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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.
18.5 miles (29.8 km)
5390 ft (1643 m)
Marked Forest Service Trails
Long distance, climbing, altititude
Great Views, Climbing
Parks Pass Needed
Planning for the San Gorgonio Hike 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. 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 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. San Gorgonio Hike Trail Maps
Use this address in Google Maps to get to the trailhead:
Big Falls Picnic, Forest Falls, CA, 92339, USA
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.
Interactive Map San Gorgonio Hike Map Downloads Gear for the San Gorgonio Hike The best hydration daypack out there. The CamelBak Fourteener has been perfect on hikes of all distances (including Mt Whitney and Cactus to Clouds). It's light, has plenty of room for super-food snacks, extra layers, hiking gear, and comes with a 3 liter water bladder. I also like the raised sweat pads on the back that keep your back dry. It's the perfect blend of high-tech, durability, and simplicity. I've got hundreds of hours on it and still love it. CamelBak Fourteener Reviews My favorite hiking boot of all time. The La Sportiva Synthesis (for men and women) are waterproof, super-light, have incredible grip, and won a Backpacker Magazine Editor's Choice Award ( my review here). I've gone through a lot of boots and these are my favorite. They feel like comfortable sneakers with the protection of hiking boots. La Sportiva Hiking Boot Reviews Don't hike without this in your backpack. It's a GPS emergency beacon and can save your life ( more on that here). On the trail, you're often out of cell phone range, and even something as simple as a twisted ankle could become a life and death situation. This beacon works where cell phones don't and is the size of a fist. Just press a button and help is on the way. Your life is worth every penny. ACR GPS Beacon Reviews For my complete gear list and survival kit contents, check out my post on the modern hiking essentials here. I'd also recommend taking a quick look at the Every day they mark down great quality hiking gear, fitness gear, and clothing. Pick up an inexpensive lifetime REI Outlet site. REI Membership for an extra 10% off. San Gorgonio Hike Video San Gorgonio Hike Directions What to Expect 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 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. Turn by Turn Directions There’s a lot of parking at the trailhead. During weekends it fills up quickly. Bathrooms are in this building in the middle of the parking lot. Don’t forget to get your permit before you go. Keep it with you as you hike. If you see a ranger, they might ask to see it. Look for the hiking board that marks the beginning of the hike. The very beginning might be the trickiest part of the hike. You will be following the dirt road up along the Mill Creek riverbed. Keep going straight. Avoid the cabins and keep heading straight. There are trail signs to point you in the right direction. The road gets really primitive and rocky. Sections of the road were washed out by flooding. Keep going straight. A little before 0.5 miles, you’ll see a big trail sign. Follow the arrow to the left and cross Mill Creek. Crossing Mill Creek can be tricky. The trail splits apart and comes back together. Look for the brown trail signs on the other side. Signs mark the start of the Vivian Creek trail proper on the other side of Mill Creek. Now you go up. And up. Oh, and up. This part is steep but it’s a great way to wake up your body. It’s a tough mile or so up, but the views are great. Take your time. Towards the top of the climb you enter the San Gorgonio Wilderness. A little after 1.6 miles the trail levels off. There’s a tricky part by a fallen tree. Hike to the right. The left has an area with a ‘no camping’ sign. Enjoy this mellow part of the hike along Vivian Creek. The grade is gradual and the scenery is lush. This section is a good opportunity to eat and fuel up. At about 3.3 miles there’s a turn-off. Stay left towards High Creek. Here’s a detail of the previous junction sign. Again, head toward High Creek. Now you start climbing again. The switchbacks are tough but not as bad as the first part of the hike. Take breaks to turn around and check out the views. That’s Mt Baldy in the distance. At around 5.8 miles you’ll start seeing signs for High Creek camp. Continue through High Creek Camp on the trail. High Creek Camp is a good option if you want to backpack over two days. You can also refill your water bottles in the creek here. There’s a stream at High Creek, cross it and continue up some long, gradual, rocky switchbacks that seem to go on forever. At about 7.3 miles you reach a ridge. To the right is a little view area. The trail goes left. The viewpoint is close and worth a stop. It has sweeping views to the south. Head back on the trail and start climbing again. You can see the terrain starts to change here. As you climb, you’ll have great views of Mount San Jacinto to your right. At about 7.5 miles, you’ll start to get views of your final destination, the San Gorgonio Mountain peak. The trees are sparse as you climb. If the weather is bad, you’ll really know it by this point of the hike. The trail gets steep in this section. Shortly after that steep section, you climb above the tree line and enter the barren, moon-like terrain on the way to the peak. It can be pretty windy here, even if the weather is nice. The trail splits apart and comes together in some sections. Look for cairns if you get lost. At about 8.8 miles, hike to the right as the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail joins from the left. Shortly after that, there’s another junction. Stay left toward San Gorogonio peak. Almost there! They call San Gorgonio “old greyback” because it’s a grey hump. BOOM! You made it! There’s a mandatory pose with the sign when you summit. There are some rock walls up here in case you want to camp in a shelter. It’s also a good place to hunker down if the wind is crazy. The panorama from San Gorgonio is awesome. You’re so high up that you can really see the curvature of the earth. San Gorgonio is a popular hike, expect some company if you’re at the summit during the day. On this day, a kid was cracking golf balls off the summit. To return, hike back down the way you came. It’s a long day, so pace yourself and watch your footing. I tend to roll my ankles more when I’m tired. Happy hiking! So you bagged San Gorogonio? Then you need to set your sights on Mt Whitney next! An easy way to give back is to simply pick up any trash you see on the trail. 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.
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I’m Hiking Guy, aka Cris Hazzard. I like to get outdoors, walk, and then write about it. It wasn’t always like that though.
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