The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth! – John Muir
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Saddle Junction 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 Saddle Junction and made the short hike up to the stone hut and on to the summit.
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
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
A special thanks to my hiking companions Leslie, John R and Joan!
Title photo credit: Chuck Coker