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, 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.
The San Gorgonio hike is about 90 minutes east of downtown LA.
The hike starts in the valley by Mill Creek, does a tough quick climb to Vivian Creek for the middle section, and then goes straight up in the end. There are some gradual sections in the middle, but expect to be going up for most of the hike.
The San Gorgonio hike basically just goes up. You have to pace yourself because it's a long hike. The last stretch is steep, at altitude, and tough.
San Gorgonio is the only mountain that can be seen from Mt. Whitney, 190 miles away.
It’s nickname is “old greyback.”
There have been lots of plane crashes on San Gorgonio. Frank Sinatra’s mother died in a plane crash on the mountain. Dean Martin’s son also died in a separate plane crash here.
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.
Likewise, you need to be well prepared with layers, water, and food. The summit is in an alpine zone and is exposed. Call the ranger office to check conditions before you leave. Don’t do this hike in the winter unless you have mountaineering experience.
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.
You have the option of splitting this day hike into an overnight backpacking trip. There are a few camping options, with High Creek Camp being the most popular (and it has water). Call the ranger’s office to check on availability of campsites if you want to backpack San Gorgonio.
You need a (free) permit to hike San Gorgonio, and it’s easy to get.
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 trailhead or on the trail checking permits. Just show them your piece of paper and he’ll mark it. It’s as easy at that.
You need a parking pass. 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.
A quick note. These directions are meant as a guide for the hike, and not a definitive source. Conditions change, and the information here can be different based on time of day, weather, season, etc. There can be small side trails that you might see but I missed. I have made every effort to include all the information you need to complete the hike successfully. I recommend using this guide in conjunction with a map, GPX file, common sense, and call to the ranger station or park office. If you do the hike and notice something has changed, please contact me and I will update the guide.