San Gorgonio Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||18.5 miles (29.8 km)|
|Hike Time||10 Hours (Total)|
|Difficulty (?)||Very Hard|
|Total Ascent (?)||5,470 feet (1667m)|
|Highest Elevation||11,503 feet (3506m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee & Voluntary Permit|
|Park Website||Mill Creek Visitor Center|
|Stay In Touch||Newsletter - Instagram - YouTube - Facebook|
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.
I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: Women – Men
On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.
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. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.
I’m a big fan of GPS watches (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar. I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy and does a lot of the same things.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
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 offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
San Gorgonio Trail Maps
San Gorgonio Hike Map Downloads
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
San Gorgonio Hike Directions
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Don’t do this hike in the winter unless you have mountaineering experience.
Turn by Turn Directions
So you bagged San Gorogonio? Then you need to set your sights on Mt Whitney next!
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Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.