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Fish Creek Trail To San Gorgonio Mountain

Fish Creek Trail to San Gorgonio Mountain

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Fish Creek Trail (1W07)
  • Parking and Permit Information
  • Insider Tips for the Hike
Total Distance (?)20.5 miles (33 km)
Hike Time8-10 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)3,700 feet (1128m)
Highest Elevation11,503 feet (3506m)
Fees & PermitsFree Permit
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682

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:
34.124946253834985, -116.7666708488588

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).

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It’s hard to convey ruts in an image, and usually hard to see them when you drive. Here’s what a normal section of the road looks like.
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Some of the road is smooth and easy to cruise on.
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As you approach Fish Creek Trailhead, make sure to turn right here. The sign for Mission Springs Trail Camp at this junction is a little confusing.
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The parking area is massive, especially given its remoteness.

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

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At Fish Creek Saddle there’s a cool tent site surrounded by logs.

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.

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.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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.

Lone Peak 5

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 ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Latest Price  – REI | Amazon

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2021.

My September 2021 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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Fish Creek Trail Maps

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The hike goes through several areas burned in the 2015 Lake Fire. There are dead trees and loose rocks. Step with care as the sandy soil can be loose.
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All of the important trail junctions are signed.
Click Here To View

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.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Fish Creek Trail Elevation
After a short downhill at the start, you’ll have a climb up to Fish Creek Saddle, then a flat section to Mine Shaft Saddle, and then a climb up to the summit.

Landmarks on the Hike

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Trailhead08180
Fish Creek Camp1.78600
Fish Creek Saddle5.19900
Mine Shaft Saddle69960
C-47 Crash710400
Summit Trail Junction9.511350
Summit10.2511503

3D Map

Fish Creek Trail 3d Map
From the trailhead you’ll wind up to Fish Creek Saddle, then have a flat section above Dry Lake, and then tackle a series of switchbacks before winding around and up to the summit.

Fish Creek Trail to San G Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

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The trailhead is easy to spot from the parking lot.
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And right after you start, you enter the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area.

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.

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The beginning of the trail is downhill and sandy, and goes through an area badly damaged by the 2015 Lake Fire.

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.

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Go straight past the junction with the Aspen Grove Trail.
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The trail winds around and goes through Fish Creek Meadows, along the banks of Fish Creek.
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The trail crosses over Fish Creek.
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And then you start gently climbing.
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At around 1.7 miles you’ll see the turnoff for Fish Creek Camp on your right. Go straight.
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You can see Fish Creek Camp from the trail.
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One last crossing of Fish Creek. This is usually the last place to find water.
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Now you start climbing. There are a series of long switchbacks.
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The trail winds through a fire damaged area as it comes around the north side of the slope.
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As you hike up on the north side, you’ll be able to see the road that you drove in on across the valley.
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There’s a sweet dispersed campsite on this stretch with views to the north.
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And soon you’ll head away from the north side and start making your way up the canyon to Fish Creek Saddle. You can catch your first glimpses of San Gorgonio Mountain as you hike here.
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When you get to Fish Creek Saddle, hike straight through.

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.

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As you leave the saddle you’ll see a trail on the right heading down to Dry Lake. Keep hiking straight toward Mine Shaft Saddle.
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This section of trail is nice and level.
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Look down to your right for views of Dry Lake, which is not always dry.
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Keep going straight when the North Fork Meadows Trail joins from the left.
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Then you’ll arrive at Mine Shaft Saddle, where the Fish Creek Trail officially ends. Make the left onto the Sky High Trail.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at Mine Shaft Saddle. Making the right will bring you down to Dry Lake.
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Start hiking uphill on the Sky High Trail.

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.

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Off to the left you’ll get nice views of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge, Whitewater Canyon, and North Fork Meadows. Remember what Ten Thousand Foot Ridge looks like; you can see it again from the summit.
Plane Wreck Sky High Trail
Just before you reach the 10,400 ridgeline, you’ll see the C-47 plane wreck come into view. The trail goes right through the wreck area.
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There’s a memorial to airmen who lost their lives here.

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.

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If you look up and down the gully, you’ll see more wreckage. Given the story, it’s a solemn place.
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Just after the crash site the trail starts a series of switchbacks.
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You’ll stat to get some great views as you climb, including Sugarloaf Mountain to the north.
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After the switchbacks end the trail winds around to the west. San Jacinto is poking its head out to the left.
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And then the trail winds around and you can see the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain.
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Keep your eyes open down to the left for views of The Tarn, a shallow lake of snowmelt, now smooth, dry and white. Early Defenders of the San Gorgonio Wilderness maps list it as “(Bob) Tosh’s Tarn” after the naturalist who explored the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the 1960s. His work was part of the documentation that granted this area official Wilderness Area designation.
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You’ll also get some great views of the peak called Dragon’s Head. Between Dragon’s Head and The Tarn, it all sounds like something out of Game of Thrones.
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At the small dogleg in the trail, you’ll notice a boulder-filled gully to your right. Some people do the short climb up these rocks (class 2) to the flat camping area just before the summit. It probably cuts about 0.75 miles off the hike. I put the track in the GPX file and map, but if this is your first time, just experience the regular trail.
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On the last stretch of the Sky High Trail you’ll see the Vivian Creek Trail along its upper slopes in the distance.
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And then you’ll reach the end of the Sky High Trail. Make the right to continue the short distance to the summit.
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Here’s the sign at that junction.
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The trail is rockier than what you just did on the Sky High Trail.
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Soon you’ll see the summit in front of you.
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And here you are, the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain! Take your photos and celebrate.

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.

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If you look east from the summit, you can clearly see the Ten Thousand Foot Ridge where you climbed up from. Just head back the way you came and that’s the hike.

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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