The Sierra Club lists 100 peaks in Southern California over 5,000 feet. Two of the highest, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, are within view of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.
At 10,834 feet, San Jacinto is the crown jewel of the San Jacinto Mountains and is part of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. These are the mountains that frame the Coachella Valley to the south and west. San Gorgonio, at 11,485 feet, is part of the San Bernardino Mountains and is now part of the newly designated Sand to Snow National Monument. It is the tall gray peak separated from us by Interstate 10 and the Banning pass.
On the far west side of San Jacinto is the mountain community of Idyllwild, an easy one-hour drive from Palm Springs, with access to several unique hiking and climbing experiences such as Lily Rock and Tahquitz Peak.
Want to get high? Maybe higher than you’ve ever been under your own power? If you’re up for it, we have four destinations that will make you think you’ve touched the sky.
1. SAN JACINTO
San Jacinto may be the most accessible of all the high peaks in Southern California due to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes you 8,500 feet of the way. It’s still 5 miles to the peak and some of it is easy; some parts are strenuous. The first half is a gradual transition through pine forest. From there it’s a series of long switchbacks to the peak. This is a very doable day hike. Access it from Idyllwild and Humber Park or take the Fuller Ridge Trail from Highway 247. The most challenging route ascends along the Skyline Trail from Palm Springs and its 8 miles is some of the steepest vertical trail in the U.S.
2. Tahquitz Peak
Situated 36 miles from Mount San Jacinto is this short but steep 3-mile hike to Tahquitz Peak. Your reward will be panoramic views of Southern California. The easiest approach is from the South Ridge Trail. It’s a 2,000-foot elevation gain from the trailhead to the peak. There is a historic fire lookout station at the top staffed by volunteers willing to give you a tour and lecture on its history.
3. San Gorgonio
San Gorgonio is a mecca for skiers and hikers. The peak normally has a half-dozen trails leading to the top, but the lake fire in 2015 closed all but one: the Vivian Creek Trail. From the trailhead, near the town of Forest Falls, it’s 12 miles to the top. The first couple of miles are filled with steep switchbacks. A definite five out of 10 on our scale. You can bag this peak in one day, but there are a couple of campgrounds along the way if you want to break it up with an overnighter.
4. LILY ROCK
Lily Rock has been considered one of the premier locations for learning technical free climbing since the 1930s. Climbers from Southern California and around the world come here to hone their skills. On a scale of one to 10 this is a 15 and you will need a trail permit. To reach the peak, head to Humber Park in Idyllwild, then take a short, easy hike down the Ernie Maxwell Trail.