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South Fork Trail To San Gorgonio Mountain

South Fork Trail to San Gorgonio Mountain

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the South Fork Trail (1E04)
  • Permits and Parking for the South Fork Trail
  • Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)19.5 miles (31.4 km)
Hike Time8-10 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)4,700 feet (1433m)
Highest Elevation11,503 feet (3506m)
Fees & PermitsFree Permit & Parking Fee
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682

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.

Where is the South Fork Trail?

The start of the South Fork Trail is easily accessible by paved road, and has a large parking area. Use this trailhead address:
South Fork Trail 1E04, 40800-40894 Jenks Lake Rd W, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305

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There’s a parking area right by the trailhead and then some other lots further down. Drive clockwise as you enter the parking area.

You need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.

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There’s a bathroom at the trailhead.
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Look for the trail board at the far end of the parking area.

Permits for the Fish Creek Trail

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

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Some of the trail can be overgrown. Having long pants will save your legs from scrapes and scratches.

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2021.

My September 2021 Top Gear Picks

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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

South Fork Trail Maps

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Most of this trail was heavily impacted by the 2015 Lake Fire. All the dead trees that you see will eventually fall down, and some have already. There can be big trees across the trail, and usually when there are, other hikers create detours around. The Forest Service and their volunteers actively maintain the trail and keep it clear (with non-powered tools). Thank them if you see them.
Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

Elevation Profile

South Fork Trail To San Gorgonio Mountain Elevation
After arriving at the San Gorgonio Wilderness boundary, you have a flat section before you start climbing again toward Dollar Lake. After Dollar Lake saddle the gradient eases up to the summit.

Landmarks on the Hike

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Trailhead06900
Horse Meadow17400
Wilderness Sign 27800
Dry Lake Junction3.78200
Dollar Lake Saddle69980
Summit9.811503

3D Map

South Fork Trail To San Gorgonio Mountain 3d Map
The first third follows the South Fork of the Santa Ana River, then you bear right and hike up to Dollar Lake Saddle. From there the trail winds along the high ridge to the San Gorgonio summit.

Lollipop Route

South Fork Trail To San Gorgonio Mountain Alt Route
If you want to add 2 miles onto the route, you can try the alternate “lollipop” route, shown here in red.

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:

  1. Hike to Dry Lake on the South Fork Trail.
  2. From Dry Lake, hike up to Mine Shaft Saddle.
  3. Take the Sky High Trail to the summit.
  4. Descend on the South Fork Trail (on the route described in this guide, but in reverse).

If you take this route, there are a good amount of overnighting options. The most popular being Dry Lake and Mine Shaft Saddle. If you overnight, remember to get your permit.

South Fork Trail to San Gorgonio Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

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Hike past the trail board and bathroom.
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Cross Jenks Lake Road.
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And you’ll see the official start of the South Fork Trail.
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Go down and then up the other side of the creek (which isn’t the South Fork).
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In the beginning the trail is very steep.
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But then levels out and climbs gradually. You’ll see lots of evidence of the 2015 Lake Fire, which was devastating to the area. The fire, a suspected case of arson, could have been contained sooner, but air operations had to be stopped when a drone was spotted flying around the fire.

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.

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Keep hiking uphill on the trail.
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And when you get to Horse Meadows at the top of the hill, bear to the right.
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You’ll see some historic cabins on the left. If you want to learn more about them and see inside the cabin, check out my guide to Dry Lake.
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Keep hiking straight through the old road. Before the area ahead had an official wilderness designation, you could drive up here.
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The trail starts angling uphill.
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Hike over the old road, which is only open to Forest Service vehicles.
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The trail crosses dozens of small streams that feed the Santa Ana River watershed. It can get overgrown.
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As you climb you’ll get glimpses of Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point on the other side of the valley.
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At the top of the hill you’ll see a junction. On the left is the side trail to the infamous Poopout Hill. Officially renamed in 1966 to honor those who came this far, saw San Gorgonio in the distance, and bailed out. The road used to come up to the hill, and Poopout Hill used to be called Trail Head Hill. Go straight to continue the hike.
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You’ll pass the San Gorgonio Wilderness sign. You need a permit past this point. The trail then goes downhill and then levels out, giving your legs a break.

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.

South Fork Trail Directions 23
As you cruise on the flat section, you’ll see your final destination, San Gorgonio Mountain summit, in front of you. On the left you’ll probably hear the roaring of the South Fork of the Santa Ana River. The area to the left is also called Slushy Meadow because of all the streams and springs supplying the river, which eventually flows out to the ocean at Huntingdon Beach.
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At about 3.4 miles in you’ll see the faint trace of the Lost Creek Trail on the left, which is mostly overgrown and impassable since the Lake Fire.
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After the Lost Creek Trail, the South Fork Trail starts to angle upward. Here we go.
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At the junction with the trail to Dry Lake, make the right towards Dollar Lake.
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The climb angles up some more, and the trail surface is rocky. You’ve got about 2.4 miles and 1800 feet of climbing to Dollar Lake Saddle.
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The gradient eases up in spots and the trail gets a little easier on the feet.
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As you come around the switchbacks you’ll see San Gorgonio in front of you. as well as Grinnell Mountain on the left. The area up to the left is directly above Dry Lake, and you hike up there on the approach from Fish Creek.
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The trail turns around and you’ll see the notch that is Dollar Lake Saddle head to the left.
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At the turnoff to Dollar Lake, stay right to continue to the saddle.

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.

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When you get to Dollar Lake Saddle, above the lake, hike on the trail to the left.
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There’s a Yosemite-style trail sign at the saddle. This is also the official end of the South Fork Trail; we’re now on the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail.
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The trail starts going up through the pines.
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And soon you’ll get incredible views of the San Bernardino high line. From left to right: San Bernardino Peak, Andersen Peak, and Shields Peak.
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And then the trail winds around to the south, and you can see the peaks above Mill Creek, including Little San Gorgonio Peak. If you’ve ever hiked to the summit on the Vivian Creek Trail, you started down there.
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The trail is rocky and steadily uphill as you climb up above 10000 feet and around Charlton Peak, which is on your left. The peak is named after R.H. Charlton, the Angeles National Forest supervisor from 1905-1925. In front of you is Jespon Peak, named after Willis Jepson, one of the founding members of the Sierra Club, along with John Muir.
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At about 7 miles and 10500 feet you pass through Dry Lake View Camp at a picturesque saddle.
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There are some protected tent sites here.
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If you look down to the left from the saddle, you can see Dry Lake (it’s dry here).
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Continue up from the saddle area.
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The landscape becomes more barren as you leave the tree line behind and round Jepson Peak.
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As you swing around to the south you’ll see the ridge where the Vivian Creek Trail climbs toward the summit.
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And as you round Jepson Peak, you’ll start to see San Gorgonio Mountain in front of you.
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The trees are gone as you hike along the ridge. Several “window” areas allow you to view down to the left.
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To the left, through the “windows,” you’ll be able to see Dry Lake, South Fork Meadows, and the approach you took on the way up.
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When you get to the junction with the Vivian Creek Trail, go straight.
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Here’s the sign at that junction. We’re going to Summit Camp.
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And soon after that is the junction with the Sky High Trail. Go straight toward the summit.
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Here’s a closeup of the sign at that junction. We’re going toward San Gorgonio Mountain.
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And then you’ll see the summit in front of you.
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At the top, make the left to climb the last pile of granite.
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And that’s it, you made it to the summit!

This guide last updated on August 12, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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