San Gorgonio Hike

San Gorgonio Hike

In This Guide
  • How to Get a San Gorgonio Permit
  • How to Get to the San Gorgonio Hike
  • San Gorgonio Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance18.5 miles (29.8 km)
Time10 Hours (Total Time)
DifficultyVery Hard
Total Climbing5,390 feet (1643m)
Dog FriendlyOff Leash Okay
Park NameMill Creek Visitor Center
Park Phone909-382-2882

At 11,503 feet, the San Gorgonio hike brings you to the highest peak in Southern California.  The hike to San Gorgonio is an iconic SoCal hiker rite of passage, and I highly recommend it. There are a few ways to hike to the peak. This hiking guide takes the Vivian Creek trail, which is the quickest way to the summit at 10 hours roundtrip. It’s a tough hike but doable in a day if you train for it.

San Gorgonio’s nickname is “old greyback” because of it’s grey and rounded peak; it’s the only peak in Southern California with a summit significantly above the tree line. The upper slopes are rocky and barren, similar to Mt Whitney. In fact, San Gorgonio is the only mountain that can be seen from Mt. Whitney, 190 miles away. It’s height and position above the San Gorgonio Pass have made it the scene of some tragic plane crashes. Frank Sinatra’s mother died in a plane crash on the mountain. Dean Martin’s son also died in a separate plane crash here.

Planning for the San Gorgonio Hike

Hioh Creek Camp Sign
You don’t have to tackle all 18 miles in one day, you can also split the hike into an overnight at High Creek Camp. Photo Mitch Barrie
  • UPDATE: YOU NO LONGER NEED A QUOTA PERMIT FOR A DAY HIKE! They are voluntary now and help the rangers understand traffic in the area (and hopefully get more funding to support these trails). I recommend filling out the permit online here, and then emailing it in to the rangers. Print a copy out for yourself and bring it with you.
  • You have the option of splitting this day hike into an overnight backpacking trip. There are a few camping options. High Creek Camp, at 9,440ft is the most popular option (and it has water).
  • You still need an approved permit for an overnight hike though. The permit is relatively easy to get (based on availability)
    • Call the Mill Creek Visitor Center at 909-382-2882 and see if there is a space open for the day you want.
    • If there are spaces available on your date, go to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association website and follow instructions on getting a permit.
    • You can send the permit by mail, or for a quicker turnaround, fax the PDF form in. After faxing, I got my permit back within the hour.
    • You can also walk into the Mill Creek Visitor Center and get a walk-up permit. If there are spaces left, you just fill out the form and start hiking. If not, you don’t.
    • There might be a ranger at the campground checking permits. Just show them your piece of paper and he’ll mark it. It’s as easy at that.
  • The San Gorgonio hike is an extremely tough hike, but not technical. You need a good level of fitness to attempt it.  I recommend hiking Mt. Baldy and San Jacinto to build up to San Gorgonio.
  • You might feel the effects of altitude on this hike, including headache, fatigue, and nausea. If you do, stop, and rest. Make sure you’re well hydrated. If, after resting, you still feel the symptoms, be prudent and turn around. Some people pop a Diamox. Read the Altitude Sickness on my Mt Whitney guide to learn more.

Where Is The San Gorgonio Hike

Use this trailhead address: 41900 Falls Rd Forest Falls, CA 92339.

You need a parking pass for the trailhead. I use the affordable National Parks Pass, which gets me in every park, monument, and national forest. You can also use an (Southern California only) Adventure Pass, or buy a $5 day permit from the ranger’s office.

san gorgonio hike bathrooms
Bathrooms are in this building in the middle of the parking lot.

Gear For the Hike

This is a serious hike and you need to be well prepared with layers, water, and food. The summit is in an alpine zone and is exposed. Check the summit weather and call the ranger office to check conditions before you leave. Don’t do this hike in the winter unless you have mountaineering experience.

Here’s what I bring:

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

San Gorgonio Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

san gorgonio hike 3d map
The hike starts in the valley by Mill Creek, does a tough quick climb to Vivian Creek for the middle section, and then goes straight up in the end. There are some gradual sections in the middle, but expect to be going up for most of the hike.
san gorgonio hike elevation
The San Gorgonio hike basically just goes up. You have to pace yourself because it’s a long hike. The last stretch is steep, at altitude, and tough.

San Gorgonio Hike Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

san gorgonio hike parking
There’s a lot of parking at the trailhead. During weekends it fills up quickly.
san gorgonio hike board
Look for the hiking board that marks the beginning of the hike.
san gorgonio hike start
The very beginning might be the trickiest part of the hike. You will be following the dirt road up along the Mill Creek riverbed. Keep going straight.
san gorgonio hike trail signs
Avoid the cabins and keep heading straight. There are trail signs to point you in the right direction.
san gorgonio hike road
The road gets really primitive and rocky. Sections of the road were washed out by flooding. Keep going straight.
san gorgonio hike at mill creek
A little before 0.5 miles, you’ll see a big trail sign. Follow the arrow to the left and cross Mill Creek.
mill creek crossing
Crossing Mill Creek can be tricky. The trail splits apart and comes back together. Look for the brown trail signs on the other side.
san gorgonio hike signs
Signs mark the start of the Vivian Creek trail proper on the other side of Mill Creek.
san gorgonio hike goes up
Now you go up. And up. Oh, and up. This part is steep but it’s a great way to wake up your body.
san gorgonio hike views
It’s a tough mile or so up, but the views are great. Take your time.
San Gorgonio Wilderness sign
Towards the top of the climb you enter the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
san gorgonio hike levels off
A little after 1.6 miles the trail levels off.
san gorgonio hike trail
There’s a tricky part by a fallen tree. Hike to the right. The left has an area with a ‘no camping’ sign.
san gorgonio hike by vivian creek
Enjoy this mellow part of the hike along Vivian Creek. The grade is gradual and the scenery is lush.
cris hazzard eats on san gorgonio hike
This section is a good opportunity to eat and fuel up.
san gorgonio hike turn-off
At about 3.3 miles there’s a turn-off. Stay left towards High Creek.
san gorgonio hike junction sign
Here’s a detail of the previous junction sign. Again, head toward High Creek.
san gorgonio hike climbs
Now you start climbing again. The switchbacks are tough but not as bad as the first part of the hike.
view of mt baldy
Take breaks to turn around and check out the views. That’s Mt Baldy in the distance.
signs for High Creek camp
At around 5.8 miles you’ll start seeing signs for High Creek camp.
High Creek Camp
Continue through High Creek Camp on the trail. High Creek Camp is a good option if you want to backpack over two days. You can also refill your water bottles in the creek here.
san gorgonio hike switchbacks
There’s a stream at High Creek, cross it and continue up some long, gradual, rocky switchbacks that seem to go on forever.
ridge on san gorgonio hike
At about 7.3 miles you reach a ridge. To the right is a little view area. The trail goes left.
san gorgonio hike viewpoint
The viewpoint is close and worth a stop. It has sweeping views to the south.
san gorgonio hike climb
Head back on the trail and start climbing again. You can see the terrain starts to change here.
views of Mount San Jacinto
As you climb, you’ll have great views of Mount San Jacinto to your right.
view of San Gorgonio Mountain peak
At about 7.5 miles, you’ll start to get views of your final destination, the San Gorgonio Mountain peak.
sparse trees on san gorgonio hike
The trees are sparse as you climb. If the weather is bad, you’ll really know it by this point of the hike.
steep section on san gorgonio hike
The trail gets steep in this section.
san gorgonio hike crosses the tree line
Shortly after that steep section, you climb above the tree line and enter the barren, moon-like terrain on the way to the peak. It can be pretty windy here, even if the weather is nice.
cairns on san gorgonio hike
The trail splits apart and comes together in some sections. Look for cairns if you get lost.
Bernardino Peak Divide Trail sign
At about 8.8 miles, hike to the right as the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail joins from the left.
san gorgonio hike trail junction
Shortly after that, there’s another junction. Stay left toward San Gorogonio peak.
san gorgonio hike trail
Almost there! They call San Gorgonio “old greyback” because it’s a grey hump.
cris hazzard with san gorgonio sign
BOOM! You made it! There’s a mandatory pose with the sign when you summit.
rock shelter on san gorgonio hike
There are some rock walls up here in case you want to camp in a shelter. It’s also a good place to hunker down if the wind is crazy.
san gorgonio hike panorama
The panorama from San Gorgonio is awesome. You’re so high up that you can really see the curvature of the earth.
cris hazzard on san gorgonio hike
To return, hike back down the way you came. It’s a long day, so pace yourself and watch your footing. I tend to roll my ankles more when I’m tired. Happy hiking!

So you bagged San Gorogonio? Then you need to set your sights on Mt Whitney next!

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