San Gorgonio Hike on the Vivian Creek Trail
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||18 miles (29 km)|
|Hike Time||9-11 Hours (Total)|
|Difficulty (?)||Very Hard|
|Total Ascent (?)||5,470 feet (1667m)|
|Highest Elevation||11,503 feet (3506m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee & Free Day Use Permit|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Mill Creek Visitor Center|
Easily the most popular San Gorgonio hike route, the Vivian Creek Trail is an iconic adventure up to the highest point in SoCal, at 11,503 feet. Vivian Creek is popular because it’s the shortest and most accessible route, but it’s also the steepest, so expect a good workout on your way to the summit. It’s a beautiful hike through pines, cedars, and streams and then up to the barren moon-like landscape above the tree line. From the summit, you’ll enjoy sweeping views from Nevada to the Channel Islands. Many people hike it in a day, but you can also make it an overnight backpacking trip. In this guide, I’ll give you everything you need to know for either option.
Permits & Planning Your San Gorgonio Hike
Assuming the weather is on your side, you will need a permit to day hike or overnight to San Gorgonio. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to get. Go to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association’s permit page and fill out the online form. There is a quota system in place to limit human impact on the wilderness. Once you get your permit, save it (offline) to your phone or print it and take it with you.
Backpacking San Gorgonio
Even though the hike clocks in at 18 miles or so, many people hike San Gorgonio in a day. But you can also do it as an overnight backpacking trip. You just need to pick a date and your campsite(s).
All the campsites, aside from the summit, are close to water sources, most of which stop flowing at some point in the summer. If you want to check on the status of water, I’d look at the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association’s (SGWA) forum pages.
Your permit only allows you to camp in the designated campsites within the San Gorgonio Wilderness, although you will see some dispersed tent sites along the route. I’ve marked them on the map and GPX file for reference, but don’t consider them an option unless there’s an emergency. Before the Lake Fire, an Explorer pass allowed you to camp at these sites, but not anymore. If this changes, please let me know.
Also note that camping on the summit can be very windy. Most of the summit tent sites have stone walls around them to help block the wind. There’s also an official “summit campsite” to the southwest of the summit that’s flat, sandy, and reasonably protected from the wind. I’ve marked both areas on the map and in the GPX file.
Training for San Gorgonio
If you’re not used to doing this type of distance and climbing, I recommend building up your hiking fitness before you tackle this hike. A good progression is:
- Sugarloaf Mountain (12 miles, 3300 feet of climbing)
- Ontario Peak and Bighorn Peak (14.7 miles, 4200 feet of climbing)
- San Gorgonio (18 miles, 5400 feet of climbing)
And if you bag San Gorgonio, it’s probably time for you to bag Mt Whitney next.
Where is the Start of the Hike?
This route up to San Gorgonio Mountain starts at the Vivian Creek Trailhead, just past the Falls Picnic area in Forest Falls, CA. Use this trailhead address: 41900 Falls Rd Forest Falls, CA 92339.
Gear For the Hike
This is a serious hike and you need to be well prepared with layers, water (3L), and food. The summit is in an alpine zone and is exposed. Check the summit weather and be prepared for changing conditions, including potentially spending the night if something goes wrong. Trekking poles help on the way down, especially on the section just before Mill Creek.
Garmin inReach Mini
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.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI | Backcountry
My Review & Guide
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.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
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.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Z-Poles: MacPac | REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated November 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.
Vivian 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?
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.
Landmarks on the Hike
|Mill Creek Crossing||0.5||6200|
|San Gorgonio Wilderness Boundary||1.5||7050|
|Vivian Creek Camp||1.7||7100|
|High Creek Camp||5.3||9200|
|Peak Divide Trail||8.5||11250|
- San Gorgonio has a mixed reputation among native peoples. The Serrano and Luiseño include it as part of their origin story, the Morongo believe it was the original home of the demon Tahquitz, and the Cahuilla just refer to it as a big pile of rocks.
- Early settlers called it “gray back,” as was common for treeless mountains like this, and today it’s sometimes referred to as “old gray back.”
- But the name San Gorgonio dates to the 1850s when this area was part of a Mexican Land Grant. There’s some dispute as to the origin, with some thinking it’s tied to Saint Gorgonius of Nicomedia (celebrated in St. Gorgonio’s Feast Day), and other sources citing Saint Gregory the Great (who converted Anglo-Saxon pagans to Christianity). Either way, it shows up on USGS maps in 1899 as San Gorgonio Mountain.
- The longest recorded line of sight in the lower-48 United States is from Mt Whitney to the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, 190 miles away. Today, on a clear day, you can see from San Clemente Island out in the Pacific Ocean to Mt Charleston, 163 miles away in Nevada (by Las Vegas).
- The mountain’s height and position above the San Gorgonio Pass (connecting LA to Palm Springs) have made the summit the scene of several tragic plane crashes, claiming the lives of Frank Sinatra’s mother and Dean Martin’s son (in a separate crash).
- You can sometimes feel the (negative) effects of altitude sickness on this hike. Read my section on dealing with in on my guide to Mt Whitney.
- The 2020 Apple Fire skirts this route to the summit. The fire, which burned over 33,000 acres, was started by a malfunctioning diesel vehicle’s exhaust system. The plume of smoke it sent up was so massive that it generated its own wind systems.
San Gorgonio on Vivian Creek Hike Directions
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This guide last updated on October 9, 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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