Morton Peak Lookout


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View of San Bernardino Peak from below Morton Peak
View of San Bernardino Peak from below Morton Peak
Looking southwest toward the Santa Anas from Morton Peak
Looking southwest toward the Santa Anas from Morton Peak

Morton Peak Lookout

  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest foothills north of Mentone and Yucaipa.  From the west, take I-10 to University St.  Turn left and go a mile to Highway 38 (Lugonia Road.)  Turn right and go a total of 9.2 miles (about 2 miles past the ranger station) and look for a turnout on the left side of the road.  Park by the sign for Morton Peak Lookout.   From Palm Springs, take I-10 to the Live Oak Canyon/Oak Glen exit. Turn right and head northeast for 4.3 miles on Oak Glen Road to Bryant St.  Turn left and go 2.4 miles to Highway 38.  Turn right and go 2.3 miles to the turnout.
  • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest/Mill Creek Ranger Station
  • Distance:  5.2 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness)
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • Recommended gear:  sun hat; sunblockhiking poles
  • USGS topo map: Yucaipa
  • More information:  Summitpost page here; Morton Peak Fire Lookout information here; Everytrail report here; description from a Meetup event here
  • Rating: 8

Named for Redlands resident R.B. Morton, this summit (elevation 4,624 feet) is the home to one of the seven fire lookouts in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Though not nearly as tall as some of the surrounding mountains, Morton’s position provides a great vantage point and from the peak, with good visibility, you can see San Jacinto, the Palomars, the Santa Anas, the San Gabriels and more. The trail is almost entirely exposed, but it’s far enough above the valley floor that it can be done on warm days, given an early start and good sun protection.

0:00 - Trailhead off Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Trailhead off Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the gate, begin walking up the fire road (Warm Springs Truck Road on some maps). The early going is fairly steep, gaining over 600 feet in the first mile, but you are rewarded with tremendous views of San Bernardino Peak to the east and a nice aerial perspective on Mill Creek below. There’s some highway noise but it fades as you get farther up the mountain.

0:03 - Don't get used to it: Shade from the only oaks on the route (times are approximate)
0:04 – Don’t get used to it: Shade from the only oaks on the route (times are approximate)

At about 1.1 miles, you reach a Y-junction. Turn left and pass a metal gate, continuing your ascent. The climb becomes more moderate here as you make a long pair of switchbacks.

0:30 - Turn left at the junction and pass the gate
0:30 – Turn left at the junction and pass the gate

At about 2 miles you get your first glimpse of the metal lookout tower. Soon after, stay straight on the fire road as the Santa Ana River Trail branches off to the left. The road wraps around the north side of the peak and soon arrives at the summit.

0:40 - Wildflowers at the end of the first switchback
0:40 – Wildflowers at the end of the first switchback

Here, your efforts are rewarded with a panoramic view, which you can enjoy from the shade of a pair of pines, or from a picnic table. If the lookout is open you can climb up and visit with the volunteers. The lookout used to be open for overnight guests, but unfortunately it is not anymore.

0:56 - View of the lookout
0:56 – View of the lookout

If you have a high clearance vehicle it may be possible to start the hike at the junction by driving up the first mile. The road is narrow and rough in a few spots, but as of this writing is navigable. Parking at the junction (but not on at the bottom) requires a National Forest Service Adventure Pass. Click here to purchase.

1:10 - San Gabriel Mountains from Morton Peak
1:10 – San Gabriel Mountains from Morton Peak

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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