The South Fork Trail is one of the more popular routes to the San Gorgonio Mountain summit, and for a good reason. You have to put some work in on the climb, but overall the gradients are steady and reasonable. As you wind up toward the summit, you'll get postcard views of the San Bernardino high line of peaks, views down to Mill Creek, and then, of course, the epic views from the summit, the highest point in southern California. Overall this is a classic hike.
In this Guide:
Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the South Fork Trail (1E04)
The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association handles South Fork Trail permits, and they are easy to apply for using their online portal. There's a quota system, and this trail can get busy on the weekends, so try to book ahead. You can print your permit out or save it to your phone (as long as your phone works). You can also get an overnight permit and make the trip a backpacking adventure. You must camp in the designated campsites, and the only ones directly on this route are Dollar Lake and Dry Lake View (my pick).
Gear For the Hike
I bring 3L of water and a filter for when I need more. There is seasonal water along the route; I've indicated some of them in the map and GPX file.
You're hiking up above the tree line, bring layers and prepare for rapidly changing weather conditions.
There aren't any super-steep sections on the hike, so trekking poles aren't a must, but bring them if you like using them.
Some of the trail is rocky; wear the proper footwear.
As you may have guessed, this route can be covered in snow in the winter and spring and is only appropriate for those with mountaineering skills.
Another popular route is combining the South Fork Trail with the Sky High Trail and hiking them in a loop. It's typically done as a clockwise route. If you're cool with the mileage, or have done the South Fork Trail up and down, I recommend giving it a try. Here's how to put the pieces together:
To see what this area could potentially look like after 50 years of recovery, check out the nearby Exploration Trail, which has recovered from the 1970 Bear Fire.
Did you know that in the great hiking era of the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge was lobbied to protect this area by creating the "Junípero Serra National Monument"? It never happened, but today it's protected as an official wilderness area.
Dollar Lake, named after its grey bottom makes it look like a silver dollar, is fed by a spring and has water early in the season (generally). And Dollar Lake is a tarn, a lake formed in a cirque (bowl) by a glacier. The San Bernardinos are the only mountains in Southern California that show evidence of glaciers. The lake is 0.5 miles down the spur trail if you want to visit.
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!).