Hiking Mt. San Gorgonio (Via the South Fork Trail)

Mt. San Gorgonio is the Tallest Mountain in Southern California at 11,502 feet and is a must do hike for any Southern California hiker.  This past weekend Ashley and I hiked to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio via the South Fork trailhead. It was an absolute beautiful hike, with everything from thunderstorms, to deer, to spectacular views. However, only those fit enough to hike 23.6 miles roundtrip to the 11,502 foot summit should attempt this hike. Bottom-line is a hike to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio should be on every avid Southern California hiker's to do list.

Directions to Trailhead: To hike to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio via 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. It 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 the San Gorgonio Wilderness).

Description of Hike: To 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. The link will direct you to the wilderness permit application. 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. Each trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness has a set quota for the number of hikers allowed on each trail and once the quota is reached the Forest Service doesn't issue more wilderness permits for the trail. That is why I recommend you get your wilderness permit early for your hike to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio. You can obtain a permit 90 days before your hike.

Mt. San Gorgonio is located in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (approximately 58,969 Acres). The total length of the hike to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio via the south fork trail is 23.6 miles roundtrip with a 4,601 foot elevation gain. This is a very popular trail to hike to the summit and you will likely see people on the trail as well as in the campsites. The permit quota often fills up for this hike, especially during weekends during peak summer months, so get your free wilderness permits in advance. The trail is well maintained and is usually in good condition. All trails are well marked, except right by Dry Lake. This hike is very strenuous and only fit hikers should hike to the summit. It is a good idea to train on other hikes like Mt. Baden Powell or Mt. San Jacinto in preparation for this hike.

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. There is camping available at Dry Lake (Water is available at Lodge Pole Springs) as well as further up at Trail Flats (No water available). The trail continues all the way to the summit. There are several other trails that go to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio (Vivian Creek and Fish Creek). The South Fork Trail is one of the most popular routes to the summit for hikers to use. In our opinion this is the most scenic rout to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio.

Further Thoughts: A map of the San Gorgonio Wilderness is always a good thing to bring along with you when hiking here. The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association Store has one for sale. For those who want to split the hike up into two days, which is recommended if you want to enjoy being out in the wilderness, several campgrounds are available. During the summer months always be on the watch for thunderstorms. When Ashley and I went on this trail we encountered a thunderstorm which lasted for three hours. Seek shelter immediately when 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.Click Here for a live webcam of San Gorgonio courtesy of BigBearWeather.com.

The hike to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio is a major accomplishment for any Southern California Hiker. Mt. San Gorgonio is the highest point in all of Southern California and will give you bragging rights with fellow hikers. The trail is strenuous but the views and sights are totally worth it. Ashley and I even had the opportunity to see a deer while out on the trail. Always have your camera ready, as you never know what wildlife you will run into.

We both recommend that anyone thinking of hiking to the summit of San Gorgonio, especially in one day, do some training hikes because this is a challenging hike. On the trail there is also an airplane wreck from 1953, where a military plane crashed into the side of Mt. San Gorgonio during a snow storm. Most of the wreckage is still there. Sadly everyone on the plane was lost.

Dry Lake is another notable spot along the hike to Mt. San Gorgonio. It has stellar views of the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains and during most of the year is filled with water. During the summer months and early fall it becomes a meadow until snow returns in the winter. During the winter this area gets a lot of snow. For those that do this hike in the winter always make sure to check the weather conditions and information provided by the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association's Bulletin Board. If you are doing this hike in the winter you will likely need crampons, snow shoes, and good winter gear. Remember, snow can be present for many months of the year on the trail to the summit of San Gorgonio so make sure to check the conditions if you are doing this hike in late fall, the winter, or the spring. 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.

Rating: Elevation Gain: 4,601 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 23.6 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous), Note: be on the watch for Altitude sickness since the height of Mt. San Gorgonio is 11,502 ft.

Time to Complete Hike: 9 - 11 hours.

Good Training Hikes: Mt. Baden-Powell, Mt. San Jacinto, Saddleback Mountain, Cucamonga Peak, Mt. Baldy.


Mt. San Gorgonio (Via the South Fork Trail, July 2009)(This Post)


  1. Hi there!

    I think this hike is going to be a great training hike for our grand canyon rim to rim to rim hike in a month :) Thanks for posting this!

    Just one question - how much water did you bring for this day hike? Are there refill areas along the way?

  2. Helen,

    It should be a great training hike. I am not sure if the snow has cleared from the summit area by this time of year. There should be plenty of streams this time of year to filter water from.

    There is one main stream when you hike on the way up and there is lodgepole spring by Dry lake (which should have water in it now). After that there are no more spots to get water going to the summit.

  3. My sister and I just did this hike, training for Mt. Whitney. Are you guys ever planning to conquer Mt. Whitney? I would love to see a posting on your adventure with that one!!! Love your blog! -Sara

  4. My wife and I just completed this hike and it was tough! We camped at Halfway Camp and agreed that hauling our backpacks to 8100 feet was easier on us than taking them to High Camp at 9200 feet. Much better for us to go with a daypack from Halfway Camp. Great views on the way up and very scenic.

  5. Bmatter,

    Glad you enjoyed your hike up to the top. San Gorgonio is a great hike. It sounds like you hiked to the top via the Vivian Creek trail, which is a great way to get to the top of San Gorgonio. Halfway camp is also a great place to camp on that trail.

  6. Hi! So glad I found your blog! My husnabd and I hiked to the San Goegonio Summit and back yesterday from Southfork trail head. It was an incredible hike and water supply was great (be sure to take a filter system)! It was our first time hiking that area and we loved it! Still some snow on the north side, but it just added to the fun! Thanks for your great blog and all the information! Did it as a day hike and loved it!

  7. Congrats on the summit of San Gorgonio and thank you for the feedback on the water flow along the trail. The San Gorgonio Wilderness is a beautiful place.

  8. Do you recommend hiking this solo?

    1. We don't recommend doing any hike solo just due to potential risks of hiking solo. There are hiking clubs and other groups available if you are looking for others to hike with.

  9. We did San Gorgonio yesterday via South Fork'Dry Lake. It was a long hike, but great to be able to reach the summit. 4 of our members decided to head back 4 miles before the summit because it was getting late. make sure to start early if you are going to do it in 1 day. It takes anywhere from 9 to 12 hours, depending on the pace and stops. This was our 2nd time, just different trail start. We are preparing for Mt. Whitney in July.

  10. My girlfriend and I summited San G on Saturday, June 7, 2014 via the South Fork/Dollar Lake trail. Beautiful day with perfect weather. Got a late start around 9 AM, made it to the top at 2 PM, ate, took photos, and left the summit at 230, arriving back at the car by 630. Not a very steep hike, with a 4500 foot elevation gain over 10.5 miles, but still very long. This was a training hike for Whitney which we are attempting on June 20.



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