Tahquitz Peak via South Ridge Trail

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Looking southeast toward the Desert Divide from Tahquitz Peak
Looking southeast toward the Desert Divide from Tahquitz Peak
San Jacinto from Tahquitz Peak
San Jacinto from Tahquitz Peak
  • Location: San Jacinto Mountains south of Idyllwild.   From the 60 Freeway, take the Gilman Springs exit and head southeast for a total of 14 miles (Gilman Springs becomes State Street.)  Turn left on the Ramona Expressway and go 6.2 miles to Florida Ave/Highway 74.  Turn left and go 14.5 miles to Highway 243 at Mountain Center.  Turn left and go 3.4 miles to Marian View Drive.  Go 0.4 miles and turn right on Saunders Meadow Road.  Go half a mile and turn left on Pine Ave (note the sign for the South Ridge Trail.)  Go 0.1 miles and turn right on Tahquitz View.   Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Forest Route 5S11, a dirt road.  A high clearance vehicle is recommended, but might not be necessary if conditions are good (check with the ranger station).  The road is narrow, steep and twisting, so exercise caution.  Follow the road a mile, staying left at the only major junction and park at the end.   The South Ridge trailhead GPS coordinates are N 33 44.126, W 116 41.761.   You can also reach the trailhead  from I-10 in Banning, following Highway 243 southeast for 25 miles to Saunders Meadow Road.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for a year) is required. Click here to purchase. A free San Jacinto Wilderness permit is also required and available from the ranger station.
  • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: R (Elevation gain, steepness, altitude)
  • Best season:  May – October
  • USGS topo maps: San Jacinto Peak, Idyllwild
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip reports here, here and here; Everytrail report here; National Forest Association page with information about volunteer lookout program here
  • Rating: 10

You already know how to reach Tahquitz Peak from Humber Park via the Devil’s Slide Trail, so in this post we’ll look at the less-traveled South Ridge Trail approach.  The scenery in the two routes is a trade-off: the Devil’s Slide/Pacific Crest Trail approach travels through more pleasantly shaded high country and offers better views of Suicide Rock, San Jacinto Peak and the desert, but the South Ridge Trail has excellent views of Garner Valley, the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Palomars and more.  Logistically, the two routes also have their trade-offs: the Devil’s Slide trail requires a special permit which is sometimes unavailable, while this route (which requires the more readily available standard San Jacinto Wilderness Permit) is at the end of a mile of rough dirt road.  However, all red tape aside the end result of both routes is the same: Tahquitz Peak, which offers one of the best views of any summit in So Cal.

0:00 - South Ridge Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)
0:00 – South Ridge Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

The good news is that (in addition to being outside the area closed following the Silver Fire) the South Ridge Trail gets less traffic than the Devil’s Slide, so you will have more solitude. The bad news is that much of the trail is exposed and steep (the last mile gains nearly 1,000 feet of elevation.) Still, the payoff is worth it.

0:30 - "Rock window" (times are approximate)
0:30 – “Rock window” (times are approximate)

From the parking area, head northeast on the signed South Ridge Trail. The beginning of the hike is moderately graded, allowing hikers to get used to the altitude. It’s also shaded, which helps. Like a version of the Ernie Maxwell Trail built on higher ground, the South Ridge Trail climbs through the forest, providing glimpses of San Jacinto and its neighboring peaks. You pass into the San Jacinto Wilderness, getting some good views of Garner Valley to the south.

0:40 - View of Tahquitz Peak from the "picnic" area
0:40 – View of Tahquitz Peak from the “picnic” area

At about 1.4 miles, a jumble of boulders creates a “window” through which you can see Antsell Rock and the Desert Divide. Shortly after, the grade mellows out as it approaches a flat area popular for picnics. This is the approximate half way point in terms of distance, although more than half of the elevation gain is still to come. You get a look at Tahquitz’s triangular shape before continuing north.

1:20 - View of Garner Valley from the steep switchbacks below the summit
1:20 – View of Garner Valley from the steep switchbacks below the summit

Another pleasant quarter-mile or so on a fairly level trail brings you to the toughest part of the hike, the switchbacks. They climb steeply, mainly in the open although there are a few shaded spots. Watch out for rattlers which may be hiding under the rocks.

1:45 - "Peace, man!"
1:45 – “Peace, man!”

The trail reaches a bend where you get an excellent view of San Jacinto, and the grade eases up a little bit. You may notice the American flag on the lookout tower at this point, boosting morale. At a junction, the South Ridge Trail continues toward the Pacific Crest Trail and a spur leads to the summit. Head right, climbing over some rocks to reach Tahquitz Peak.

1:55 - Spur to the summit
1:55 – Spur to the summit

In addition to an amazing view that includes the Palomars, Santa Rosas, San Gabriels, Santa Anas, Cuyamacas and on clear days the ocean and Catalina Island, Tahquitz also boasts a historic fire lookout. If the lookout is open, you can climb up and say hi to the volunteer on duty. In addition to signing the register, you can request membership in the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels. (It’ll make sense when you get there.)

2:00 - Welcome to Tahquitz Peak: looking southwest from the summit
2:00 – Welcome to Tahquitz Peak: looking southwest from the summit

Text and photography copyright 2013 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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