South Fork Trail to San Gorgonio Mountain
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||19.5 miles (31.4 km)|
|Hike Time||8-10 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||4,700 feet (1433m)|
|Highest Elevation||11,503 feet (3506m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free Permit & Parking Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Bernardino National Forest|
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
You need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.
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
- 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.
Garmin inReach Mini
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.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI | Backcountry
My Review & Guide
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.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Z-Poles: MacPac | REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated November 2021.
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
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.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. 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.
Landmarks on the Hike
|Dry Lake Junction||3.7||8200|
|Dollar Lake Saddle||6||9980|
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:
- Hike to Dry Lake on the South Fork Trail.
- From Dry Lake, hike up to Mine Shaft Saddle.
- Take the Sky High Trail to the summit.
- 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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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
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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