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Dry Lake Hike 2

Dry Lake (San Gorgonio) From The South Fork Trail

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Directions to Dry Lake
  • How to Get to the South Fork Trail
  • Permits & Camping for Dry Lake
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
Total Distance11.5 miles (18.5 km)
Hike Time5-6 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,330 feet (710m)
Highest Elevation9,000 feet (2743m)
Fees & PermitsParking Permit & (Free) Day Use Permit
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2882

Dry Lake, nestled in the shadow of San Gorgonio Mountain, is a beautiful day hike or overnight camping destination. This hiking guide to Dry Lake takes the scenic South Fork Trail, which is well maintained with gradual slopes. And despite being called Dry Lake, it often has water in it, making for a pristine alpine oasis in the mountains of Southern California.

How to Get to the South Fork Trail

The South Fork Trailhead (officially known as South Fork Trail 1E04) lies about 2.5 miles off of Rt 38, close to the town of Angelus Oaks. Use this trailhead address:
South Fork Trail 1E04, 40800-40894 Jenks Lake Rd W, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305

There are other South Fork Trails in Southern California, so make sure you are going to South Fork Trail 1E04 by Angelus Oaks.

You need a parks pass or Adventure Pass to park in the lot here.

South Fork Trailhed Parking Lots
When you get to the parking lot, make the hard right and drive up to the upper parking area close to the bathrooms.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 2
The upper lot is next to this trail board and bathroom structure.
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Between all of the lots at the South Fork Trailhead, there is a ton of parking.

Day Hike Permits

Day use permits were recently reinstated. The permits are free but controlled by a quota. That means last-minute hikes are generally out of the picture, but there will be less crowds out on the trail. You can fill out a hike permit and email it in here.

Gear for the Hike

This is a backcountry hike and I recommend having proper hiking gear. Unless it’s very dry, there are some small stream hop-overs, so waterproof boots can help. And trekking poles are good on the slopes, both up and down.

And because you are in the high mountains, there can be snow here in the winter, making the hike a much different experience. Do the hike when it’s clear of snow if it’s your first time. Leave the more challenging conditions for when you have experience in the area.

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2020.

My September 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

South Fork Trail to Dry Lake Trail Maps

Overall the trail is well maintained and easy to follow. The South Fork Trail is one of the more popular trails, and generally gets attention from the Forest Service. That being said, there are often trees down over the trail because of all the fire damage (more later). Most big trees can be scooted over on your butt or walked around.

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

Your best move to navigate this hike is to take a paper map, compass, and a GPS device. Load the GPX track from this hike onto your GPS to ensure that you’re on the trail. I’m a big fan of GPS watches; I just glance down at it to cross-check my position and use paper when I want a deeper dive. The GPS watch that I’m using now is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (price: REI or Amazon). It’s pricey but has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of other wellness, fitness, and smart-watch applications. For a more affordable option, check out the value-packed Garmin Instinct  (price: REI or Amazon), a similar watch without some of the features. There are also great smartphone GPS apps like GaiaGPS. If you end up getting GaiaGPS premium, I’ve arranged for a 20-40% discount for my readers.

Elevation Profile

Dry Lake Hike Elevation
The first part of the hike is steep, and then there’s a mellow stretch in the middle that almost feels flat. After that it’s a climb to the lake. There’s about 2100 feet of elevation difference between the South Fork Trailhead and Dry Lake.

3D Map

Dry Lake Hike 3d Map
The trail roughly follows the South Fork of the Santa Ana River up to Dry Lake.

Hike Brief

Dry Lake Hike Directions 38
Lot’s of instructions at the trailhead. Here’s what you need to know.

Camping at Dry Lake

Dry Lake Hike Directions 28
Here’s the view that you wake up to when you camp at Dry Lake. As you can imagine, it can be a popular spot.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 30
There’s a camping map sign on the Dry Lake loop trail.
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Some areas are explicitly marked “no camping.”
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There are lots of established camping areas from the thousands of folks who’ve been here before.

South Fork Trail to Dry Lake Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Dry Lake Hike Directions 4
Head past the bathrooms in the parking area.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 5
Cross Jenks Lake Road and start the trail.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 7
The South Fork Trail and Dry Lake is part of Sand to Snow National Monument.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 6
Shortly after the start, stay left at the detour.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 8
And you’ll start climbing right away.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 9
The climb is steep in the beginning as you hike through the new-growth manzanita and burned trees.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 10
There are some sections where the steep gradient mellows out and you can cruise.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 11
After about 1 mile in you’ll reach Horse Meadow off to the left. Explore the cabins if you’d like, then continue right toward Dry Lake.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 37
Horse Meadow used to be a ranger outpost before the time of cars (it closed in the 1950s). From here rangers would patrol the forest and do timber surveys. In more recent years it was staffed by volunteers who would help hikers.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 36
If you need to take refuge from the weather, you can pop into the cabins here.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 12
Continue through Horse Meadow.
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Cross the dirt road.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 14
Soon after the road you’ll reach this junction for Poopout Hill. Let’s make the quick detour to Poopout Hill.

Poopout Hill was not named after a bowel movement. It was named that because it’s the first place where you can see the summit of San Gorgonio, and when early travelers saw how far they’d have to go to hike it, they’d “poop out” of the effort here and turn around.

Dry Lake Hike Directions 15
The end of the side trip is a small circle of stones that used to house interpretive displays.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 16
The real highlight of Poopout Hill is the San Gorgonio Wilderness sign that sits perfectly aligned with San Gorgonio Mountain.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 17
After the side trip to Poopout, head back to the trail where you will pass another San Gorgonio Wilderness sign. This starts the easier middle section of the hike.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 18
As the hike meanders up the South Fork you’ll get some nice views of Sugarloaf Mountain across the valley.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 19
At the junction with the (little used) Lost Creek Trail, stay to the right.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 20
The trail gets rocky and starts to climb. It will be a steeper climb from here until you get to Dry Lake.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 21
At the trail junction, make the left to Dry Lake (not the right to Dollar Lake).
Dry Lake Hike Directions 22
There are several small stream crossings here. All of them have rocks and logs to help you across.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 23
After the last stream crossing you’ll start climbing up the eastern side of the valley, away from and above the stream.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 24
There are several long switchbacks as you climb up the side of the valley. You’ll start to get glimpses of the high peaks again.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 25
Eventually the trail will rejoin the stream at the top of the valley. From here it’s only a short way to the lake.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 26
Dry Lake! You made it! Let’s do the loop hike around the lake to the left. You’ll be coming back out on the right side.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 29
The trail winds around the lake and through the camping areas.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 33
At the junction for Lodgepole Spring, keep right to continue circling the lake.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 34
Some of the trail on the lake loop is a bit of a “choose your own adventure” but as long as you circle the lake you’ll be fine.
Dry Lake Hike Directions 35
Toward the end of the loop the trail becomes defined again and you arrive back at the start.

And that’s it. Just return the way you came from here and enjoy the downhill.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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