Hiking the San Jacintos in So.Cal.

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of June 6-12, 1996
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Hiking the San Jacintos in So.Cal.
Customized bike-touring maps

Hiking the San Jacintos in So.Cal.
Question: I was hoping you could recommend a weekend trip in the Southern California area (I'm in San Diego). I'm looking for a good mountain retreat with my significant other, where we can do some strenuous hiking with spectacular views. Having the option to do some road biking is a plus; hills are not a problem for us.

Elana Cooper
La Jolla, CA
[email protected]

Idle awhile in Idyllwild, California
Adventure Adviser: If I were you, I'd jump in your car and head up to the San Jacinto Mountains, a trail-laden wilderness about three hours northeast of San Diego that's sandwiched between Palm Springs to the east and the mountain village of Idyllwild to the west.

Base yourself at Idyllwild's Strawberry Creek Inn (doubles, $80-$95; 909-659-3202) and spend your Saturday hiking stretches of the more than 117 miles of steep, view-imbued trails in the San Bernadino Forest. For summit-seekers, the Marion Mountain Trail to the top of 10,804-foot San Jacinto Peak is a good bet; make sure your lungs are altitude-ready, though, since you'll gain a whopping 4,600 feet in just 5.5 miles. Start at the Fern Basin Campground, about 7.5 miles north of Idyllwild on California 243, and take Marion Mountain and Deer Springs trails to Little Round Valley and the peak. If it's a clear day, you'll be rewarded with mind-boggling views of the Pacific, Mexico, the Southern California desert.

Another option is an untrammeled stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs north to south along the spine of the San Jacinto Range. Take the Spitler Peak Trail from Apple Canyon Road, about ten miles south of Idyllwild on California 74, and hoof it in and up five steep miles to its junction with the PCT. From there, follow the PCT north around Antsell Rock, which you can climb from a path on the eastern slope, and then settle in for some stellar raptor-watching. If you plan on hiking, be sure to pick up a free day-use permit from the Forest Service's San Jacinto Ranger District office in Idyllwild (909-659-2117); they also sell trail maps and guides to the entire range for about $3 each.

As for biking, the sad truth for you is that off-road riding is what this place is all about, considering the wealth of fat-tire friendly single- and double-tracks; in fact, the only trails you can't bike on are the Pacific Crest, Cahuilla Mountain, Black Mountain, and Cedar Springs trails. If you're dead-set on road biking, try making-do with gravel. The 18-mile Thomas Mountain Loop starts with a 2,100-foot climb from the foot of the mountain (nine miles south of Idyllwild off California 74) and then heads south along the crest to a screaming, four-mile, single-track descent on the Ramona Trail. From the foot of the Ramona Trail, follow the double-track under the power lines to finish the loop.

Easier pedaling can be found on the tracks and trails that loop off of Fobes Ranch Road, 11 miles south of Idyllwild off California 74. For tips on other routes, or for Saturday morning riding company, stop by the Bike Route shop in Idyllwild (909-659-2038). And before you go, check out our write-up in "4.5 Hours to Freedom" in our June 1993 issue.

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