San Gorgonio Hike on the Vivian Creek Trail
- 18 miles - Very Hard Effort
- 9-11 Hours (Total)
- 5,470 Total Feet of Climbing
- Max Elevation of 11,503 feet
- Leashed Dogs Allowed
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.
- Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the San Gorgonio Hike
- Parking and Permit Information for the Vivian Creek Trail
- Maps, Elevation Profile, and Things to Know Before Going
- 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.
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.
Can't get a permit for your date? Try OutdoorStatus.com and get a text message as soon as a cancelled permit opens up!.
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.
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Osprey Stratos and Sirrus 24 Daypack ( Amazon | Sirrus REI | Stratos REI )
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Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles ( REI | Amazon )
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Vivian Creek Trail Maps
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
Free Nav Tools: GaiaGPS - AllTrails
Guides to Help You Navigate
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 Was Written by Cris Hazzard
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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