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Mt. San Jacinto State Park

San Jacinto Peak Trail

From Mountain Station to Round Valley is 4 miles round trip
with 600-foot elevation gain; to San Jacinto Peak is 11 miles round trip
with 2,300-foot elevation gain

The San Jacinto Mountain range is one of those magical places that lures hikers back year after year. Hikers enjoy the contrasts this range offers—the feeling of hiking in Switzerland while gazing down at the Sahara.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway makes it easy for hikers to enter Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness. Starting in Chino Canyon near Palm Springs, a modern tram with rotating floors takes passengers from 2,643-foot Valley Station, the lower Tramway Terminal, to the Mountain Station, the 8,516-foot upper tramway terminal at the edge of the wilderness.

The day hiker accustomed to remote trailheads may find it a bit bizarre to enter Valley Station and find excited tourists shopping for souvenirs. But the tramcar rapidly leaves terra firma behind. Too rapidly, you think. It carries you over one of the most abrupt mountain faces in the world, over cliffs only a bighorn sheep can scale, over several life zones from palms to pines. When you disembark at Mountain Station, your ears will pop and you’ll have quite a head start up Mount San Jacinto.

The wild areas in the San Jacinto Mountains are administered by both California State Parks and United States Forest Service rangers. The middle of the region, including San Jacinto Peak, is part of the state park; most of it is managed as a wilderness area. On both sides of the peak, north and south, the wilderness is part of the San Bernardino National Forest. The entire area is within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

The meadows and High Sierra-like scenery can be glimpsed on a moderate hike to Round Valley; the ascent through the lodgepole pine forest to the top of Mt. San Jacinto is absolutely splendid, as are the views from the peak.

Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 10, exit on California Hwy 111 (the road to Palm Springs). Proceed nine miles to Tramway Road, turn right, and follow the road 3.5 miles to its end at Valley Station. Contact the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway office for information about prices and schedules.

The hike: From Mountain Station, walk down the cement walkway through the Long Valley Picnic Area to the Long Valley Ranger Station. Obtain a day use wilderness permit here.

Continue west on the trail, following the signs to Round Valley. The trail parallels Long Valley Creek through a mixed forest of pine and white fir, then climbs into lodgepole pine country. Lupine, monkeyflower, scarlet bugler and Indian paintbrush are some of the wildflowers that add seasonal splashes of color.

After passing a junction with a trail leading toward Willow Creek, another 0.3 mile of hiking brings you to Round Valley. There’s a primitive campground and a backcountry ranger station in the valley, and splendid places to picnic near the meadow or among the towering pines.

An alternative to returning the same way is to retrace your steps 0.3 mile back to the junction with the Willow Creek Trail, take this trail a mile through the pines to another signed trail north back to Long Valley Ranger Station. This alternative route adds only about a 0.25 mile to your day hike, and allows you to make a loop.

To Mount San Jacinto Peak: From Round Valley, peak-bound hikers follow the sign for Wellman Divide Junction. From the Divide, a trail leads down to Humber Park. At the divide, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Tahquitz Peak and Red Tahquitz, as well as the more-distant Toro Peak and Santa Rosa Mountain. You continue toward the peak on some vigorous switchbacks. The lodgepole pines grow sparse among the crumbly granite. At another junction, a half mile from the top, the trail continues to Little Round Valley but you take the summit trail to the peak. Soon you arrive at a stone shelter—an example of Civilian Conservation Corps handiwork during the 1930s—built for mountaineers who have the misfortune to be caught in winter storms. From the stone hut, you boulder-hop to the top of the peak.

The view from the summit—San Gorgonio Pass, the shimmering Pacific, the Colorado Desert, distant Mexico—has struck some visitors speechless, while other have been unable to control their superlatives. Helen Hunt Jackson’s heroine Ramona found “a remoteness from earth which comes only on mountain heights,” and John Muir found the view “the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!”

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.