Hiking in Mt. San Jacinto State Park

Welcome to Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. You recently left the Coachella Valley floor 8,000 feet below and have stepped into a natural wonderland. Walk outside,  look around, smell the air. Think about where you were. In the hot desert or noisy city? Well, get ready for new experiences as you explore and discover the San Jacinto Mountains. The constantly changing forest ecosystem awaits you outside. The air is thin up here; take your time. The Mountain Station is at an elevation of 8,516. The 100 foot descent into Long Valley is about 1/8 mile along a cement walkway.


There are two loop trails in Long Valley, to the left at the bottom of the ramp. The half-mile Nature Loop Trail circles a fragile meadow community. In season you’ll see many wildflowers and hear numerous birdcalls and songs. A seasonal creek flows through the meadow, enticing squirrels, birds, coyote and deer to visit for a drink. There are ten interpretive signs along the trail pointing out special features of the area.

Wandering along the rocky edge of the valley is the 1 ½ mile long Desert Loop Trail, which provides views into the Coachella Valley and on clear days south to the end of the Salton Sea and east into Joshua Tree National Park. Look for vegetation growing along the San Andreas fault. Can you distinguish this from the railroad?

Squirrel in Long Valley
Photo by Raymond Shobe, NHA 2010 Photo Contest

Walk the trails and peer into the shadows. Can you see a squirrel rooting out a fungus (mushroom)? Sit on a rock and look up into the trees. How many different birds can you see? Perhaps you can only hear them. Find a large tree whose reddish-colored bark smells like vanilla or butterscotch candy (Jeffrey pine); the tree with needles growing singularly rather than in bundles as pines do (White fir); the “fallen twins” at the edge of the meadow, blown down in a wind storm (Lodgepole pine).

The Long Valley Ranger Station is located at the northeast end of Long Valley, to the right at the bottom of the ramp. Information, wilderness permits, first aid and restrooms are available there.


Prepared and invigorated day hikers and overnight backpackers may go right at the bottom of the ramp to reach the Long Valley Ranger Station. Here you can ask questions, learn the rules, obtain permits, and find the hike or camp that is right for you. Beyond the station are over 70 miles of well-kept trails in the state and national forest wilderness areas. The day hiking permit is free but there is anominal fee for camping permits.  Please read it, complete it, and enjoy the wilderness.


Indian paintbrush
Photo by Bill Bulger, NHA 2010 Photo Contest

Spring and summer are the best seasons for hiking in the San Jacinto Mountains. In late spring, the days are cool and there still may be snow on the ground. The trees and flowers are starting to bloom. The daylight hours are extended on the mountain and you can enjoy longer hikes. By late summer when the mountain is dry, many flowers begin to wither.

The trail to the peak, about 12 miles and 6 hours round trip, is a long but beautiful hike. The elevation gain is about 2,400 feet from Long Valley as you ascend to the top at 10,834 feet. Be prepared with your “10 Essentials.” A trail map is an essential. Fill out a permit at the Long Valley Ranger Station; indicate that your destination is the peak. Inquire about weather forecasts and other information at the ranger station, and then you are on your way.

The first 1.7 miles is a steady uphill climb along a stream to your right. Look to the other side of the stream as deer often come down to drink and browse on the foliage. When you near Round Valley, you may see the large green leaves and white flower spikes of Corn lilies on both sides of the trail. The lilies may grow over 5 feet tall in the summer.

You are less than ½ mile to pit toilets and the Round Valley Ranger Station constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.). The station is no longer staffed, but you may find State Park staff working in the area. This is a nice place to stop and take a long drink from your water bottle/canteen. You should replenish your supply from the spring-fed spigot, but all water in the wilderness must be treated.

Follow the trail signs to Wellman’s Divide and the peak. Notice the rusty tank to the right of the trail; pause to read it. Continue up the trail that is hard and steep for the next mile, but well worth the effort. Take your time; just when you are getting ready to quit, a tremendous view opens up to the south. Looking to the west-southwest, see whether you can find Mt. Palomar and the observatory. Mexico is to the south. Peaks such as Tahquitz, Red Tahquitz, and Lily Rock are in the foreground. Not only is the view beautiful from here, the breeze is welcome.

Take a rest and drink to replenish body fluids. Be sure you are wearing sun protection, as the next section of trail is very exposed. Head north at the junction and start a 2 mile climb along the side of the mountain. The trail is narrow; watch your step as you look at the views. Just as you near what seems to be the top, the trail makes a switchback and you keep on going.

Stone Cabin
Photo by Russ Andersen, NHA

At the junction, in the shade of some hardy Limber and Lodgepole pines, the trail goes right. Take a deep breath; you are almost there. You will soon come to a cabin constructed in 1933 as a C.C.C. project. Go inside and look around. Leave a note to a friend or fellow hiker. Please leave everything that is there; they are for emergencies. Close the door securely behind you.

The peak is to the left of the cabin. Scramble up the rocks. You have made it! Enjoy the spectacular 360-degree view as you eat your much-deserved lunch. Take pictures of the view and of your group by the peak sign. Look for the many survey markers imbedded in the granite. Read the dates and look for the earliest one.

Take your time when you head down. It should take about 2/3 the time that it took you to get up. Please be careful; you are probably tired. Drink water and rest on your way down. If you miss one tramcar there is always another one in half and hour or so.


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