Hidden Divide, Mt. San Jacinto State Park, CA

Hidden Divide (Mt. San Jacinto State Park)

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  • Location: One Tram Way, Palm Springs.  From I-10, take Highway 111 southeast for 8.5 miles.  Turn right on Tram Way and drive 4 miles to the parking lot.  Parking is $5 per vehicle. For current ticket prices, hours of operation and other information about the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, click here.
  • Agency: Mt. San Jacinto State Park
  • Distance: 3.4 miles (round trip to vista point; longer or shorter options are available)
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours (not including the tram ride and the waiting time; the tram ride is about 11 minutes and they typically leave every 20 minutes)
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: May – October
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: None for most of the route; weak in some spots
  • Water: Available at both stations (for purchase or in the restrooms)
  • Restrooms: Available at both stations
  • Camping/backpacking:There are several options for backpacking and camping in the wilderness area of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Permits are required. For more information, click here.
  • More information: Description of the Hidden Divide Preserve (September 2012) here
  • Rating: 8

Updated June 2018

The two most popular hikes originating from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway are the short, family-friendly Desert View Loop and the more ambitious 11-mile trek to San Jacinto Peak. Hikers looking for a good intermediate option might want to consider the lightly-visited Hidden Divide Preserve, a 255-acre natural preserve within Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Less than two miles of hiking from Mountain Station brings you to an overlook with outstanding views of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Palomars and the southern end of the San Jacinto range. In addition to the views, the Willow Creek Trail tends to get less traffic than the route to the summit or the shorter trails.

Begin by following the walkway downhill from the station and heading right at the junction. At Long Valley Ranger Station, fill out a free day hiking wilderness permit. Continue to a junction and head left on the Willow Creek Trail (the right fork heads toward Round Valley and San Jacinto Peak). Cross a boardwalk and enter an attractive pine woodland. A moderate climb of about 400 feet in a mile brings you to another junction with the Round Valley Loop. Bear left and enter the Hidden Divide Preserve.

The trail continues generally south, passing through more pine woodlands. A small seasonal pond known as Hidden Lake sits below the trail but it is inaccessible. The trail reaches the crest of Hidden Divide, a watershed that separates the Long Valley Creek drainage from Tahquitz Creek to the south. A short descent brings you to a sharp turn in the trail, 1.7 miles from Mountain Station. Here you can enjoy an excellent view of the Desert Divide to the south and the Tahquitz ridge to the southwest.

This is a good turnaround point for a moderate day hike (especially for hikers not used to high altitude). A more ambitious destination is Skunk Cabbage Meadow, requiring an additional 6 miles round trip with 1,200 feet more of total elevation gain, most of which is on the return.

Hidden Divide, Mt. San Jacinto State Park
View from Mountain Station
Willow Creek Trail, Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Boardwalk at the start of the Willow Creek Trail
Hidden Divide Preserve, Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Entering the Hidden Divide Preserve on the Willow Creek Trail
Hidden Divide, San Jacinto State Park
Looking east from the Willow Creek Trail near Hidden Divide
Hidden Divide, San Jacinto Mountains, CA
Pines along the Willow Creek Trail
Hidden Divide Preserve, Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Toro Peak and the Santa Rosas
Hidden Divide, Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Tahquitz Peak from the Willow Creek Trail
Willow Creek Trail, Hidden Divide, San Jacinto State Park
Dusk on the Willow Creek Trail

Text and photography copyright 2018 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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