Dry Lake via South Fork Trail

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As seen in the Nobody Hikes in L.A. Guidebook! 

San Gorgonio Mountain towering above Dry Lake, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
Dry Lake with San Gorgonio in the background
Pines on the South Fork Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
Pines on the South Fork Trail

Text and photography copyright 2010 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.  The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here.   Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

South Fork Trail to Dry Lake

  • Location: San Gorgonio Wilderness.  From Redlands, take highway 38 for 26 miles (drop by Mill Creek Ranger Station, on your right after Mentone, to get your free permit) to Jenks Lake Road West (6 miles past Angelus Oaks).  Take a right and follow the road for 2.5 miles.  Park in the big lot on the left across from the South Fork trail.  A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest (Mill Creek Ranger Station)
  • Distance: 12.5 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 6.5 hours
  • Difficulty: R (elevation gain, distance, altitude)
  • Best season: May to September
  • USGS topo map: “Moonridge”
  • Free San Gorgonio Wilderness permit required
  • Recommended map:  San Gorgonio Wilderness
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here and here
  • Rating: 9

Paradoxically named Dry Lake exists entirely of melted snow from the tall peaks above.   Now is a great time to visit: although (as of 6/8/10) the lake is far below capacity, there is still some water there, and the snow levels are very low.

Cross the road and head up into the wilderness on the South Fork trail.  The ascent is steady for the first mile or so, and beneath the tall pines and firs, great views of Sugarloaf Mountain (tallest peak in the San Bernardinos outside of the San Gorgonio Wilderness) can be seen.   You then arrive at Horse Meadows, a large, flat area where there are a few camping buildings.  A road branches off to the right; stay left, continue the ascent, cross a dirt road and reach the San Gorgonio Wilderness boundary, two plus miles from the start.

From here, the grade levels out, reaching a junction with the Lost Creek trail.  Stay straight and begin a steep ascent to another junction in 0.3 miles, where a trail branches off to the right for Dollar Lake.  Your route stays left, where you will do three quick stream crossings and begin a long series of switchbacks.   Views of San Gorgonio, Charlton and Jepson Peaks are particularly dramatic during this stretch.  Finally the route flattens out and arrives at Dry Lake (elevation 9,065).   If you like, walk around the 0.8 mile perimeter of the lake before heading back down.

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