In May of 2009 I hiked to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail with a good friend of mine, Mazi Bahadori. It was an absolute great hike, and I would recommend this hike to others. However, it is also a monster of a hike and only those who are fit should take this challenge on. The Vivian Creek Trail is the quickest way to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio which in reality means it is uphill the whole way to the top. No flat or downhill breaks, pretty much uphill the whole way to the tallest mountain in Southern California.
Directions to Trailhead:To get to the Vivian Creek Trailhead, 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 heading East toward Palm Springs. Exit from interstate 10 on University which is in the city of Redlands. Make a left on University and follow University (You will pass through Redlands University) until you meet Highway 38. Make 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. Several miles pass the Mill Creek Ranger station, you will make a right at Forest Falls Road. At the very end of Forest Falls Road is where the trailhead begins at 6,080 feet. There are several parking lots at the trailhead (A Forest Adventure Pass is needed as well as a Wilderness Permit for the San Gorgornio 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 has a set quota for the number of hikers allowed on each hiking trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness and once the quota is reached the National Forest Service does not issue more wilderness permits for the hiking trail. That is why we recommend you get your wilderness permit early. You can obtain a permit 90 days before your hike in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
Mt. San Gorgonio is located in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (58,968 Acres). The Vivian Creek Trail is the shortest and steepest route to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio. The total length of the hike is approximately 16 miles roundtrip with a 5,600 foot elevation gain. For those hikers/backpackers looking to enjoy the experience more, backpacking is the definitely way to go. Backpacking on the mountain and spending multiple days on the mountain allows you the time to really enjoy the beauty of this hike. We would recommend camping at the High Creek Camp or the Halfway Camp if you are going to be spending multiple nights on your hike to Mt. San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail. We camped at the High Creek Camp which was very nice and only 3 miles from the summit.
One and two-tenths miles from the trailhead is Vivian Creek Camp (7,100 ft.). Campsites are located up slope to the right of the trail after reaching the stream: one is halfway up the slope, and the other is at the top of the slope (There is no camping within 200 feet of the trail or creek). One and three-tenths miles from Vivian Creek Camp is Halfway Camp (8,100 ft.). Water is obtained from the creek approximately 200 yards before camp. Two and three-tenths miles further is High Creek Camp (9,200 ft.). Water is also available at the high creek camp. The summit of San Gorgonio (11,502 ft) is 3 miles beyond High Creek Camp. For Current Water Conditions on Mt. San Gorgonio and water levels in the streams click Here to go to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association's website.
The Vivian Creek Trail is a very popular hiking trail to take to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio and you will likely see other hikers on the trail as well as tents in the campsites. The trail is well maintained and is usually in good condition. This hike is very strenuous and only fit hikers should hike to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio. It is a good idea to train on other hikes in preparation for Mt. San Gorgonio. A list of good training hikes is below.
Further Thoughts: A map of the San Gorgonio Wilderness is always a good thing to bring along with you when you go hiking here. The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association Store has one for sale. This is a great hike which offers sweeping views of Southern California. It is truly a must do hike that is very challenging. One of the steepest portions of the hike to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio on the Vivian Creek Trail is in the first mile and a half after you cross the river near the beginning of the trailhead. The really steep portion ends once you reach Vivian Creek Camp. If you want an idea of the current weather and conditions of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, click Here for a live webcam of Mt. San Gorgonio courtesy of BigBearWeather.com. During the summer months always be on the watch for thunderstorms. Seek shelter immediately when a thunderstorm develops and do not stay on peaks or in open areas. If it looks like a storm is developing, head back down as the mountain will always be there.
The Vivian Creek Trail seems to always get a good share of bear activity, so if you are doing an overnight hike it is probably a good idea to have a bear canister. When my friend and I did this hike we had a bear canister with us.
Also when hiking in the mountains always realize that the weather can change very fast. The weather on the tall peaks surrounding Southern California is often times very different that in other areas of South California. While we were close to the summit, which still had a little bit of snow on it in Late May, a little weather developed and the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees. We had wind on top of that and a little rain. Always carry with you layers so you can stay warm in any situation. San Gorgonio is the Tallest mountain in Southern California and is a great accomplishment for any Southern California Hiker. When we went in May the Streams still had plenty of water to filter at the High Creek Camp.
Rating: Elevation Gain: 5,600 ft. (Strenuous), Distance: 16 Miles Roundtrip (Strenuous), Note: be on the watch for Altitude sickness since the height of Mt. San Gorgonio is 11,502 ft.