Thomas Mountain via Ramona Trail
- Location: San Jacinto Mountains on Highway 74, 8.3 miles southeast of the intersection with Highway 243 and 28.4 miles west of Palm Springs. The trailhead is located in a large lot signed for the Ramona Trail on the southwest side of the road (left if you’re coming from Palm Springs; right if from Idyllwild.) A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 for a day or $30 for a year) is required. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Idyllwild Ranger Station
- Distance: 12.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
- Suggested time: 6.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: R (Elevation gain, distance)
- Best season: Year-round (depending on conditions)
- USGS topo map: “Anza”
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sun block; insect repellent; hiking poles
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
- More information: Trip report here (slightly different route); here (shorter hike from Toolbox Springs Campground); Summit Post page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
The long ridge of Thomas Mountain rises above Garner Valley to the south of the San Jacinto Mountains. The hike is like a longer version of nearby Cahuilla Mountain. There are a few parts of this lengthy trip that some might find a little monotonous, but you have several options for climbing Thomas: the loop described here, a straight out-and-back or a point to point hike with a vehicle left on top or at the base of Thomas Mountain Road, farther northwest up Highway 74. If you’re short on time, Toolbox Springs, 3.5 miles up the Ramona Trail, is a worthwhile goal.
From the parking area, follow the Ramona Trail west, staying left at a fork with a dirt road. The trail soon begins its ascent, making switchbacks up the side of the mountain. As the steadily graded trail climbs, you get nice views of Garner Valley, the San Jacintos and the Santa Rosas. A few pines start poking up above the ribbonwoods as you ascend and you may be surprised to hear the sound of windchimes, hanging from one of them.
At about 2.5 miles, the trail becomes shaded by pines, black oaks and cedars. You continue your ascent, arriving at another fork (3.5 miles) where you may notice a fallen sign with the trail’s name misspelled, “ROMONA.” Take a hard right (the left spur leads to Toolbox Springs) and soon you arrive at a dirt road (3.7 miles.)
The shortest route to the summit from here is to head left, but to make the hike a more interesting loop, stay straight on the single-track. You follow it around the side of the mountain for a pleasant 2.1 miles, alternating between the shade of the trees and open stretches where you get a nice view of the Desert Divide across the valley. Shortly before it meets with Thomas Mountain road, you climb to a field where you get a good look at San Jacinto Peak.
At 5.8 miles, you reach Thomas Mountain Road. Make a hard left and follow the road a quarter mile to a junction. Turn right on the spur that leads 0.4 miles to the summit. You pass a solitary communication antenna and reach the peak, where you can sit on the foundations of an old lookout tower and enjoy the view. Part of it is blocked by the trees, but you still can see the Anza Valley and Cahuilla Mountain to the south and the San Jacinto and Desert Divide to the north.
To make the hike a loop, follow the spur back down to Thomas Mountain Road and head right, passing some campsites. The road descends through the pine woodland for 1.6 miles before reaching a junction. Turn left and continue your descent for 0.4 miles, arriving back at the junction with the Ramona Trail. Follow the single-track for 3.7 miles back down to the trail head.
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.