Dry Lake (San Gorgonio) From The South Fork Trail
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||11.5 miles (18.5 km)|
|Hike Time||5-6 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||2,330 feet (710m)|
|Highest Elevation||9,000 feet (2743m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Permit & (Free) Day Use Permit|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Bernardino National Forest|
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.
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.
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: Women – Men
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.
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.
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.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
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.
- You don’t need a permit to do the day hike, but it’s recommended that you fill out a free one online so that the Forest Service can help understand trail demand (and potentially fund more trail work). It’s also a great safety precaution.
- The 2015 Lake Fire devastated this area, and you’ll be hiking through the aftermath of it for much of the hike. The burned (and dead) trees that you see will eventually fall. The fire has let to erosion and occasional washouts of the trail. Keep an eye out for any trail detour signs as you hike.
- Dry Lake is actually man-made. It was originally a swamp. In 1883 an early mountain pioneer named Vincent Taylor dammed up the outlet to form the lake.
- Dry Lake often has water in the spring and early summer (depending on the snowfall).
- The creek you cross on the hike, the South Fork of the Santa Ana River, eventually flows out to the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach.
Camping at Dry Lake
- If you want to camp at Dry Lake, you need an overnight permit that you fill out online and email. You may be rejected if demand is high. Dry Lake is a popular camping spot so I recommend applying as early as you can.
- You’ll also need a campfire permit (even for a little camping stove) which you can get for free online. No open campfires are allowed, just your little camping stove.
- Please only camp in the designated camping areas and leave the other areas alone.
- If Dry Lake is actually dry, you can try nearby Lodgepole Spring for water. It’s generally reliable, but I’d call the ranger’s office to check.
South Fork Trail to Dry Lake Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
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.