It’s a great time to hike in Idyllwild, before snow season fully sets in.
The Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail is an easy-to-moderate workout that offers clear views of Strawberry Valley, as well as both Suicide Rock and Tahquitz or “Lily” Rock. This 5.2-mile round trip hike begins at Humber Park at 6,100-foot elevation. No hiking permit is required, but you must buy an Adventure Pass if you plan to park a vehicle or use restrooms at the park. Get one at the San Bernardino National Forest Service Ranger Station at Highway 243 and Pine Crest Avenue in Idyllwild. The pass is $5 a day or $30 a year.
To access the trail, look for a signpost on the west side of the Humber Park parking lot. You will drop 600 feet in elevation on the way down (2.6 miles). There’s no parking provided at the other end on the residential road. The road is unpaved and shaded so it can be muddy in winter. It’s generally not plowed after snow.
As with most Idyllwild hikes, seasonal changes add interest. Winter offers the soothing sound of water running in streams, plus picturesque photographic opportunities during snow. Snow can fall from November to May. Purple lupines and pink manzanita blooms arrive in spring.
The trail is partly shaded, so it’s ideal in summer. Also, there are big boulders and huge downed tree trunks where hikers can take rest stops in the heat. Autumn brings views of golden, burnt umber and red hues across the valley. Keep an eye out for former Native American grinding stones — “metates” — along the trail.
Idyllwild is considered a world class rock climbing location. Rock climbers access Lily Rock via Climbers Trail, off the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail at the higher elevation, just below the Humber Park parking lot.
Dogs can accompany hikers on the Ernie Maxwell, if owners pick up waste. Horses are welcome, too. Mountain bikes are banned. The trail crosses from national forest land into state wilderness, so hikers must adhere to policies of both jurisdictions.
PHOTO BY JULIE PENDRAY
Downed tree trucks make good rest stops along the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail.
PHOTOS BY JULIE PENDRAY
ABOVE: Grinding stone “metates” on Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail. RIGHT: Unique bark pattern.
Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail is named after the late cartoonist for New Yorker and Esquire magazines who founded the Town Crier newspaper in Idyllwild in 1946, with his wife, Betty. The newspaper continues to circulate today.
Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail:
San Jacinto Ranger District:
Call the ranger station at (909) 382-2921.
PHOTO BY JULIE PENDRAY
Suicide Rock view from Humber Park.