Easily the most popular San Gorgonio hike route, the Vivian Creek Trail is an iconic adventure up to the highest point in SoCal, at 11,503 feet. Vivian Creek is popular because it's the shortest and most accessible route, but it's also the steepest, so expect a good workout on your way to the summit. It's a beautiful hike through pines, cedars, and streams and then up to the barren moon-like landscape above the tree line. From the summit, you'll enjoy sweeping views from Nevada to the Channel Islands. Many people hike it in a day, but you can also make it an overnight backpacking trip. In this guide, I'll give you everything you need to know for either option.
In this Guide:
Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the San Gorgonio Hike
Parking and Permit Information for the Vivian Creek Trail
Maps, Elevation Profile, and Things to Know Before Going
Your permit only allows you to camp in the designated campsites within the San Gorgonio Wilderness, although you will see some dispersed tent sites along the route. I've marked them on the map and GPX file for reference, but don't consider them an option unless there's an emergency. Before the Lake Fire, an Explorer pass allowed you to camp at these sites, but not anymore. If this changes, please let me know.
Also note that camping on the summit can be very windy. Most of the summit tent sites have stone walls around them to help block the wind. There's also an official "summit campsite" to the southwest of the summit that's flat, sandy, and reasonably protected from the wind. I've marked both areas on the map and in the GPX file.
Training for San Gorgonio
If you're not used to doing this type of distance and climbing, I recommend building up your hiking fitness before you tackle this hike. A good progression is:
This route up to San Gorgonio Mountain starts at the Vivian Creek Trailhead, just past the Falls Picnic area in Forest Falls, CA. Use this trailhead address: 41900 Falls Rd Forest Falls, CA 92339.
Gear For the Hike
This is a serious hike and you need to be well prepared with layers, water (3L), and food. The summit is in an alpine zone and is exposed. Check the summit weather and be prepared for changing conditions, including potentially spending the night if something goes wrong. Trekking poles help on the way down, especially on the section just before Mill Creek.
Gear That I Love Right Now
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San Gorgonio has a mixed reputation among native peoples. The Serrano and Luiseño include it as part of their origin story, the Morongo believe it was the original home of the demon Tahquitz, and the Cahuilla just refer to it as a big pile of rocks.
Early settlers called it "gray back," as was common for treeless mountains like this, and today it's sometimes referred to as "old gray back."
But the name San Gorgonio dates to the 1850s when this area was part of a Mexican Land Grant. There's some dispute as to the origin, with some thinking it's tied to Saint Gorgonius of Nicomedia (celebrated in St. Gorgonio's Feast Day), and other sources citing Saint Gregory the Great (who converted Anglo-Saxon pagans to Christianity). Either way, it shows up on USGS maps in 1899 as San Gorgonio Mountain.
The longest recorded line of sight in the lower-48 United States is from Mt Whitney to the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, 190 miles away. Today, on a clear day, you can see from San Clemente Island out in the Pacific Ocean to Mt Charleston, 163 miles away in Nevada (by Las Vegas).
The mountain's height and position above the San Gorgonio Pass (connecting LA to Palm Springs) have made the summit the scene of several tragic plane crashes, claiming the lives of Frank Sinatra's mother and Dean Martin's son (in a separate crash).
You can sometimes feel the (negative) effects of altitude sickness on this hike. Read my section on dealing with in on my guide to Mt Whitney.
The 2020 Apple Fire skirts this route to the summit. The fire, which burned over 33,000 acres, was started by a malfunctioning diesel vehicle's exhaust system. The plume of smoke it sent up was so massive that it generated its own wind systems.