Difficulty PG Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Dogs allowed General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 San Jacinto/Santa Rosa Mountains & Joshua Tree Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

South fork, San Jacinto River


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South Fork Trail, Idyllwild, CA
San Jacinto and Tahquitz as seen from the South Fork Trail
South Fork Trail, Idyllwild, CA
Wildflowers and greenery on the south Fork Trail

South fork, San Jacinto River

South Fork Trail, Idyllwild, CA
0:00 – Start of the trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Sometimes a great hike can hide in plain sight and this trip to the San Jacinto River’s remote south fork does just that. From an inauspicious looking turnout on Highway 74 shortly below Idyllwild, this five-mile round trip treats hikers to high desert scenery, panoramic mountain views and the steep-walled, secluded canyon cut by the river. Despite not being well known, this trail (designated as 2E17) is easy to follow and well maintained, save for a few slightly overgrown spots.

South Fork Trail, Idyllwild, CA
0:15 – Nearing the top of the ridge (times are approximate)

Begin by following the unsigned but obvious trail on the south side of the turnout. You climb steadily through ribbonwood bushes and past granite boulders with views of San Jacinto Peak to the northeast. At half a mile, you reach the top of a ridge where the trail bends southeast, providing your first look of the river far below. The vegetation becomes thicker, including yuccas, scrub oaks, manzanitas and wildflowers such as Indian paintbrush and bull thistle.

Pines and firs on the South Fork Trail, Idyllwild, CA
0:45 – Fir and oak grove

At 1.7 miles, you pass through a grove of bigcone Douglas firs and black oaks, with tall grass growing beneath their shade. You continue south for another half mile, hugging the upper rim of the canyon, before starting a steep and rocky descent to the river. The trail’s final 0.4 mile drops 500 feet, requiring appropriate caution. After a pair of switchbacks, you arrive at the marshy banks of the San Jacinto River, deeply hidden in the folds of the canyon, partially shaded by towering oaks, cottonwoods and willows.

South Fork Trail, Idyllwild, CA
1:00 – Starting the descent

As of this writing, the river is a mere trickle, but it is still a nice place to sit and enjoy some quiet, at least if the bugs aren’t too annoying. It’s also a popular fishing spot.

San Jacinto River south fork
1:15 – South fork, San Jacinto River

Text and photography copyright 2016 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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