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Los Angeles Hikes

Dry Lake (San Gorgonio) From The South Fork Trail

  • 11.5 miles - Hard Effort
  • 5-6 Hours (Total)
  • 2,330 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 9,000 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

Dry Lake, nestled in the shadow of San Gorgonio Mountain, is a beautiful day hike or overnight camping destination. This hiking guide to Dry Lake takes the scenic South Fork Trail, which is well maintained with gradual slopes. And despite being called Dry Lake, it often has water in it, making for a pristine alpine oasis in the mountains of Southern California.

In this Guide:
  • Video & Turn by Turn Directions to Dry Lake
  • How to Get to the South Fork Trail
  • Permits & Camping for Dry Lake
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike

How to Get to the South Fork Trail

The South Fork Trailhead (officially known as South Fork Trail 1E04) lies about 2.5 miles off of Rt 38, close to the town of Angelus Oaks. Use this trailhead address:
South Fork Trail 1E04, 40800-40894 Jenks Lake Rd W, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305

There are other South Fork Trails in Southern California, so make sure you are going to South Fork Trail 1E04 by Angelus Oaks.

You need a parks pass or Adventure Pass to park in the lot here.

South Fork Trailhed Parking Lots
When you get to the parking lot, make the hard right and drive up to the upper parking area close to the bathrooms.
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The upper lot is next to this trail board and bathroom structure.
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Between all of the lots at the South Fork Trailhead, there is a ton of parking.

Day Hike Permits

Day use permits were recently reinstated. The permits are free but controlled by a quota. That means last-minute hikes are generally out of the picture, but there will be less crowds out on the trail. You can fill out a hike permit and email it in here.

Gear for the Hike

This is a backcountry hike and I recommend having proper hiking gear. Unless it's very dry, there are some small stream hop-overs, so waterproof boots can help. And trekking poles are good on the slopes, both up and down.

And because you are in the high mountains, there can be snow here in the winter, making the hike a much different experience. Do the hike when it's clear of snow if it's your first time. Leave the more challenging conditions for when you have experience in the area.

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)

South Fork Trail to Dry Lake Trail Maps

Overall the trail is well maintained and easy to follow. The South Fork Trail is one of the more popular trails, and generally gets attention from the Forest Service. That being said, there are often trees down over the trail because of all the fire damage (more later). Most big trees can be scooted over on your butt or walked around.

Click Here To View

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

Elevation Profile

Dry Lake Hike Elevation
The first part of the hike is steep, and then there's a mellow stretch in the middle that almost feels flat. After that it's a climb to the lake. There's about 2100 feet of elevation difference between the South Fork Trailhead and Dry Lake.

3D Map

Dry Lake Hike 3d Map
The trail roughly follows the South Fork of the Santa Ana River up to Dry Lake.

Hike Brief

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Lot's of instructions at the trailhead. Here's what you need to know.

Camping at Dry Lake

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Here's the view that you wake up to when you camp at Dry Lake. As you can imagine, it can be a popular spot.
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There's a camping map sign on the Dry Lake loop trail.
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Some areas are explicitly marked "no camping."
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There are lots of established camping areas from the thousands of folks who've been here before.

Permit Availablity

Can't get a permit for your date? Try and get a text message as soon as a cancelled permit opens up!.

South Fork Trail to Dry Lake Hike Directions

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Head past the bathrooms in the parking area.
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Cross Jenks Lake Road and start the trail.
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The South Fork Trail and Dry Lake is part of Sand to Snow National Monument.
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Shortly after the start, stay left at the detour.
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And you'll start climbing right away.
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The climb is steep in the beginning as you hike through the new-growth manzanita and burned trees.
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There are some sections where the steep gradient mellows out and you can cruise.
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After about 1 mile in you'll reach Horse Meadow off to the left. Explore the cabins if you'd like, then continue right toward Dry Lake.
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Horse Meadow used to be a ranger outpost before the time of cars (it closed in the 1950s). From here rangers would patrol the forest and do timber surveys. In more recent years it was staffed by volunteers who would help hikers.
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If you need to take refuge from the weather, you can pop into the cabins here.
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Continue through Horse Meadow.
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Cross the dirt road.
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Soon after the road you'll reach this junction for Poopout Hill. Let's make the quick detour to Poopout Hill.

Poopout Hill was not named after a bowel movement. It was named that because it's the first place where you can see the summit of San Gorgonio, and when early travelers saw how far they'd have to go to hike it, they'd "poop out" of the effort here and turn around.

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The end of the side trip is a small circle of stones that used to house interpretive displays.
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The real highlight of Poopout Hill is the San Gorgonio Wilderness sign that sits perfectly aligned with San Gorgonio Mountain.
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After the side trip to Poopout, head back to the trail where you will pass another San Gorgonio Wilderness sign. This starts the easier middle section of the hike.
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As the hike meanders up the South Fork you'll get some nice views of Sugarloaf Mountain across the valley.
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At the junction with the (little used) Lost Creek Trail, stay to the right.
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The trail gets rocky and starts to climb. It will be a steeper climb from here until you get to Dry Lake.
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At the trail junction, make the left to Dry Lake (not the right to Dollar Lake).
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There are several small stream crossings here. All of them have rocks and logs to help you across.
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After the last stream crossing you'll start climbing up the eastern side of the valley, away from and above the stream.
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There are several long switchbacks as you climb up the side of the valley. You'll start to get glimpses of the high peaks again.
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Eventually the trail will rejoin the stream at the top of the valley. From here it's only a short way to the lake.
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Dry Lake! You made it! Let's do the loop hike around the lake to the left. You'll be coming back out on the right side.
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The trail winds around the lake and through the camping areas.
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At the junction for Lodgepole Spring, keep right to continue circling the lake.
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Some of the trail on the lake loop is a bit of a "choose your own adventure" but as long as you circle the lake you'll be fine.
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Toward the end of the loop the trail becomes defined again and you arrive back at the start.

And that's it. Just return the way you came from here and enjoy the downhill.

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.