The difference was spanned by constructing 16 major tunnels and 21 trestles including the one across Goat Canyon. Although the route fell into disuse for a number of years and many Web sites (even "official" ones) suggest using the tracks as trails to explore the Carrizo Gorge, the route is currently being restored by the Carrizo Gorge Railroad. Heavy equipment and engines use the tracks daily in preparation for a reopening scheduled for early 2004. The railroad will provide freight service between the agricultural communities of Imperial County with the port of San Diego.

In addition to freight service, CGR General Manager Geoffrey Scheuerman hopes to run an excursion train through the Carrizo Gorge. If all proceeds as planned, a ride for visitors should be available by summer of 2004. An interesting note in the revival of the Carrizo Gorge Railroad is that its equipment and staff played a vital role during the wildfires that struck the San Diego area in October 2003. When the California Department of Forestry requested assistance, CGR employees used railroad equipment and water tankers to help extinguish fires set by arsonists along the tracks.

PLEASE NOTE: The railroad has been shut down since 2008. The following hiking information was current as of mid-2018:

As the article states above, this is quite a hike with lots of scenic views. Hikers are advised to carry a good first aid kit, and lots of water! It is also not advisable to do this hike in the summer months, when temperatures reach into the 100s. Plan on the hike taking at least 6 hours out and back, even from the shorter Motrero Palms trailhead.

The railroad has changed ownership at least once since this article was written, most recently purchased by the Baja California Railroad. This company currently runs from Tijuana to Tecate, on the Mexico side, but has plans to extend service across the border at Tecate and utilize the tracks that run through Carrizo Gorge. The problem is that they must inspect and in some cases, rehabilitate many bridges and tunnels, and that takes time.

Trailhead at DeAnza Springs Campground.
The DeAnza Springs Campground is a clothing optional campground and everyone who parks here is required to pay $5.00. The map in the link above does show the hiking route, but we don’t recommend this route because it is over 14 miles long and requires walking along the right-of-way in several places. This is generally not a safe practice and we do not recommend the use of this trail.

Trailhead at Motrero Palms.
All Trails also has a map of this hiking trail, but the trail is very rough.  Requires a great deal of boulder-hopping. This is not a trail for any novice hikers. Experienced and well-equipped hikers only.

--- Updated by RTA Member DonnaR57 (January, 2020)

About 91 miles east from the San Diego International Airport on I-8 to the Ocotillo Exit.
Trailhead to reach the Goat Canyon Trestle is at Mortero Palms Wash.
2017 Hiking Trip from the San Diego Reader
Maps to Trailhead

Carrizo Gorge Railroad
Carrizo Gorge Scenic Railroad Fans
Anza-Borrego State Park
Jacumba Glider Airport
A 2008 Ride on the Impossible Railway
2018 Update - San Diego Union-Tribune
Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum
BLM Information about Carrizo Gorge Wilderness Area


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