San Jacinto Peak via Marion Mountain

San Jacinto (wide)

The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth! – John Muir

Trail Details
Distance: 11.4 miles
Time: ~9 hours
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation gain: 4,689 ft
Dogs: No
When to go: June-October
Find out more about the SoCalHiker Six-Pack of Peaks
This hike is the fifth in my Six-Pack of Peaks series of training hikes that I originally used to train for the hiking the John Muir Trail
Who am I to argue with Muir? At 10,834′ San Jacinto Peak does indeed reward the determined hiker with wonderful views. You can see the inland empire, Palm Desert, the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, Mt. Palomar in San Diego, Santiago and Modjeska peaks, and on a really clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of Catalina Island.

There are several routes up San Jacinto. Most people take the Palm Springs Aerial Tram up from the desert floor and begin their journey in Long Valley. It’s a route I’ve taken many times before, and I was itching for something different and a more challenging.

The Marion Mountain trail fit the bill perfectly.

The Marion Mountain route begins a few miles north of Idyllwild. It’s the shortest route up Mt. San Jacinto. It’s also steep, relentlessly climbing over 4,600 feet in just 5.7 miles.

Marion Mountain trail to Mt. San Jacinto

As you can see here in this Google Earth image, the trail climbs almost continuously, with a short breather at Little Round Valley before the final ascent to the saddle and the summit.

Most of the trail is forested

I felt great on the hike, though. First of all, unlike my last big hike I hydrated and slept well the night before. But the other reason was the scenery. Almost the entire hike is under the cover of pine forest that was bursting with wildflowers and dozens of little snow-fed rivulets. The visual feast kept our minds busy.

View over the inland empire from about the halfway point

And though I planned this hike many weeks in advance, it turns out the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. One pair of hikers I met on the trail told me they had been up this trail just a couple weeks earlier and had to turn back at Little Round Valley because of the heavy snow. Only those with crampons were making it to the summit.

One of many little creeks

On this weekend, the snow had mostly melted, though we still saw patches such as this one feeding the many seasonal creeks.

Not far below the junction to the summit lies Little Round Valley. It has a beautiful alpine meadow and a number of primitive campsites. None were occupied on this particular weekend, and I’ve heard that bugs are a real issue here. There is, however, a chemical toilet (we marveled at how they got it up there!) and it’s worth taking a short break here to enjoy the view and rest before the final climb.

We regrouped at the junction with the trail coming up from the tram, and made the short hike up to the stone hut and on to the summit.

The stone hut

The hut contains four bunks and a place to deposit any extra supplies you might want to share, should others need them in an emergency. As the sign on the door reminds you, be sure to leave the hut in better condition than when you arrived.

Beyond the hut it’s a boulder scramble to the summit, which on this particular day had a crowd of people. Joan and I literally had to wait in line for the obligatory “here we are at the top” photo.

We ate lunch, took photos, and gave thanks that we didn’t take the trail from the tram — it was obvious that was how most of the people up here came. To return down the mountain we simply retraced our steps. The long descent was greatly aided by trekking poles. Finally back at the trailhead, we drove a couple miles back to Idyllwild for dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, Arriba’s — good food, reasonable prices and hiker-friendly patios. Highly recommended.

A few tips for anyone planning this hike. First, allow sufficient time to get to the trailhead. This place is not freeway-close by any measure. It took us a full two hours to get there from Orange County. Add your driving time to the hiking time, and you’ve pretty nearly filled your day. Second, if you’re meeting your hiking partners, plan to meet at the Ranger Station in Idyllwild, then caravan to the trailhead outside of town. It’s easy to find the Ranger Station; but not so easy to find the trailhead.

Trail Map and Elevation Profile

Photo Gallery

Click any image for a larger version.

Additional Mt. San Jacinto Resources

  • GPS user? Download the GPX file (right-click and save as)
  • View the trail in Google Earth
  • The Marion Mountain trailhead can be reached off of CA 243 a few miles north of Idyllwild. There are signs indicating where to turn for the Fern Basin and Marion Mountain campgrounds. The trailhead begins on road 4S71 between the campgrounds. Trailhead parking on Google Maps. You must display an Adventure Pass in your car.
  • Self-service permits are required for day hikes, obtainable at the Ranger Station in Idyllwild at 25905 State Highway 243

Idyllwild Weather Forecast

Today Tuesday Wednesday Thursday
It is forcast to be Clear at 7:00 PM PDT on August 03, 2015
It is forcast to be Partly Cloudy at 7:00 PM PDT on August 04, 2015
Partly Cloudy
It is forcast to be Clear at 7:00 PM PDT on August 05, 2015
It is forcast to be Clear at 7:00 PM PDT on August 06, 2015

A special thanks to my hiking companions Leslie, John R and Joan!

Title photo credit: Chuck Coker


  1. says

    Great report Jeff! Looks like a real “climb”. You all covered a lot of vertical feet in this one. Glad to hear that the snow was gone from the summit. We ran into the same dilemma a few weeks ago on a hike here in Las Vegas. I am sure this trek elevated your conditioning even more. Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    Thanks, Tim! Next one this Saturday is San Gorgonio — the biggest yet — with over 5,000 vertical feet gained. Then we settle into maintenance mode as we finish packing food and other last minute details for the JMT. 26 days and counting…

  3. says

    Nice report. Looks like they replaced the summit sign since I last went there. Camping at Little Round Valley will get you to the summit early and you’ll have it to yourself.

    I never saw a chemical toilet at LRV, it must be new!

    Good show. Good luck on San G.

  4. says

    Yes, the sign looked very new. Didn’t find (or even look for) the summit log! Somehow that slipped my mind.

    San G will be fun… looking forward to a good night’s sleep tonight in preparation for a LONG day tomorrow.

  5. says

    Nice hike! I’ve only ever done this hike using the tram. Of course – I’ve also always had my kids with me. Last time I did San Jac (last spring) the summit register was in the hut.

    Doing San G? It’s been *years* since I was last up there. Have fun!

  6. says

    I would agree… San Jacinto is my favorite of the SoCal peaks. It has the sub-alpine meadows, forest, great views, and “feels” more like a summit at the top than most of the others. A great way to spend the day.

    In spite of the impression you might get from my most recent trail guides, I’m not primarily a peak bagger. But I have bagged a few, and my all-time favorite was Banner Peak in the Minarets, above Thousand Island Lake. I hiked around the “back” side (west face), up a glacier, along a precarious ridge to the final boulder scramble to the top. Sitting at the edge my feet dangling thousands of feet above the lake was an amazing experience.

    We’ll be camping at Thousand Island Lake in a couple weeks as part of our thru-hike of the John Muir Trail. We won’t have time for a side trip to Banner Peak, but someday I’d like to go back, and maybe climb it’s twin Mt. Ritter as well.

  7. says

    Wow. That sounds amazing! I’m definitely going to be checking out Banner on my TOPO’s when I get home tonight! Hope you have a blast on the JMT! Can’t wait to hear all about it! I’d like to do that trail myself someday.

  8. Jean-Guille says

    Hi Jeff,

    I am planning to summit via this route next week, and while I don’t expect you to have current conditions, I was wondering about water sources. The gal at the ranger station seemed a bit confused when I asked, and said I needed to pack all my water in (saying Round Valley was the only reliable water source on the mountain), but the maps and your trail report show seasonal creeks. Any idea if those would be flowing this time of year, or if there is another reliable source of water along this route?

    Thanks for any info you might have…


  9. says

    J-G, at this time of the year, I would agree with the ranger. The seasonal creeks run in the spring or after rain. This time of year they would be mostly dry.

    There may be some water trickling through Little Round Valley, but to be safe, I wouldn’t count on it.

    On the flip side, there is usually some bottles of water in the hut near the top of San Jacinto. Again, probably not wise to count on that, but good to know in case of emergency.

    Have a great hike! Let me know how it goes.

  10. Jean-Guille says


    Thank you for the info; we backpacked the route and it was great. For anyone rolling up in the near future, in between the Seven Pines Trail junction and Little Round Valley, there were no fewer than five water sources, in the form of springs, flowing nicely. I did not expect you to have that current level of info, but I did expect that the rangers would. No biggie, we packed in what we needed, but just sayin’…

    Thanks again,


  11. mark says

    I’m thinking of backpacking at Round Valley
    I get conflicting reports of water there.
    Some websites say no water, water but needs filter or tap water for drinking.
    Does anyone know what the truth is?
    Also, what type of pit toilets?
    I traveled in the far east and pit toilets are basically squat toilets. Is that the same at Round Valley.

  12. says

    I would check with the ranger station. You’re referring to Round Valley, not Little Round Valley, right? If so, the last time I camped in Round Valley, there was actually a faucet for water. The rangers can confirm.

    Round Valley is on east side of San Jacinto, closer to the tram, and also tends to have a little more water than Little Round Valley on the west side.

    As for toilets, there may be some chemical toilets, either porta-potty style or something a little more permanent, but most of them are pretty nasty. You’d be smart to bring a trowel, find a secluded spot, and dig a hole at least 6 inches deep to bury your poop.

  13. Jeff Schafer says

    This is a great summary of the hike. I just did it yesterday along with 10 others from my son’s Boy Scout troop as our last training hike before doing Mount Whitney (starting from Cottonwood Lake). Yesterday was very hot and although we started at 6am, it was in the 80’s at the peak and in the 90’s on the way down. We had some slow pokes in our group which, along with our 40 lb packs we carried, made for a 12 hour round trip. It was the most difficult hike I have ever done in one day – even beyond the 18 mile Half Dome round trip I did two years ago. Cheers,

  14. says


    I really enjoyed reading this post. I am contemplating doing this hike on the first weekend of March. Would this be too early in the year to attempt? I am not sure what the snow levels are like. Thank you for any information.

  15. says

    Blaine, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    March is often very snowy and would normally require snowshoes, crampons, or other specialized gear. Last year I went snowshoeing up at San Jacinto (not to the summit). I’m hoping to go again this year to the summit, and hopefully IN snow.

    Of course, so far this year we’ve had very little precipitation, so it may not be a “typical” year.

    I would suggest calling the ranger station for the latest conditions.

  16. says

    It’s likely open, but icy. I chatted with a guy who went up the other side a couple weeks ago and he said there were light patches of snow, but it was very icy.

    So you may want to bring some traction devices and trekking poles for sure.

    I would also give the ranger station a call first. They usually have a pretty good idea of conditions. Note that they almost always try to talk people out of going in less than ideal conditions.

  17. says

    Hi Jeff: Thanks for the excellent post. We are planning to hike on March 29th this year. One of the sites said the Marion Mtn road is closed November to May. Is that true? We don’t care if we can’t reach the summit as long as we can at least do a portion…Thanks!

  18. says

    Good point! The 243 is generally open (barring recent snow), but I’m not sure about Marion Mtn. Road. You could potentially hike in from the 243.

    I would give the Idyllwild Ranger Station a call to confirm. Their number is (909) 382-2921. They are closed today for the President’s Day holiday. Let us know what you discover.

  19. says

    This is such a great thread.
    Hector, how was it?
    I am just a kid from warm Texas so I don’t own any of the gear I think I would need. i really want to do it thought. if you know of any places for equipment rental.
    If that does not work then I would be happy with a Mountain Bike trail too if anyone knows of anything. Thanks again.

  20. kris says

    So we’re planning to hike here on June… How steep is it if you compare it to Mt. Baldy?

  21. james says

    Depends on which route at Baldy. This hike is much steeper than Devil’s Backbone @ Baldy, but maybe not much steeper if you go up the Bowl.

  22. Catherine W. says

    We’re contemplating doing Mt San Jacinto soon. I’m a weekender, not pro by any standards and no equipment. We did the Sittons Peak trail last weekend. It took us about 4.5 hours, there and back without poles, but had water to spare (even in that heat)! I saw there are a couple ways to do this peak, which would you recommend as a follow-on to Sittons? Thanks in advance :).

  23. John says

    Jeff, I am wondering if you have the stats on distance if we were to do it the way many other do for a first time via the tram. where can I get info on that way. I want it to still be challenging but want info on the trailhead, distance, elevation gain, etc. any tips or reccommendations??

  24. John says

    Jeff, where are the directions to this trail head…planning on doing this hike early September this year with some friends..

  25. John says

    Ahhhh, I am sorry, love your website, it is sooo great… I found it just now..near the bottom. Thanks for the great helpful info!!!

  26. Chad says

    Thinking about showing up late next Wednesday and backpacking the route. Do you think the refuge will be busy mid week?

  27. Jim says

    Mistake worth noting since this could confuse some people: Saddle Junction is NOT on this trail. I think what’s described as SJ is the junction with the route to the peak and the trail coming up from the tram and Humber Park in Idyllwild. Saddle Junction is actually where five trails meet including the trail from Humber Park (Devils Slide) and is about five miles south of where the Marion Mountain trail meets the peak trail.

  28. says

    Good catch, Jim. You are absolutely correct. I’ve updated the post to avoid confusion. It’s a junction, near (but not at) the saddle between San Jacinto and Jean Peak. But it’s not Saddle Junction — which is a specific location at the top of Devil’s Slide.

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