Mt San Gorgonio Peak, the highest point in the San Bernardino mountains,
is 3,505 meters high.
Mt San Gorgonio from Vivian CreekThis is the most touristy way to get to the top. The hike to the summit is a mild 12km.
The shortest way to the top of Mt San Gorgonio is the Vivian Creek trail.
The trailhead is at the end of Valley of Falls drive (turn east off hwy 38 to Forest Falls and continue to the end of the road).
You start at a little less than 2000 meters.
After a short while you cross the creek and start hiking vertical up the hill.
The first stretch is very steep, to Vivian Creek Trail camp (2kms, 2300m).
Halfway Camp is next (2kms, 2500m, 1.5 hours)
Highcreek Camp is next (3kms, 3000m, 1hr).
The summit is 5kms past Highcreek Camp.
First you go up very long switchbacks on the shady side of the hill.
At the top of these switchbacks, before you turn left to climb the other
side of the same mountain, there is a stunning view of San Jacinto, Palm
Springs, etc. You don't see the summit until almost the very end, but now
you see the general direction where the summit is.
Then you start ascending straight along a gravely and rocky trail on the
south side. This takes you to the junction with the trail that comes from
Dollar Lake. When you reach that junction, you are 0.5 km from the summit.
At the junction with the trail from Dollar Lake, bear right.
The total elevation gain is 1650 meters.
Coming down is not easy, as the trail is steep and rocky; very hard on your
muscles and knees.
The hike is not difficult. What makes it difficult is the bureaucracy. As of 2010, you need a permit to hike (yes, even for a day hike) and you need an "adventure pass" to park your car. The latter is relatively easy to obtain (unless you arrive really late) because it is sold in sport stores, markets, etc. The permit is the usual national-forest nightmare: you have to print a form, mail it and wait for a reply (that might take up to seven days). In the process a few trees have to be cut to make all this paper, and a few kgs of carbon dioxide are produced to deliver your form to them and their reply to you (and to run the A/C in the offices where your form is processed, stored and eventually burned). All paid with your tax money. All in the interest of "protecting the forest" :-)
Mt San Gorgonio South ForkInstead of turning right into Forest Falls, continue straight on the winding hwy 38 and turn right into Jens Lake Rd which makes half a loop and rejoins the highway later east. About halfway into Jens Lake Rd there is a parking lot on the nothern side of the road clearly marked South Fork. Count on no water at the trailhead and no water along the trail.
CampingBarton Flats campground is the first campground on highway 38 that you find coming from highway 10. It is very far from the ranger station and from the Valley of the Falls turnoff that leads to Vivian Creek trail, but it is close to the South Fork trailhead. It is very expensive ($25 in 2010). Near the Vivian Creek trailhead (on Valley of the Falls drive) there are motels, but no campground.
PermitsPermits are required for one-day hiking. You can get them from the ranger station at 34701 Mill Creek Rd (i.e., highway 38) when they open at 6:30 (summer hours). To get there, drive east on I-10, take the Alabama exit, turn left, turn tight into Lugonia, drive approximately 18 kms to the ranger station. The ranger station is a few kms before the turnoff to Valley of the Falls, the road for Vivian Creek Trail. Another trail to the top is the South Fork (much longer), in which case it is better to get the permit from the visitor information center near the Barton Flats campground, about 20 kms further up highway 38 .