Mount San Jacinto SP CCC Heritage Tour
Printable tour map and information (PDF, 2.3 MB)
"For the People, . . . a New Mountain Park," proclaimed the headline of a 1937 article about Mount San Jacinto State Park's Grand Opening. It could also be called a park "by the people" because of its grassroots acquisition and development. The park was acquired in 1933 as the result of a local effort to preserve the higher elevations of the mountain as wilderness. The park infrastructure was then developed by the men of the CCC.
The USDA Forest Service and California State Parks agreed that the initial park area and adjacent Forest Service land would be operated as a "primitive region," accessible only on foot or by horseback, so a separate administration area was needed. In 1935, State Parks formally acquired 13 acres for a campground and park headquarters, next to the mountain resort town of Idyllwild. A CCC camp had been established at Idyllwild in 1933, in anticipation of state parks' acquisition.
The CCC companies built two rangers' residences, a garage, a campground, and a picnic area at Idyllwild. They also hiked as far as three to seven miles each way into the back country to improve existing trails and build new ones. They spent one summer in another temporary tent camp in the upper wilderness area of the park and built two structures that still exist: the stone shelter just below 10,804 foot San Jacinto Peak for hikers caught in bad weather, and the small wilderness ranger station in Round Valley . As in all other CCC camps, the young men stationed at Mount San Jacinto were also ready at a moment's notice to fight fires, too.
Stone Entrance Pillars
You are greeted by CCC construction as you enter Mount San Jacinto State Park: the striking stone pillars flanking the gateway. The photo above, taken in 1936, shows that the entrance area still appears very much the same now. The plaque in the large pillar was placed for the park dedication on June 19, 1937.
Warden's Residence and Park Office
The warden's residence and park office building, located just inside the park entrance to the right, is still used as employee housing but is no longer used as an office. You can see it best from the park entrance drive. The section on the left with dutch doors was originally the park office. The front porch/patio area was a much later addition.
This building was built from the same plans as the Palomar Mountain warden's residence, but with wood columns instead of Palomar's stone. The CCC used standard plans for buildings, stoves, and other structures in many locations, but changed building materials. In keeping with the concepts of park rustic architecture, materials were chosen to fit into the local environment.
To view the arch of the stone bridge, take the walkway by the log hauling wagon exhibit, at the edge of the entrance parking area. Next to the log hauling wagon is a granite monument. It commemorates the CCC's work and the park's 50th anniversary, in 1987. As you continue along the picnic trail walkway, you will cross a wooden bridge. Look upstream. The stone bridge you will see is another wonderful example of park rustic architecture. The material and building style make it blend into the surroundings almost like a natural feature.
The picnic area tables and stoves were probably built in the 1940s, post-CCC, using the same style of architecture to blend with the earlier construction. There is an interpretive panel in the picnic area about the work of the CCC in state parks.
Restored Camp Stoves in Campground
The stone walls and steps that make this campground so inviting were built by the CCC. Two camp stoves remain of those built by the Cs. Over 70 years of doing their job had left them in need of a face-lift and some physical therapy. Because California State Parks is committed to protecting the state's natural and cultural resources, specially trained conservators were hired in 2006 to restore the stoves to their 1936 condition. The conservator remortared and replaced stones, repaired internal firebrick, and recreated metalwork with the same hand-forging techniques used by the boys of the Cs. The work was completed in April, 2007. A nifty and unusual feature on these stoves is a griddle that can be slid in place or moved aside.
Below is the camp stove at site 20, before and after restoration. The other restored stove is just to the south of the camp host's trailer.
The stone camp stove is an almost iconic element of CCC-built campgrounds and picnic areas. To view a PDF of the 1937 CCC book Camp Stoves and Fireplaces, click here.
For more information on Mount San Jacinto State Park, including map and directions, click here.
Want to go farther?
Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the station just outside of the upper part of Mt. San Jacinto State Park's wilderness area. From there, it's a 2.2 mile walk (600 foot elevation gain) to the CCC-built Round Valley Ranger Station (pictured at right), a striking stone shed-roof building that has been recently restored by State Parks. If you are up to 3.5 miles (one way) more of hiking with 1700 more feet of elevation gain, ascend to Mt. San Jacinto peak. Near the summit you will find the stone shelter building the CCC constructed for hikers and horseback riders caught in sudden storms. (See late 1930s article on the shelter, below.) It has also been restored. Note that it was built entirely without mortar!
Click here for a full hike description and trail map.
Idyllwild Highway Named for Firefighters
Mount San Jacinto State Park's Idyllwild campground is a peaceful spot within walking distance of an attractive mountain resort community. But the beauty and peace of a town or park in the forest is always tempered with the constant threat of fire. Part of the route to Mount San Jacinto State Park headquarters and the town of Idyllwild is a reminder of this, and of the dangers of firefighting: State Highway 243 was renamed the Esperanza Firefighters Memorial Highway in May 2008. The new name honors five local Forest Service firefighters killed in the October 2006 Esperanza fire, which burned northwest of Mount San Jacinto State Park.