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Los Angeles Hikes

Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout (Idyllwild, CA)

  • 8 miles - Hard Effort
  • 4-5 Hours (Total)
  • 2,820 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 7,772 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.

In this Guide:
  • Video & Turn by Turn Black Mountain Trail Directions
  • How to Get to the Black Mountain Trail
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike

Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.

Getting to the Trailhead

First off, there are about 50 million "Black Mountain Trails" out there, so make sure you are using the one designated as 2E35 in San Bernardino National Forest before the GPS routes you to South Dakota. Use this trailhead address:
Black Mountain Trail 2E35, 4S57, 2E35, Banning, CA 92220

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The trailhead turnoff isn't obvious, but there are road signs in both directions for the trailhead.
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There's a small dirt road up an incline to the parking area. You can do it in any vehicle if you go slow.
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The parking lot is big, but usually fills up as the day goes on. The trailhead is at the far end of the lot. You don't need any parking pass here according to the SBNF website.

There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead.

Gear For the Hike

The trail is a legit mountain climb, so you should use proper hiking gear on this hike. Trekking poles help you going up and down the steep slopes. Like most of the high mountains of Southern California, in the summer it can get very hot, and in the winter the trail can be covered with snow. Check the conditions before you go.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated May 2024)

Black Mountain Trail Maps

Overall the trail is easy to follow, except for the last small stretch before the summit. The trail can get mildly overgrown in places during the spring.

Click Here To View

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

Elevation Profile

Black Mountain Trail Elevation
For the most part you're going up. The middle section feels a little flatter and easier than this elevation profile suggests.

3d Map

Black Mountain Trail 3d Map
The route is an out-and-back hike with a small (optional) loop at the top.

Hike Brief

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This hike includes a short visit to Boulder Basin campground. You could overnight here if you're feeling it. Note that the campground is also accessible by a dirt road.

Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout Hike Directions

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The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. You're at 5140 feet here.
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Right from the gun you start climbing. From the start to the summit you're climbing about 2600 feet.
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After some relatively straight sections, the trail starts to incorporate switchbacks.
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And after a short while you'll emerge from the chaparral and start getting some views.
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Big trees! But is it a giant sequoia? Look for bright reddish bark, egg-shaped cones, and scale-like needles. And don't look for giant trees. Since these were planted in 1974, they should be under 50 feet.
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The trail levels off and heads through a boulder field. The next mile or so has some ups and downs, but is not as steep as the beginning.
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The trail heads through some sections of vegetation. Most of the hike is in the shade.
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When you cross the granite slab, stay straight and head downhill. There are tracks to the right to a viewpoint but that's not the trail.
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You'll start getting views of San Gorgonio to your left.

On some maps you'll see the Cinco Poses Trail coming in from the right. Don't look for it. Whatever was there is long overgrown.

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Soon you'll come out at a ridge and see Black Mountain in front of you. The next section is slightly downhill along Hall Canyon.
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And after 5-10 minutes of easy level trail, you start going up again. From here on out you'll be climbing until you get to the top. The trail makes some switchbacks as it goes up Hall Canyon.
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After crossing the (usually very dry) Hall Creek, the trail becomes more defined and has some nice long switchbacks.
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When you get to the saddle with the trail sign, make the hard right. We'll be coming out here from the campground on the return.
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The trail goes slightly uphill.
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At the water tank, go to the right.
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This is the toughest part of the trail to follow. There's definitely a trail, but it can get faint at points. It helps to consult the GPX track when in doubt.
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After heading west to the cliff, the trail turns left (east) and heads sharply uphill.
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As you enter an area of giant granite boulders, you'll spy the fire lookout above you.
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You emerge on the road. Cross over and up the paved path to the summit.
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Enjoy the fire lookout. When the campground is open, you'll be sharing it with folks who drove up and then did the short hike from there.
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Photo opportunity!
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The views from Black Mountain are spectacular. You'll see Saddleback Mountain, Angeles National Forest, and San Gorgonio.
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When you're done at the summit, head back to the dirt road. You'll see San Jacinto as you head back to the path.
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Hike down the sandy road until you reach the Boulder Basin Campground.

You can also just skip the campground and head back the way you came up.

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When you reach the campground, make the first hard left turn. Or take a break at the campground.
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There are toilets at the campground, but are usually locked if the campground is closed.
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Head up the trail from the left turn, through the gate.
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The trail goes gently uphill.
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And then you emerge at the saddle where you made the turn to the summit earlier. From here just head back down the way you came.

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
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!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.