Hiking and outdoor activities are endless in Idyllwild, just an hour’s drive from Palm Springs. The artsy mountain town is the gateway town for the Mount San Jacinto Wilderness, a 32,000-acre park managed by the United States Forest Service. John Muir once commented that the view from Mount San Jacinto is the ‘most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.’ That’s high praise from the man consider to be the father of our National Park System.
We think Muir was right. First, the mountains climb from about sea level at their base to 10,000 feet at their peak and in just a few miles. Palm Springs is about 11 miles from Idyllwild, as the crow flies. But, Palm Springs is just 450 feet above sea level while Idyllwild is 5,400 feet above sea level. Mount San Jacinto is just 8 miles from Palm Springs and is over 10,800 feet above sea level. The eastern slope of these mountains is one of steepest grade changes of any place in North America. It makes it a unique place for rock-climbing, hiking, plant, and wildlife viewing since it spans the desert all the way to alpine climates.
There are close to 50 miles of trails in this park, more than you could ever traverse in a single trip. Because of the elevation of these trails, May to October is the time to use them. You will need an Adventure Pass from the Ranger Station in Idyllwild to use these trails. Be sure to get your pass early if visiting on a busy weekend. Only a certain number of visitors are allowed each day.
Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail
Outdoor enthusiasts and hikers looking for a trail that is family friendly should try the Ernie Maxwell Trail. Hikers as young as 7 and of all experience levels will be able to enjoy this trail. The trail is 5 miles round trip and has about a 600-foot elevation change. Three hours will be enough time for most trekkers to cover this trail, roundtrip. This trail is well traveled, and the trails are well-marked. You’ll enjoy views of Idyllwild below you, as well as calming pine forest, mountain streams, and towering mountain peaks.
Prior to beginning your hike, you will get a glimpse of Tahquitz Rock, sometimes referred to as Lily Rock. The Tahquitz Rock stands tall off to the left of this trail. The peak is shaped like a thimble. Catch amazing views of Suicide Rock and the Valley below. The trail is full of trees and other plant life and varies by the time of year.
Begin at Humber Park, just outside of town, for your out and back hike. To get to the park, take Circle Drive from the center of town until you hit Fern Valley Road. Take a left of Fern Valley Road and follow it all the way to the park.
Horses and dogs are allowed on the trail. But, no bikes are permitted.
Deer Springs Trail
The Deer Springs trail is a very intense journey. It ascends over 2,000 feet in just 3 miles. The entire trail is over 9 miles long and can be completed in a day. You’ll start in Idyllwild and end up at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Most hikers, however, prefer to take the trail to Suicide Rock. There are over 300 routes to climb Suicide rock, including some easy ones for beginners. It’s 6.6 miles one-way to Suicide Rock.
The trailhead to Deer Springs Trail is easy to find as it is just one mile north of town on Highway 243. Look for signs as you head down the mountain out of town from Idyllwild. Dogs are not permitted on this trail.
Devil’s Slide Trail
Devil’s Slide Trail is around 6.9 miles out and back and ascends to Saddle Junction. This trail is considered a moderate trail and has an elevation gain of approximately 1700 feet. The trail is horse friendly, but please do not allow them to graze. Dogs are welcome only on Forest Service Wilderness Trails but not in the State Wilderness. The best time to use the Devil’s Slide Trails is from June until October. Some areas of the trail offer moderate to steep grades with glimpses of hillside springs. Visitors enjoy using this trail all year long for hiking, bird watching, and nature trips.
Fuller Ridge Trail
This moderate to the strenuous trail is about 14.5 miles out and back. This trail follows the ridge above Snow Creek and takes you from one ridge to the other. Turn your attention to the northeast and you will get an amazing view of both the Coachella Valley and the San Bernardino Mountains. The San Jacinto Valley can be seen by looking to the southwest. This trail prohibits dogs. Also, hikers are prohibited from having a campfire, although campers may use a portable gas stove as long as their camping spot is at least 200 feet from people, trails, water, and meadows.
Seven Pines Trail
Expect to find a heavily forested trail that is approximately 4 miles long and is considered a moderate to strenuous hike. This trail is one of the least traveled in the area. So, you may find yourself climbing over fallen trees and such. After many switchbacks following the north fork of the San Jacinto River, you will arrive at Deer Springs Trail. The beginning elevation is 6,320 feet and slowly ascends 2,300 feet to Deer Springs Trails.
The access road to this trail is normally closed between November through May. Dogs and camping are allowed but having a campfire is prohibited. Only use a portable gas stove and set up camp at least 200 feet from people and trails.
There’s an interactive map of the park here. But, you shouldn’t count on having mobile data while hiking. Use this map for planning your adventure.
The Idyllwild Ranger Station is also a good source for hiking information. This is where you will get the needed Adventure Pass. So, you might as well ask a question or two while there.