Hike Mt. San Gorgonio South Fork Loop

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. Recently, I had the chance to hike the South Fork Loop with a couple of buddies from work, Jon Kaplan and Kyle Carrolle. The South Fork Loop to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio was an absolutely beautiful hike with spectacular views of the greater Southern California area. The San Gorgonio Wilderness, where this hike is located, is the largest high-altitude wilderness area in Southern California and is a hiker's paradise. Bottom-line, this is a hike that should be on every avid Southern California hiker's to do list. For more pictures, make sure to check out our Facebook Page.

Directions to Trailhead: To hike to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio via the South Fork Loop, you will start from the South Fork 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 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 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 and can be easily passed if you are not looking out for it). 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 up to 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 Loop is 21 miles roundtrip with a 4,601 foot elevation gain. This loop is a popular trail to hike for many, but is not as popular as the vivian creek trail, bottom-line is you should expect to see other hikers while hiking the South Fork Loop.  The permit quota often fills up for this hike, especially during weekends during peak summer months, so get your free wilderness permit in advance. The hiking trail is well maintained and is usually in good condition. All trails along the South Fork Loop are well marked, except right by Dry Lake. This hike is very strenuous and only fit hikers should hike to the summit in one day. If you plan on doing this hike in one day, it is a good idea to train on other hikes like Mt. Baden Powell or Mt. San Jacinto in preparation for this hike.

From the South Fork Trailhead, you take the South Fork Hiking Trail which passes by Horse Meadows and then crosses into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The South Fork Trail goes to the South Fork Meadow, where you continue on the South Fork the trail to Dollar Lake. Once you get close to Dollar Lake, you will see signs for the Dollar Lake Trail. You can take a short side excursion of less than half a mile one way to see Dollar Lake which is located at approximately 9,300 feet. The side excursion is worth it during wet years when water is in Dollar Lake. After passing the turnout for Dollar Lake, continue another 0.7 miles on the South Fork Trail to Dollar Saddle. Dollar Lake Saddle is located at 9,960 feet and there is no camping or viable water sources past this point. From Dollar Saddle head toward the Summit of Mt. San Gorgonio which is approximately 5 miles from Dollar Saddle. This section of the hike from Dollar Saddle to the Summit of Mt. San Gorgonio is a steady uphill hike.

Once you hike to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio you will return via the Sky High Trail which will take you to Dry Lake. From Dry Lake, you will continue all the way down back to the South Fork Meadow and continue all the way back to the Trailhead. There is camping available at Dry Lake (Water is available almost year round at Lodge Pole Springs, except during extreme drought years), Trail Flats (No water available), Dollar Lake (Water available seasonally from lake and a spring to the extreme south of the lake, both typically run dry at some point during the year). The South Fork Loop is one of the most popular hiking routes to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio 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 in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association Store has one for sale. For those who want to split the hike up into multiple days, which is recommended if you want to enjoy being out in the wilderness and because this hike is extremely difficult to complete in one day, several campgrounds are available. During the summer months always be on the watch for thunderstorms, in the past, Ashley and I have encountered several while hiking in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. 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.

It took our group just under 12 hours to complete this loop in one day. Our time included a one hour stay at the top of Mt. San Gorgonio as well as multiple stops along the way. To really enjoy this hike, it would be recommended to split this hike up into a couple of days. Fit hikers will be able to do this hike in one day, however it is more enjoyable split up into multiple days.

There are several points of interest along this hike where you can have great pictures and/or views, notably Poop Out Hill just before the wilderness entrance, Dollar Lake, the Summit, Dry Lake, and the airplane wreckage along the Sky High Trail. On the Sky High Trail you will find 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 and sadly everyone on the plane was lost.

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: 21 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 - 12 hours.

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


South Fork Loop (August 2014)(This Post)

View San Gorgonio Loop in a larger map


  1. Looks like a fun hike. I wish we had mountains here i south Texas. Its one of the only things I miss about my time spent in North Carolina.

  2. I lived in Southern California for about a year and half and never did any hiking. I grew up in Northern California and did all kinds of backpacking in the Lake Tahoe area and ventured down the east side of the Sierra to hike in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and Kings Canyon. Looks like I missed the boat while in SoCal.


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