Black Mountain Lookout

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Sunset from the Black Mountain trail
Looking southwest from the summit of Black Mountain

Black Mountain Lookout

  • Location: San Jacinto Mountains north of Idyllwild.  From I-10 at Banning, take highway 243 south for 16 miles.  The trail head is on your left (follow a dirt road and park in the lot).  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for the day or $30 for a year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest, Idyllwild Ranger Station
  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Steepness, elevation gain, distance)
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Best season: March to November (Doable during the winter, but there will be heavy snow)
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • USGS topo map: Lake Fulmor
  • More information: here; trip reports here.
  • Rating: 10

If you wanted to get great views of the San Gabriels, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and on clear days, the ocean, and get a great workout in as well, how many different hikes would you have to do?


Black Mountain is a challenging hike that provides scenic rewards that are nearly unmatched.  While it may be dwarfed by nearby San Jacinto in stature, it offers a different perspective on the areas nearby.

The trail leaves from the parking lot and immediately begins a steep climb–one that will likely have you winded (I was).   But soon your efforts are rewarded with great views of Baldy, San Gorgonio and the southern San Jacintos.  You work your way through pine and manzanita forests, past towering boulders.  At times the trail may be tough to follow, but it’s usually because a fallen tree is blocking the way.  Don’t stress, the route will usually become clear.

In about 3.5 miles, you’ll reach the Black Mountain fire road (closed in the winter).  Take a right and make the last few steps to the lookout tower on the summit (elevation 7,772).  The views of San Jacinto are amazing, and you can still see almost all of the San Gabriels and San Bernardino ranges–and, if you’re lucky, the ocean–something not even Yosemite can claim.

Text and photography copyright 2012 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. It still has me inspired after 40 years. I am so happy the lookout tower still exists. Thanks for the memory.

    1. You’re welcome – it’s a great hike and I gotta go back and revisit it. (I *THINK* the tower still exists…it’s been a few years since I’ve been!)

      Thanks for reading.

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