Fish Creek Trail to San Gorgonio Mountain
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||20.5 miles (33 km)|
|Hike Time||8-10 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||3,700 feet (1128m)|
|Highest Elevation||11,503 feet (3506m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free Permit|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Bernardino National Forest|
Offering solitude and the easiest (but not easy) climb to San Gorgonio Mountain, the Fish Creek Trail is a great hike to escape the crowds. Getting to the trailhead is a challenge, but once there, you’ll start the hike just 3500 feet below the summit, and a well-designed trail helps you keep momentum as you climb to the highest point in SoCal. Unfortunately, there’s some damage from the 2015 Lake Fire, but it’s still a beautiful hike with great views and rugged wilderness.
Where is the Fish Creek Trail?
Ahh… getting to the trailhead is an adventure in itself. After turning off the main CA-38 road at the Heartbar Campground, the road quickly turns to dirt. You’ll make a right turn at the signed junction for Fish Creek onto 1N05, and then the 7-mile adventure starts.
The road is rutted. The ruts are large enough in places that you will have to slowly and carefully pick your way through the bumps and holes. The deepest ruts are between the start of 1N05 and the Aspen Grove Trailhead. If you can get there, the rest will be fine. Your best bet is to have a 4×4, and second best is to have a high-clearance vehicle. Subarus have enough clearance (about 8 inches) to make it. Overall, you’ll want to go slowly. Even when the road gets smooth, ruts can come up unexpectedly. I generally go at about 10-15mph, slower in the rutted sections. Plan on about 45 minutes from CA-38 to the Fish Creek Trailhead.
Along the way there are some narrow sections with a steep drop on the side. There are periodic wider turnouts. If you encounter another car, technically the vehicle facing downhill must yield to the driver facing uphill, but usually it’s whatever seems safest for both parties. Just go slow and concentrate; you’ll be fine.
In the late fall there can be more traffic here because it’s a popular spot for deer and bear hunting. Check the dates for the season (it’s zone D14 / J11).
The trailhead address is:
Fish Creek Trail 1W07, 240 Forest Cir, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305
If it doesn’t show up on your mapping program, use:
I’ve included the route for the dirt road in my GPX file (below) in case you don’t have cell reception (you probably won’t).
There are no toilets or water fills at the trailhead.
Permits for the Fish Creek Trail
The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association handles the permits, and they are easy to apply for using their online portal. There’s a quota system, but the remoteness of this trail effectively means that it’s always pretty easy to score a permit. You can print your permit out or save it to your phone (as long as your phone works).
Camping on the Fish Creek Trail
Given the length of this hike (20.5 miles), some folks will want to camp and break the trip up. The area along this route is a great area to have a primitive wilderness camping experience. Know that there are no facilities (because you are in a Wilderness Area), just a flat area to pitch a tent and maybe a log to sit on. You will need a campfire permit to use your stove.
I’ve included images of some of the campsites in the directions below, but here’s the rundown on what they are like.
- Fish Creek Camp – Small and mellow site before the real climbing starts, about 1.7 miles in. There’s water just past the camp where Fish Creek crosses the trail.
- Fish Creek Saddle – At the top of the first climb, this saddle area is wooded and mellow. There’s no water here. If you camp, you can do a quick hike up to nearby Grinnell Mountain, which has incredible views.
- Mine Shaft Flat / Saddle – A few exposed sites at almost 10,000 feet with nice views down to North Fork Meadows.
- Big Tree – It’s not on this trail, but just 3 miles off the route on the North Fork Meadows Trail. Big Tree is one of the most isolated campsites in the whole wilderness. The actual campsite is about 1 mile past where the trail ends on the maps, and I marked it on the interactive map below.
- Summit – You can camp in one of the stone rings at the summit (it’s windy), or in the official campsite just southwest of the summit, which is flat, sandy, and more protected.
Gear For the Hike
This is a proper backcountry hike in the mountains and you should prepare accordingly. Bring layers and shells for changing weather conditions. In the winter, snow closes this route unless you are comfortable mountaineering. There is water along the beginning of the trail, the last spot being just past Fish Creek Camp. In the late summer these can dry up. I usually bring 3L and cache a 1.5L bottle at Fish Creek Saddle. The gentle gradient on the trail makes trekking poles unnecessary unless you usually hike with them.
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
Latest Price on Women’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s Shoe – REI | Amazon
Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated July 2021.
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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.
Fish Creek Trail Maps
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.
Landmarks on the Hike
|Fish Creek Camp||1.7||8600|
|Fish Creek Saddle||5.1||9900|
|Mine Shaft Saddle||6||9960|
|Summit Trail Junction||9.5||11350|
Fish Creek Trail to San G Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Did you know that before the Wilderness Act of 1964 protected San Gorgonio Mountain, there were plans to build a ski resort on it? Yup. The Defenders of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, the predecessor of the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association, helped protect the area before (and after) the Federal act kicked in.
To see what this area could potentially look like after 50 years of recovery, check out the nearby Exploration Trail, which has recovered from the 1970 Bear Fire.
The mountain peak back to your left at this junction is called Grinnell Mountain, after Joseph Grinell, the famous biologist who studied in this area. Originally it was called Fish Creek Mountain. There’s a faint use trail to the summit; it’s about 1 mile each way.
Tbe Sky High Trail was built in the summers of 1965 and 66 using shovels, crowbars, and dynamite. It was modeled after the steady and switchbacked climbs of the Sierra Nevada.
This Air Force C-47D crashed during a snow storm on December 1, 1952. It was flying from Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, making stops in New Mexico and Arizona on the way to nearby Norton Air Force Base. Bad weather kept rescue crews at bay for three weeks after the crash. When they finally reached the crash site, it was covered in 12 feet of snow. The rescue mission was dangerous as well; a Sikorsky HRS-2 helicopter had to crash land at Mine Shaft Saddle (you can still find the rotor if you look around). The bodies of the victims weren’t retrieved until the following May when the snows melted. Three of the men had survived the crash but froze to death.
Before the 1960s hikers would scratch their names onto the rocks when they summited. The Forest Service started leaving wood boards at the summit where they could scratch their names instead, which then became trail registers. Today those wood boards have evolved into the photo-friendly summit signs you see today.
This guide last updated on July 24, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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