The Pacific Crest Trail is iconic among avid hikers. But you don’t have to be an expert hiker to enjoy it. There are several places near Palm Springs where you can experience the trail, including in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and near Big Bear Lake. But this article is about how to access the trail near Idyllwild. This mountain town makes a great base to explore sections of the trail. You can hike the trails, then head back to town to replenish at a local grocery, restaurant or bar.
The routes and thoughts here are our suggestions. We highly recommend doing your research before attempting these hikes. There are several gear stores with knowledgeable staff. You can also contact your local rangers. Your research can make the difference between a fun day hike and a disaster. Ok, now that disclaimers are out of the way, let’s talk about the trail.
The PCT, as it’s known, is 2,650 miles of hiking bliss. It spans the whole of the west coast of the United States from the Mexican to the Canadian border. If you finish this trail, you will have walked the entire Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. You will cover seven national parks and 25 national forests. The scenery will be break-taking and unforgettable. But, through hiking the PCT is no small feat. Hiking the entire trail could take four to six months.
You can certainly tackle smaller sections of the trail. Day hiking on the PCT is very possible. And, Idyllwild is a great place to get a taste of the trail’s grandeur. There are also some interesting vistas and peaks in this area. How often do you get to be at 10,000 feet when not on a plane? You can do that here.
Do you like quaint mountain towns? Well, Idyllwild sits about 5,400 feet above sea level. How about artsy towns? This town is a place to listen to the finest jazz in the country while being amazed at the mountain peaks just above you. There are also some fine art galleries and working artists in town. There are less than 4,000 people in Idyllwild, but it has everything you need to make for a great vacation visit. The charming hamlet of Idyllwild can be reached in about an hour from Palm Springs, two hours from Los Angeles or San Diego. So, it makes an easy stopover.
Hikers can start out on the Devil’s Slide Trail, which intersects the PCT. From Idyllwild, take Fern Valley Road about 2.5 miles outside of town. Where the road ends, you will see signs for Humber Park. You can pick up the Devil’s Slide Trail here. The Devil’s Slide trail is considered moderate in difficulty and has an elevation gain of approximately 1,700 feet. Some areas of the trail offer moderate to steep grades with glimpses of hillside springs.
Hike the Devil’s Slide trail to Saddle Junction. At the junction, make a left turn to join up with the PCT. You’ll take the PCT for 1.5 miles before reaching the Wellman Divide Trail. Take this trail until you reach the San Jacinto Summit trail. It’s just another half mile to the majestic vistas of San Jacinto peak. It’s not every day that you can be 10,000 feet high. If you were on a plane, you could now use your hand-held wireless devices!
From the center of Idyllwild to the peak, this is a 10-mile hike one-way. If you drive to Humber Park, it’s 7.5 miles one-way. Allow about 3 hours for a hike if you drive to the Park.
Yes, this route only puts you on the PCT for 1.5 miles. But from our perspective, this is a two birds, one stone scenario. You were on the famed PCT, and you saw the view from a majestic peak.
This route is similar and takes you near another peak. Again, take Devil’s Slide Trail to Saddle Junction. But instead of going left, go right. You’ll be on the PCT, but this time generally heading south. You’ll, again, stay on the PCT for about 1.5 miles before making a right turn at Southridge Trail. Tahquitz peak is only .5 miles from this point.
This southerly route is shorter, about 4.5 miles one-way. Allow 2.5 hours complete the outbound trip to Tahquitz Peak. You can also continue down Southridge Trail to get back to town if you like. This add-on will increase your hike by another 3.5 miles, for a total of 7.5 miles. But, you’ll need a pick-up if you left your car at Humber Park.
There over 50 miles of the PCT near Idyllwild. If you’re looking for an overnight hike, a great place to begin is ¼ mile east of the junction of California Highway 371 and 74 in Garner Valley. If you complete all fifty miles, you’ll end up near Cabazon Peak, just 25 miles from Palm Springs. But, there may be fire restrictions on portions of the trail. You will need to check in with the Rangers to determine this.
This hike will take over 20 hours, so there’s camping involved. You will also need to arrange a pick-up at the start and end of this one-way hike. It’s likely you can use a car-sharing app for this. The two biggest are active in both areas.
An easy itinerary might look like this:
Day one: Hike from Garner Valley to Apache Peak. This makes for about 7 hours, an easy day hike.
Day two: The next stopover from Apache Peak is Idyllwild. That’s an 8.5-hour hike. Have a great meal and enjoy the town.
Day three: Hike to Fuller Ridge Campground. Another 8 hour day.
Day four: Hike 8 hours to One Horse Ridge.
Day Five: Hike down into Cabazon near the I-10 freeway. Then get a car to take you to Palm Springs. Finish your hike with some party time!
You can do just one section of this hike. For example, do the section from Fuller Ridge to Idyllwild and return. But, each day of this one-way itinerary gives you a lovely stopping point. You will also have enough time to enjoy the scenery, take selfies, rest, eat leisurely meals, vacation stuff.
A night under the stars can be a rejuvenating experience. When looking for your campsite, we recommend camping away from the trail itself. You should look for a durable and flat area that is at least 200 feet from the trail. Rock, gravel and dry grass make for good surfaces to set up camp. You also want to be at least 200 feet from a water source to protect delicate wetland areas. It’s harder to find a good camping spot in the dark. So you may want to break for the day while you can still see.
There are some campgrounds in the area around Idyllwild. But, very few are near the PCT. So, plan on some wilderness camping.
It makes sense to start with a list of the “leave no trace” ethics here.
Starting a hike without a map is a big no-no. For the trails around Idyllwild, getting a map of San Jacinto Wilderness would be a great idea. The PCT twists and turns and intersects with other trails along the way. Google Maps includes the PCT routes around Idyllwild, but you don’t want to assume you’ll have coverage throughout your trip. Take a paper map along.
Visitors might automatically assume that because it is California, the weather is going to be warm and sunny all the time. This is not necessarily true in the mountains. If you are going to be hiking in the spring or fall, you can expect temperatures to drop below freezing some nights. Surprisingly, you may still encounter snow up until late May. So, be sure to dress in layers. And check the weather forecast before heading out.
Water is also important. You’ll likely be sweating a lot. The air is drier at high altitudes. And finding water sources outside of the wet season can be challenging. So, you should plan on a liter of water per hour or two of hiking.
The PCT is becoming more and more popular. Use permits have increased three-fold in just four years. So, it’s likely you will encounter other hikers. If you’re looking for a more solitary experience, start out earlier in the day.
The State of California requires that hikers have permits. Day use permits are free and available 24-hours a day at the State Park Headquarters office in Idyllwild. If camping overnight, you will need an Overnight Permit. You can apply for an overnight permit by mail up to 10 days before you plan to hike.
We hope this information is a good starting point for you to have the most enjoyable hike ever!