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Hike Apache Peak Ca On The Spilter Peak Trail
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Hike Apache Peak (CA) on the Spilter Peak Trail

  • 11 miles - Hard Effort
  • 5-6 Hours (Total)
  • Not Often Hiked
  • 2,680 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 7,567 feet
  • No Dogs Allowed

what does this mean?

Apache Peak is not on most hiker's radars, but it should be. It offers a little bit of the best of everything in SoCal hikes. First, you have a mellow 2600-foot climb on the Spitler Peak Trail, which you'll probably have all to yourself. Then a short stretch on the PCT brings you to Apache Peak, with spectacular views from the "desert divide." You'll see from Palm Desert to Saddleback Mountain, to San Jacinto Peak, and Rabbit Peak to the south. And it's also on the Sierra Club's 100-Peak list if you're a peak-bagger.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike Apache Peak (CA)
  • Where to Park for the Spitler Peak Trail Hike Start
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations

When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

Where is Apache Peak?

The hike to Apache Peak starts south of Idyllwild in Mountain Center, CA, at the Spitler Peak trailhead. Use this trailhead address:
Spliter Peak Trail, Mountain Center, CA 92561

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You'll park in a flat and sandy area just off the road. There's no official signage or facilities.

Some websites indicate that you need a parks pass or Adventure Pass to park here, but there are no facilities, so there is no need for a pass.

Hike Apache Peak Ca On The Spilter Peak Trail Parking
The trailhead is a bit hidden just past the parking area.

Apache Peak Permits

There's conflicting information on whether a wilderness permit is required or optional. Completing the permit only takes a few minutes and helps the park service, so I recommend doing it. You can get the PDF form online, fill it out, and fax it in (you can find free fax services if you Google them). You can also visit the San Jacinto Ranger Station in Idyllwild and fill out a permit outside the entrance. Or not.

Gear For the Hike

This is a backcountry hike in the mountains; you should prepare accordingly. In the winter, the trail, especially the PCT section, can be covered in snow and dangerous to traverse. In the summer, thunderstorms can pop up over this transitional area at the edge of the desert.

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Apache Peak Trail Maps

You'll take the Spitler Peak Trail 3E22 from the parking area to the PCT. After a short stretch on the PCT we'll branch off on a short use-trail to the summit of Apache Peak.

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Elevation Profile

Hike Apache Peak Ca On The Spilter Peak Trail Elevation
Here's the one-way elevation profile. The climbing is gradual with a few small steeper sections.

3D Map

Hike Apache Peak Ca On The Spilter Peak Trail 3d Map 2
The climb starts gently and then gets steeper, with a series of switchbacks before the Spitler Peak Trail ends at the PCT. Instead of hiking right to Spitler Peak, we'll go left on the PCT, along the desert divide, to Apache Peak.

Did Apaches Live Here?

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Here's what Apache warriors looked like in 1873, about the same time Apache Peak was named.

Although Apache lived over 100 miles east of this hike in what is now Arizona, they were famous for their long-range raids that spread as far as Utah, Colorado, and the Pacific Ocean. The Chumash people of Southern California have an oral history of battles between them and the Apache. Apache arrowheads were found at what is now Apache Springs, and the peak got its name shortly after that. Perhaps the raiding Apache used the area around the mountain as a place to camp and hideout. I've no proof that Apache stayed around the peak, but it's not hard to envision.

And although Afghanistan is often touted as the USA's longest war, the war against the Apache lasted longer, from 1849 to 1886. The US government continued fighting isolated Apache until the 1920s. Many Apache fled to the northern Sierra Madre in Mexico, raiding ranchers and Mormon settlers until the 1930s.

Apache Peak Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Look for signs at the easy to miss trailhead.
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The beginning of the hike is flat-ish as you pass into the San Jacinto Wilderness.This is what makes a Wilderness Area special.
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Look up from the start of the hike  to spot Apache Peak in the distance.
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As you navigate this first flat section you'll start to see evidence of the 2013 Mountain Fire, which devastated this whole area.
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The flat section approaches the slope on the right, which we'll start to climb.
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And then you start the climb through the boulder field. This southern part of San Bernardino National Forest feels more like East County San Diego than the nearby San Jacinto high peaks.
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As you climb you'll start to see Lake Hemet in the distance to your right.

Lake Hemet was formed in 1895 when the Lake Hemet Dam was completed. At the time, it was the largest solid masonry dam in the world. And if you ever watched the 1980s show Airwolf, the main character lived in a cabin on its shores. At least in the b-roll.

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There are a couple of nice viewpoints to stop and have a drink or snack during the first half of the climb. I marked them in the GPX file.
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After a long gradual climb to the east, you have one switchback and head back west toward Apache Peak.
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As you climb back you'll get nice views of Tahquitz Peak.
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And then the trail winds around and Apache Peak is just in front of you.
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When you enter the burn area the first half of the climb is done.
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Enjoy the flat section as it winds along the canon.
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You'll cross a small creek, which I've marked in the GPX file, that often has decent water.
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And then you start the second half of the climb, which is markedly steeper than first half. Luckily there are switchbacks to help ease the grade.
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The trail can be overgrown, but it's not too bad. The trail is always there and easy to find.
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As you continue to climb, Spitler Peak comes into view.

The story behind Spitler Peak is an interesting one with many bizarre intersections. Spitler was a squatter who lived on the nearby Forbes Ranch in the 1890s. He was driven off the property, but his name appeared on this peak when the 1944 topographic map was published. Then in the 1960s, Forbes Ranch became the epicenter of LSD production when Timothy Leary and Brotherhood of Eternal Love set up shop there. Today Forbes Ranch is owned by YouTuber Logan Paul, who became infamous for joking around after finding a suicide victim in one of his videos.

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At the end of the climb you come out at the PCT. You'll be making the left here to head to Apache Peak.
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Here's the sign at the junction.

You'll see Spitler Peak Trail (which you just ascended) listed as a PCT alternative. After a PCT hiker died near Apache Peak after slipping on ice in 2020, the PCT Association established this alternative route between here and Black Mountain, which skips the sometimes snowy and icy higher peaks.

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You’ll get great views of Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley from the junction.
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Continue on the PCT. In the spring this is like a hiker highway with northbound PCT hikers. Later in the season you'll be lucky to see anyone aside from the odd local or southbound PCT hiker.
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There's some more uphill on the PCT.
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After some climbing you arrive at a false summit.
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And then you'll see the double Apache Peak. The higher (and prettier) peak is on the left, which is where we're going.
Hike Apache Peak Ca On The Spilter Peak Trail Topo
If you look at the USGS topographic map, you'll see the unique feature of the name appearing twice for the two peaks.
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Go straight past the spur trail on the right to Apache Spring.
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And shortly after that we're going to hop off the PCT and head up the use trail to the left. The use trail follows a gully in the beginning.
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Follow the trail along the gully.
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And then it's a bit of a choose your own adventure. The trail can be hard to follow at times but it's there.
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You want to head to the right of the far boulder on the ridge, and then make a left once past it.
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And here you are at the summit of Apache Peak.
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There's a trail register in the boulders.
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To the north you have views to San Jacinto Peak.
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To the west is the Garner Valley and Lake Hemet.
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To the south you can see Toro Peak (the high peak on the right). On the left is Rabbit Peak.
Hike Apache Peak Ca On The Spilter Peak Trail Cris Hazzard
That's the hike. On the way back you can bag the other Apache Peak and Spitler Peak if you have the energy. There are use trails for both, but it should only add a mile or so to the total hike. Or just head back the way you came and enjoy the views.

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).

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