Hiking Dry Lake (San Bernardino National Forest)

Dry Lake is a beautiful alpine lake located in the San Bernardino National Forest. Dry Lake is a must do hike regardless of whether you attempt to summit Mt. San Gorgonio or not. Many hikers in Southern California visit this high altitude alpine lake in the late spring when it is full with fresh snow melt. Dry Lake is one of the best wilderness camping locations in all of Southern California as it offers amazing views to all who reach it.

Directions to Trailhead: To hike to Dry Lake you will utilize the South Fork Trailhead for access to the San Gorgonio Wilderness. To get to the South Fork Trailhead, going from Orange County, take the 91 freeway east towards Riverside. Stay on the 91 freeway which eventually becomes the 215 freeway. The 215 freeway eventually intersects with Interstate 10. At the 215 freeway and Interstate 10 interchange, take Interstate 10 going East toward Palm Springs. Exit from Interstate 10 on University which is in the City of Redlands. Make a left and follow University (You will pass through Redlands University) until you meet Highway 38. Take a right on Highway 38, going toward the San Bernardino Mountains. In several miles you will pass the Mill Creek Ranger Station (Where you obtain the additional wilderness permit if you have not gotten it early), continue on up into the San Bernardino National Forest. Highway 38 will take you to the trailhead. Exit highway 38 onto Jenks Lake Road (This road is located before Barton Flats). Take Jenks lake road a couple of miles and the trailhead is on your left hand side. The South Fork Trailhead is a large parking lot with a big sign indicating the South Fork Trailhead. (A Forest Adventure Pass is needed as well as a free Wilderness Permit for access to the San Gorgonio Wilderness). 

Description of HikeTo day hike or overnight backpack in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, you must have an additional wilderness permit (The Permit is Free), in addition to the Forest Adventure Pass. You can Follow this link for the permit for your hike to Dry Lake. The link will direct you to the wilderness permit application for the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association. You can obtain the additional wilderness permit early from the Mill Creek Ranger Station which is the easiest way, or you will have to stop at the Mill Creek Ranger Station before you go hiking on the hiking trail to Dry Lake. Each hiking trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness has a set quota for the number of hikers allowed on each trail and once the daily quota is reached they don't issue more wilderness permits for the trail. That is why Ashley and I recommend you get your free wilderness permit early. You can obtain a permit 90 days before your hike. 

The length of the hike to Dry Lake is 14 miles roundtrip with an altitude gain of 2,200 ft. The hiking trail is well maintained and is a very popular hike for Southern California Hikers. For this hike you take the South Fork Trail which passes Horse Meadows and then crosses into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The South Fork Trail goes to the South Fork Meadow, where you take the trail to Dry Lake. Once at Dry Lake you can take a loop around Dry Lake if you like. Dry Lake is a beautiful alpine lake during much of the year and turns into a meadow during the summer months. There are two wilderness campsites around Dry Lake which make for some of the most scenic back country camping in all of Southern California.

Further Thoughts: Dry Lake has water in it most of the year, however in the summer and fall months Dry Lake usually dries up and become a grassy meadow. The best time to hike to Dry Lake is probably in late spring to see Dry Lake when it is full with water. The hike is still worth it during the summer months even though Dry Lake becomes a grassy meadow late summer and fall. If you have the time to spend the night at Dry Lake Ashley and I would highly recommend it.  We have camped here on several occasions and it is one of the best wilderness campgrounds in Southern California. As always, you have a great chance of seeing wildlife while on your hike to Dry Lake, as dry lake is located in the 58,969 acre San Gorgonio Wilderness. (The picture of the lake with water was taken on another hike we did to the San Gorgonio Summit in June of 2010 when there was plenty of water in the lake)

The views on the hike to Dry Lake are absolutely spectacular and is a must do hike to see an alpine lake in Southern California. The hiking trail is well marked with directional signs where trails intersect in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Note, if you attempt this hike during the winter, keep in mind that this area receives a lot of snow. If you do this hike during the cold winter months make sure you are prepared with proper gear as only experienced hikers should do this hike during the winter. Also, during the summer months, be on the watch for afternoon thunderstorms. Ashley and I have encountered a couple of thunderstorms on several different occasions during the summer when hiking in this area. Remember to seek shelter immediately if a thunderstorm develops and do not stay on peaks or in open areas. For current weather conditions and forecasts for this area you want to check with the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association's website to find current trail conditions and weather forecasts. The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association's website is also a great tool to find out about water flow at the various springs in the San Gorgonio Wilderness for filtering while back country camping and/or day hiking. 

For pictures of what Dry Lake looks like when it is full, click Here.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 2,201 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 14 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous).

Time to Complete Hike: 7 - 8 hours.

View Dry Lake in a larger map


  1. Nice report - I just did this one a couple of weeks ago and there was still some water in the lake. Great views of the San Gorgonio high country.

  2. I did this hike when I was a Boy Scout. I am now 36, and thinking of doing it again. I was there in the late spring, and the lake was quite full. I remember swimming in it. Make sure you have your permits if you stay the night, I remember the ranger coming by and issuing a few tickets to some of the other camp sites.


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