In preparation for Mount Whitney this summer, I took on the Six Pack of Peaks Challenge, a series of hikes designed by Jeff Hester of SocalHiker.net featuring a progression of six peaks in Southern California. I also started an adventure club called Shoestring Adventures LA and invited you all to join me. Here are the tales of our journey.
Mount San Jacinto is the second tallest peak in Southern California. The most popular route is from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, but for our fourth summit of the Six Pack of Peaks, we hiked the less-travelled Marion Mountain Trail. This 12-mi out-and-back hike from Idyllwild may be the shortest, but it is sufficiently steep, climbing over 4,500-ft to an elevation of 10,834-ft.
Since I scheduled this hike around the same time as my friend Drea’s birthday, we made a Palm Springs girls weekend of it. Six of us drove to the desert on Friday night to get a head start on Saturday morning.
Before reaching the trailhead, we had to make a pit stop at the Idyllwild Ranger Station to pick up a permit and meet our new friend Adolfo from Shoestring Adventures LA. Adolfo was in for a surprise when he was greeted by six lovely ladies.
From the ranger station, we caravanned to the trailhead near Marion Mountain Campground, located at the end of a long dirt road. The parking lot was already full, so we parked on the side of the road.
The first leg of the journey was a steep 4.8 mile climb to Little Round Valley Campground through a forest of pines trees, boulders, ferns and fragrant wildflowers. We stopped at several beautiful vistas to catch our breath and to take in the scenery.
After about 3 miles, the Marion Mountain Trail ended at a junction. We turned left at Seven Pines and a quick right at Deer Springs Trail (also the PCT). After crossing the Fuller Ridge Trail Junction, we left the forest cover for a short while to climb a steep set of switchbacks covered in thorny brush. We made frequent stops to enjoy the open view behind us… and to breathe.
Continuing on the Deer Springs Trail to Little Round Valley, we hopped over several streams and filled our bottles with fresh mountain water. (Don’t forget your water filter!)
The climb relented as we approached Little Round Valley. We passed a handful of vacant hike-in campsites with names like “Owl’s Hootch” and a mysteriously placed outhouse.
From the campground, we began the final climb toward the summit, which stayed hidden from sight. After 1.2 miles, we reached a 3-way saddle junction where the Deer Springs Trail met the San Jacinto Peak Trail, our last turn before the summit.
Just below the peak stands a stone shelter, built in 1933 and open to the public. From here, the trail disappeared and we climbed the large pile of rocks that makes up the summit.
After visiting the summit, wilderness legend John Muir wrote, “The view from San Jacinto was the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth.” Jacinto is still considered one of Southern California’s most beautiful summits. We could see Palm Springs, the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains. We also had our first glimpse of San Gorgonio, the tallest peak in Southern California and our final summit before Mount Whitney.
We descended the mountain quickly, chasing the sun at golden hour. We stopped to enjoy the sunset and nearly stepped on a sleeping rattle snake. (Please watch your step!)
Finally, we made it back to the trail head and said goodbye to our new friend Adolfo.
We returned to our Palm Springs paradise, fired up the grill and ate like queens. For the rest of the weekend, we soaked our sore muscles in the pool, sipped on Micheladas (because we classy like that), and bronzed away our sock tanlines. I wish every hike could end with this kind of royal treatment.
Mount San Jacinto via Marion Mountain Trail
- Trail Distance: 12.2 mi; 4,600-ft climb; 10,834-ft summit elevation
- Time: 9-12 hours (Depending on your pace)
- Fitness Level: Strenuous
- Permits: Self-service permits are required for day hikes. You may apply online or pick one up at the San Jacinto State Park Headquarters at 25905 State Highway 243, Idyllwild, CA 92549.
- Trailhead Address: Marion Mountain Campground Road, San Bernardino National Forest, Idyllwild, CA92549
- Trailhead Directions: From Highway 243 turn onto Azalea Trails Road and follow the signs for the Marion Mountain campgrounds for 1.5 miles. The parking lot is located just before the Marion Campground and across from the trailhead.
- What to Bring: Plenty of food and water (at least 3 Liters) and a filter to treat water on the trail. I went through more than 3 liters.
- No dogs allowed.