San Gorgonio Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||18.5 miles (29.8 km)|
|Hike Time||10 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||5,470 feet (1667m)|
|Highest Elevation||11,503 feet (3506m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee & Voluntary Permit|
|Dog Friendly||Off Leash Okay|
|Park Contact||Mill Creek Visitor Center|
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
You no longer need a quota permit for a day hike!
- San Gorgonio day hike permits 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.
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. Be prepared for changing conditions and potentially spending the night if something goes wrong.
Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.
My best lightweight pack for hikes between 3-10+ hours. I use mine with the 3L water bladder from Osprey.
You can text, SOS, and get weather in the backcountry where your cell phone doesn’t work. Literally a life-saver.
Modern materials mean you get the protection of a traditional hiking boot (waterproof, etc.) with feel of a sneaker.
If you’re not using poles yet, you should be. This model takes a beating, is light, and is super comfortable.
I use a light inner toe sock and then a top-quality outer sock to prevent blisters.
Probars are great: no preservatives, vegan, low-GI, compact, and tasty. Put good fuel in your body.
If you’re hiking in the backcountry it makes sense to have a decent emergency kit and some basic gear to spend the night in a pinch.Full HikingGuy Gear List
* 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 REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Also → Big Sale at REI On Now:
San Gorgonio Trail Maps
San Gorgonio Hike Map Downloads
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
San Gorgonio Hike Directions
Don’t do this hike in the winter unless you have mountaineering experience.
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So you bagged San Gorogonio? Then you need to set your sights on Mt Whitney next!
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.