Butler Peak Lookout

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Looking west from Butler Peak

Looking west from Butler Peak

Looking south from Butler Peak

Looking south from Butler Peak

Butler Peak Lookout

        • Location: Northwest of Big Bear Lake.  From Highway 38, head north on Rim of the World Drive (3.4 miles east of the junction with Highway 18 at the west end of the lake; 2.9 miles west of the discovery center at Fawnskin).  The road becomes dirt after 0.5 miles; it should be passable for all vehicles but it is rough in spots so exercise caution.  At 1.3 miles, park at the junction with forest road 2N13, which may be blocked off by a metal gate.  There is an information board and room for a few cars to park.
        • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center
        • Distance: 9.8 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,550 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, altitude)
        • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
        • Best season: May – October
        • USGS topo map: Fawnskin; Butler Peak
        • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; lookout information page here; Everytrail report here
        • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the gate on 2N13 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the gate on 2N13 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Rising 8,535 feet above sea level, Butler Peak is home of one of seven fire lookouts in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Though the lookout’s hours of operation are limited, guests can still climb to the balcony and enjoy the view.  Butler Peak is the third most prominent summit in the San Bernardino Mountains, behind San Gorgonio and Sugarloaf; to the west, the nearest higher mountain is Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriels.

0:08 - Stay left at the first junction (times are approximate)

0:08 – Stay left at the first junction (times are approximate)

If the gates along forest road 2N13 and the Butler Peak Fire Road are open, it is possible to drive almost all the way up with an off road-capable vehicle.  However, the distance and elevation gain listed here assume that you are starting from the junction of Rim of the World Drive and 2N13.  This point can be reached fairly easily by almost any car and according to a sign posted at the beginning of 2N13, parking is free.  If the gate is locked which it is as of this writing, this is as far as you can go.

0:55 - Hard left on the Butler Fire Road at the junction

0:55 – Hard left on the Butler Fire Road at the junction

Follow 2N13 southwest through a pine forest.  At about 0.3 miles, stay left as another road branches off.  The trail heads downhill briefly, reaching a junction with a single-track at about 0.9 miles.  Continue following the trail for a pleasant if not terribly memorable 1.3 miles, arriving at a T-junction.  This makes a good resting spot; almost half of the distance is behind you although most of the elevation gain is still to come.

1:20 - View of Hanna Rocks from the Butler Fire Road

1:20 – View of Hanna Rocks from the Butler Fire Road

Take a hard left on the Butler Peak Fire Road and begin climbing at a more steady pace.  The scenery becomes more interesting; as you ascend, you’ll get views of Big Bear Lake, Delamar Mountain, Bertha Peak and a jumble of boulders known as Hanna Rocks.  At about 4 miles, the fire road curves around the south side of a ridge, providing an excellent aerial view of Highway 18.  You’ll also see the distinctive cone-like shape of Butler Peak ahead of you–with the lookout precariously situated atop.

1:50 - View of the lookout from about half a mile away

1:50 – View of the lookout from about half a mile away

At 4.8 miles, you reach the end of the road.  Follow a signed single-track trail up a steep and somewhat rocky incline to the base of the tower.  Two metal staircases bring you to the lookout, which was constructed in 1936.

2:05 - The trail leading up to the lookout

2:05 – The trail leading up to the lookout

Unlike some other lookouts, this one occupies the entire summit.  This proves to be a double-edged sword: you can enjoy great aerial views without having to worry about falling, but it also makes the experience seem less wild and natural.  Nevertheless, the views are outstanding in all directions.  If the weather is clear expect to see Old Saddleback, the San Gabriels, the high desert, Big Bear Lake, Sugarloaf and more.  After enjoying the view, return by the same route, taking extra care when descending the steep steps leading down from the lookout.

2:10 - Looking southwest from the Butler Peak Lookout

2:10 – Looking southwest from the Butler Peak Lookout

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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Hemet Maze Stone

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Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Sycamore trees on the road to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Looking north toward the San Bernardino Mountains en route to the Maze Stone

Hemet Maze Stone

    • Location: Northwest of Hemet.  From Highway 74 (8.5 miles east of the 215 Freeway and 5 miles west of downtown Hemet) head north on California Avenue.  Follow it a total of 3.2 miles to a dead end (turn left on Tres Cerritos Avenue after about a mile and then turn right to continue on California Avenue) and park before the fence.
    • Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District
    • Distance:  0.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season:  Year-round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Lakeview
    • More information: Article about the stone here; blog descriptions here, here and here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 4

For those interested in the obscure and unusual, a trip to the Hemet Maze Stone can be an oddly rewarding experience.  Whether it qualifies as a hike is a matter of opinion, but it is a designated California Historical Landmark – #557, to be precise.  The Maze Stone has a cult following of sorts, lending its name to a nearby housing development and a restaurant at Soboba Casino.

0:00 - Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the end of California Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The destination of the hike is a boulder containing ancient petroglyph depicting two intertwined mazes.  Sadly, vandalism has necessitated two barbed-wire fences around the stone, but you can still get a peek at it. From the end of California Avenue, cross through the fence and follow the abandoned road uphill.  For its location in a dry corner of the valley, the landscape surrounding the Maze Stone is fairly diverse; you will see sycamores, a desert willow and buckwheat, among other plants.  The hills are dotted with granite boulders similar to those at the nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecogical Reserve.  As you climb the hill, if visibility is good, you can get a glimpse of the San Bernardino Mountains.

0:08 - Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

0:08 – Looking south from just before the maze stone (times are approximate)

At 0.3 miles, you reach the stone.  You can climb on a rock to get a better look at it although it’s hard to get too much of a view through the fence.  Still, it’s an interesting site–one worth visiting if you’re in the area and are curious, perhaps hungry for a different type of outdoor experience.

0:10 - The maze stone and the fences

0:10 – The maze stone and the fences

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

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View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

View of Garner Valley from the Summit Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Black oak, Perimeter Trail, Idyllwild County Park

Idyllwild County Park (Perimeter Trail)

    • Location: Idyllwild.  From I-10 in Banning, take Highway 243 south for 24 miles to Idyllwild.  Turn right on Maranatha Drive and almost immediately bear left onto Lower Pinecrest Ave.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Riverside County Playground Road and follow the signs to the park.  From Highway 74, take Highway 243 north for 4 miles.  Bear left onto Riverside Couty Playground Road and follow it 0.1 miles to the park entrance.  Day use fees are $3 per adult, $2 per child and $1 per dog, cash only, change not given.  The day use area is just past the entrance kiosk.
    • Agency: Riverside County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 3.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 750 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time:  2 hours
    • Best season: April-October
    • USGS topo maps: Idyllwild; San Jacinto Peak
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Home page here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trail map here
    • Rating: 8
0:00 - Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike at the parking lot (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the nearby Ernie Maxwell Trail, the trails of Idyllwild County Park offer the scenic perks of the San Jacinto Mountains–majestic pines, black oaks, wide-ranging mountain views–without requiring the commitment to hike to one of the major summits.  While the Maxwell Trail suffers less from the noise and sights of civilization, this one has more variety, plus an enjoyable and informative nature center.

0:22 - Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

0:22 – Following the Perimeter Trail near the north parking lot (times are approximate)

The trails, while well signed, can be a little confusing.  The Perimeter Trail, for example, overlaps with several others; at the junctions, the same trail is often signed twice.  There are a few spots (particularly on the Summit Trail) where the route is a little vague, although if you find yourself having to go off-trail beyond some basic rock scrambling, you’ve likely just lost the trail and should be able to retrace your steps not too far before finding it.  The Perimeter Trail, as described here, is a good, moderate route that takes in pretty much all that the park has to offer, but it doesn’t have to be followed exactly.  Idyllwild County Park is a nice place to just wander around.

0:28 - Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

0:28 – Sign post past the parking lot (turn right)

To follow the Perimeter Trail, take the paved road toward the campground.  After a few hundred yards, make a hard right on the signed trail and begin walking uphill through an attractive forest of pines and oaks.  You will pass several junctions; keep following the signs for the Perimeter Trail.  On the right, keep an eye out for views of Tahquitz Rock, Tahquitz Peak and San Jacinto.

0:31 - Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

0:31 – Morteros on the Perimeter Trail

After 1.1 miles, cross the paved road (an alternate entrance to the park) and pick up the Perimeter Trail on the opposite side.  It descends to a T-junction.  Both routes lead toward the nature center, but the right trail is more interesting.  Take it and then almost immediately turn left.  Follow the trail through the woods, passing by a pair of benches overlooking a flat rock with a few morteros.

0:35 - Sticks out like a sore thumb!

0:35 – Sticks out like a sore thumb!

Continuing south on the trail, you pass by a granite boulder with an outcrop resembling a thumb.  Just beyond you reach a junction.  Turn left, briefly leaving the Perimeter Trail and follow the Yellow Pine Trail to the nature center.  Here, you can take a few minutes to enjoy interpretive exhibits including taxidermy of bobcats, mountain lions, owls and coyotes; Cahuilla artifacts and more.  You can also pick up a park map here.

0:40 - Stuffed cougar at the nature center

0:40 – Stuffed cougar at the nature center

When you’re done at the nature center, return to the Yellow Pine Trail and head left, following it to another T-junction.  Turn right and rejoin the Perimeter Trail.  Follow it a short distance to another junction just past a gigantic black oak, turn left and turn right at the next junction (the map will come in handy.)

1:15 - Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

1:15 – Climbing the Summit Trail (white markers)

At 1.7 miles from the start, you’ll reach the beginning of the Summit Trail, also signed as the Summit Loop.  Stay straight and begin a steep climb, making switchbacks up the ridge.  Keep an eye out for the white trail markers if you are not sure about the route.  After half a mile and about 350 vertical feet, the trail levels out and you get views of San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak to the left.  As you follow the ridge south, you can see Garner Valley, Thomas Mountain and the Palomars. If visibility is good, you may even be able to pick out the observatory.

1:20 - San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

1:20 – San Jacinto from the top of the Summit Trail

The trail begins a steep descent, at times rocky (be careful; use your hands as well as your feet).  Again the route can be a little tricky but if you look for the white trail markers you should stay on course.  The trail drops back into the woods, reaching another junction (2.7 miles.)  Stay right and then take a left, following the trail down to the end of Delano Drive.  Cross the street and follow the trail back into the park, threading your way between the camp sites on the left and a mobile home park on the right.  Ignoring a few false trails that branch off, follow the trail half a mile back to the meadow and the parking area.

1:30 - Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

1:30 – Descending through the rocks on the Summit Trail

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:40 - Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

1:40 – Approaching Delano Road on the last leg of the loop

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

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Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Lake Elsinore from the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

Pines near the top of the El Cariso Truck Trail

El Cariso Truck Trail: Lake Elsinore to Main Divide Road

  • Location: Grand Avenue and Toft Drive, Lake Elsinore.  From the north, take I-15 to the Lake Avenue exit.  Turn right on Lake Ave. and follow it 4.1 miles to Plumas St. (Lake becomes Grand Avenue along the way).  Turn left on Plumas, go 0.5 miles and turn right on Grand.  Park on the corner of Grand Avenue and Toft Drive.  From the south, take I-15 to Central Avenue/Highway 74.  Turn left and go 0.2 miles to Collier Ave.  Turn right and go 0.5 miles to Riverside Drive.  Turn left and go 3.2 miles to Grand Avenue.  Turn right and go 1 mile to the corner of Grand and Toft.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,350 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Best season: November – May
  • USGS topo maps: Alberhill
  • Recommended gear: Sunblock; Sun Hat; Insect Repellent
  • More information: Video of a dirt biker riding the trail here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating:6
ECTT Beginning

0:00 – Start of the hike on Grand Avenue (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the El Cariso Nature Trail, the El Cariso Truck Trail (Forest Road 6S06 on some maps) forms a link between Lake Elsinore and Main Divide Road near its intersection with Highway 74.  The trail is basically a shorter and easier version of the Indian Truck Trail near Corona.  Popular with mountain bikers and dirt bikers, the trail tends not to see much foot traffic.  While it suffers from trash and graffiti (particularly in its lower reaches), on a cool, clear day, it can be a very enjoyable trip.  Hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the eastern slope of the Santa Ana Mountains might want to give this one a look.

0:48 - Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

0:48 – Prickly Phlox flowers on the side of the trail (times are approximate)

From the corner of Toft and Grand, follow Grand briefly southeast before seeing the beginning of the trail.  Take a sharp right turn and begin your climb, passing by the tops of a few houses.  Unfortunately the first quarter of a mile has become a dumping ground, but the trash soon thins out.  Your ascent soon gives you an aerial view of Lake Elsinore and while the trail is still exposed, chaparral growing on the sides provides some shade at least if you’re off to an early start.

At about 1.6 miles, the trail splits; stay right (the left route goes toward a private residence, the first of several you’ll see along the way).  After passing another trail merging in from the left, you reach the welcome shade of oaks and sycamores (1.9 miles.)  True, there’s a fence running along the left side of the road, but this is still a nice place to stop and take a break.

0:57 - Shade!

0:57 – Shade!

The trail climbs out of the woodland and continues toward Main Divide, weaving its way in and out of a few more stands of oaks.  The trail reaches Main Divide Road at 3 miles; a pile of rocks shortly before the junction makes a good spot for sitting and enjoying the view.  While the road might seem a slightly anti-climatic destination, the wide-ranging views of the lake – and, given good visibility, San Jacinto, San Gorgonio and Mt. Baldy – on the way back make the descent a very enjoyable experience.

1:30 - Trail's end at Main Divide Road

1:30 – Trail’s end at Main Divide Road

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk,and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Metate Trail (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Black oaks on the Metate Trail

Black oaks and pines on the Metate Trail

Metate Trail

      • Location:  Western San Bernardino Mountains north of Lake Arrowhead.  From I-210 in San Bernardino, take Highway 18 (Waterman Ave. exit) and go north for 14.2 miles.   Turn left on Lake Gregory Drive and make an immediate right on Highway 189.  Go a total of 2.7 miles on 189, through the town of Twin Peaks, and turn left on Grass Valley Road.  (There’s a gas station at the intersection).  This intersection can be a little tricky, so be careful.  Go a total of 4.2 miles on Grass Valley Road (at 1.9 miles, look for a sharp left turn; if you stay straight, you’ll end up on Peninsula Drive.)  Grass Valley Road dead-ends at Highway 173.  Turn left and drive 0.2 miles to the signed Metate Trail Head on the left side of the road.  A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 1.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 100 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: G
      • Suggested time: 45 minutes
      • Best season: Year round
      • USGS topo map: Lake Arrowhead
      • Recommended gear: insect repellent
      • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 6
0:00 - Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start by walking across Highway 173 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Pronounced “meh-TAH-tay”, this trail – also known as the Rock Camp Trail and Indian Rock Trail and signed as 3W15 – is located in a remote area of the San Bernardino National Forest that’s popular with cyclists, but largely overlooked by hikers.  Indeed, hikers in the Lake Arrowhead/Big Bear area may be pleasantly surprised by this short but scenic trail.  Close to a mile above sea level in elevation, the Metate Trail explores a grassy woodland populated with manzanita, black oaks and pines.

0:02 - Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

0:03 – Bear left at the first junction by the station (times are approximate)

There are several single-track trails that cross the area and hikers can also extend their trip on Forest Road 3W11 which is nearby. The 1.2-mile loop described here is a nice introduction to the area; a perfect escape into nature about an hour’s drive from the Riverside/San Bernardino area. If you’re up here for the day to check out other nearby trails, such as the Pinnacles or Bradford Ridge, the Metate is a worthwhile stop.

0:08 - Bear left again

0:08 – Bear left again

From the parking area, cross Highway 173 and follow the paved road to the Rock Camp Ranger Station. You reach a Y-junction that marks the beginning of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction. In this post we’ll be describing it clockwise. Bear left and follow the trail past a gate signed “Interpretive Area” and continue to an unsigned junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll stay left. At the next junction, also unsigned, about 0.1 miles later, turn right (the left fork leads to 3W11, an option if you want to extend the hike.)

0:12 - This time turn right.

0:12 – This time turn right.

You follow the trail through an attractive woodland, reaching a T-junction by a meadow 3/4 of a mile from the start. Turn left and keep an eye out for some morteros pounded into rock on the right side of the trail.  Native Americans used these holes to grind and prepare their food.

0:23 - Indian Morteros in the rocks

0:23 – Indian Morteros in the rocks

After crossing a creek, the trail curves through the meadow. You cross the creek again on the far side and follow the trail back to the junction, completing the loop. Cross Highawy 173 again to return to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:26 - Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

0:26 – Heading through the meadow, starting the return to the trailhead

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

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Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

Looking west toward Lake Arrowhead and the San Gabriels from the Hawes Peak Trail

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

View of Hawes Peak from road 1W17

Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp Loop

      • Location: San Bernardino National Forest, between Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, near Green Valley.  From Highway 18, just east of Running Springs, turn left on Green Valley Road.  Go 2.6 miles and turn left on a dirt road signed for Crab Flats (forest road 3N16).  Follow the signs to the campgrounds, ignoring several side roads that branch off.  Road 3N16 is in pretty good shape, but after about 3 miles, you will have to ford Crab Creek, which, according to the guidebook, is “impassable” in high water.  Even in low water, high clearance vehicles are best.  After crossing the creek, continue to a junction (3.8 miles from Green Valley Road) and turn left on forest road 3N34.   Go 0.5 miles and park in a turnout at the side of the road, near the vehicle trail numbered 1W17.  The trailhead coordinates are N 34 15.888, W 117 05.408.   A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
      • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
      • Distance: 5.2 miles
      • Elevation gain: 900 feet
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
      • Best season:  March – June; September – November
      • USGS topo maps: Butler Peak
      • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
      • More information: Description of a backpacking trip including Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp (longer route) here; Description of Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike on road 3N34 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This enjoyable loop explores some of the less-traveled area of the San Bernardino National Forest east of Lake Arrowhead.  Highlights include a variety of plant life (black oaks, manzanitas, pines and more); panoramic views of the eastern San Gabriel and western San Bernardino Mountains and interesting geology, including an almost spherical boulder. Timing can be important: a lot of the trail is exposed, so if you hike during the summer, plan accordingly. Conversely you have to drive about 4 miles of dirt road, including a fording of Crab Creek, to reach the trail head, so heavy rains will likely prevent you from doing this hike during the winter or early spring. Expect to battle bugs as well.

0:20 - Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

0:20 – Sharp right on the single-track (times are approximate)

From the parking turnout, follow road 3N34 due west for a pleasant if not particularly interesting 0.8 miles to the Tent Peg Group Camp (ignore a road branching off to the right about half way there.) Just past the camp by an information board, turn right on a single-track trail signed for Hawes Peak; it’s also listed as 2W08 on some maps. The trail descends for an enjoyable 1.6 miles, yielding views of Hawes Peak and its neighboring summits straight ahead and Lake Arrowhead and the distant San Gabriels on the left (you may also get a glimpse of the Pinnacles). You pass the spherical boulder, negotiate a few fallen trees, duck in and out of a woodland and meet the Pacific Crest Trail at 2.4 miles.

0:30 - Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

0:35 – Spherical boulder on the Hawes Peak Trail

Turn right and head east on the P.C.T., passing a junction with the Cox Creek Trail.  This stretch is largely shaded and fairly level, making it one of the more enjoyable sections of the loop.  After about a mile you reach a 4-way junction. You can shorten the hike by heading right (uphill) on 1W17, a steep vehicle trail. However, if you have time take a scenic 1/2 mile detour by heading straight on the P.C.T. to Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp.

1:00 - Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

1:00 – Junction with the Pacific Crest Trail, turn right

Here, beneath some tall pines, you can sit and enjoy the sound of nearby Holcomb Creek. It’s fairly easy to work your way down to its banks. When ready, retrace your steps to the junction. Complete the loop by heading southwest on 1W17. A steep and sometimes tedious ascent brings you back to the parking area.

1:28 - 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

1:28 – 4-Way junction (right is your return route, straight leads to the camp)

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:40 - Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

1:40 – Holcomb Crossing Trail Camp

Tahquitz Canyon

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Tahquitz Falls

Tahquitz Falls

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Geology in Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon

  • Location: Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center, 500 W. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs.  From the Riverside area, take I-10 east to Highway 111.  Take Highway 111 southeast for 15.3 miles.  Continue straight onto North Palm Canyon Drive and go 2.6 miles to Mesquite Avenue.  Turn right and follow Mesquite 0.2 miles to the Tahquitz Canyon Visitors Center and park in the lot shortly beyond.  From Indio, take I-10 to Bob Hope Drive.  Turn left and go 0.4 miles to Ramon Road.  Turn right on Ramon and go 7.9 miles to Belardo Road.  Turn left and go 0.5 miles to Mesquite.  Turn right and follow the road to the visitors center and the parking lot.  Admission is $12.50 for each adult and $6 for children.
  • Agency: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – May (7:30am – 5pm; last entry at 3:30pm)
  • USGS topo maps: “Cathedral City”, “Palm Springs”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Tahquitz Canyon home page here; trip descriptions here and here; Yelp page here; video of the waterfall here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

The 60-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon may be Southern California’s most unusual.  It could be 90 or 100 degrees when you begin the hike, but you will easily forget the heat when wading through pools of water from melted snow almost two vertical miles above on the upper reaches of San Jacinto Peak.

0:00 - Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Leaving the parking lot for the visitor center (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Like the Tahquitz Peak in the San Jacinto Range, Tahquitz Canyon (pronounced either TAW-kits or TAW-kwish depending on whom you ask) is named for the infamous Cahuilla shaman who was banished from the tribe after abusing his powers. In modern times, on this short trip through the canyon, hikers can experience history, observe a variety of plant life including creosote and mesquite, see examples of Indian art and sites that have significance to the tribe, pass by bizarre geological formations and finally experience the excitement of a waterfall in the middle of the desert.

0:08 - Trail split past the visitors' center (times are approximate)

0:08 – Trail split past the visitors’ center (times are approximate)

The loop is a figure-8 and the first split happens soon after leaving the visitor center.  Take either trail, making your way up a few steps and over rocks.  The left fork runs up against some particularly large boulders before they rejoin.  You dip down to the stream and cross it on a stone jetty about 0.3 miles from the start.

Continuing up canyon, you reach another junction at about 0.6 miles.  If it’s a very hot day you might want to take the right fork, which generally sticks closer to the stream and has a little bit of shade.  The left fork crosses the stream and backtracks for a few yards before continuing toward the waterfall.  It climbs the south side of the canyon, reaching a high point of 906 feet before dropping down into a shaded grotto (1 mile from the start.)

0:12 - "Sacred Rock"

0:12 – “Sacred Rock”

Here, Tahquitz Falls plunges about 60 feet down a rock face into a large pool split by a big boulder.  You can sit on a stone ford and watch the waterfall or wade into the pool for a closer look, but keep in mind that it’s hard to see the depth of the water because the canyon blocks out much of the sunlight, so exercise caution.  After enjoying the waterfall, return via either route, completing a loop or an out-and-back hike as you  see fit.

0:17 - Beginning of the second loop

0:17 – Beginning of the second loop

The hike’s admission fee of $12.50 per adult or $6 has drawn criticism from some online reviewers, several of whom cite the shortness of the trip as not being worth the price tag.  While Tahquitz Canyon can potentially be one of Southern California’s priciest  hikes–$37 for a family of four as an example–it’s still considerably less expensive than many other tourist attractions.  Consider too the efforts of the Agua Calliente Band in cleaning up the canyon, which was long filled with trash and graffiti.  At the risk of sounding preachy, when natural spaces are accessible to the public without being regulated, they can be subject to abuse, like Rancho Cucamonga’s doomed Sapphire Falls.  Other than a few bits of broken glass here and there and a “Jesus Saves” inscription on a rock, Tahquitz Canyon is in its natural state, a true oasis just a short distance from civilization.

0:35 - Pool below Tahquitz Falls

0:35 – Pool below Tahquitz Falls

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.