There are several trails leading up to San Gorgonio, but none as steep as the Vivian Creek trail, which in less than eight miles to the summit climbs over a vertical mile.
With the highest final altitude and the greatest vertical gain, San Gorgonio mountain made a fitting finale to my Six-Pack of Peaks training plan.
The Vivian Creek trail is really divided into five, distinct sections.
The first section gives you a gentle, half-mile warm-up through the wooded Mill Creek Canyon.
The next section is a steep mile of switchbacks that climbs 1,000 vertical feet. A lot of people talk about this section with dread, but I found it very pleasant. Could be the payoff from all the other hiking I’ve done lately, but it’s forested trail with views over Mill Creek Canyon and to the west toward Mt. San Antonio.
SoCal Hiker Tip! Listen for the waterfall from Vivian Creek. There is a nice overlook about 10 yards off trail that gives you a good view of the falls.
The third section of the trail is parallels the beautiful Vivian Creek. This is an easy section and was really a highlight of the trail, with the sounds of the babbling creek, impressive pines and lush greenery. There is a popular campsite, though many of the sites are very close to the trail. Be wary of mosquitos! You might meet a few along this section.
The fourth section gets steeper, climbing past High Creek and up a number of switchbacks to the tree line. You may begin to feel the effects of the altitude as you approach 10,000 feet. The view opens up and you gain stunning vistas of Mt. San Jacinto and the Inland Empire.
The final section of the trail is a long, diagonal traverse near the ridge that leads to San Gorgonio. You climb steadily, with sparse vegetation and full exposure to the sun. It is dry and it can get quite hot, but it’s a well-engineered trail that climbs steadily and not-too-steeply to the summit.
As you reach the summit ridge, you’ll pass to junctions en route to the peak. The first is a spur that leads west toward Dollar Lake. Bear right and head eastward. Another 1/4 mile along the trail you’ll reach a junction with the Sky High Trail joining from the south. Continue straight for another .3 miles to the summit.
The top is a broad expanse of gravel and rocks that is a little anti-climactic. It feels more like a big mound than a peak. But it’s the highest point in Southern California, as the 360 degree views confirm.
The return route on this out-and-back trip is back down the nearly 8.5 mile trail. Fair warning, it will feel longer. Take your time and enjoy it. The views you enjoyed on your morning climb take on a whole new look in the afternoon light.
San Gorgonio Wilderness Trail Tips
Let me tell you the story about the Sixty Dollar Beer… But first, a few tips for making this an enjoyable hike.
- Apply for your permit early. This is the second most popular trailhead in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and permit quotas often fill up in advance. The permits are free, and the entire process can be handled via fax.
- Start hiking early. The trailhead parking officially opens at 6am. We got there about 5:35 and there were only a few spots left in the upper lot. It’s a long day, and by starting early you’ll avoid the worst of the heat.
- Be prepared. Yeah, it’s the old Boy Scout motto, but on an all-day mega hike like this, preparation really counts. Carry the 10 essentials. It’s a long trail. Don’t underestimate the water and electrolytes you’ll need.
Now about that $60 beer… After a long, tough hike there’s nothing better than a cold beverage. A study from Granada University in Spain even proved that beer hydrates better than water. But if your hike ends at the Vivian Creek trailhead parking lot, be sure that cold beverage is not an alcoholic one. The trailhead parking forbids the possession of alcoholic beverages. Somehow I missed that sign in the morning darkness (in my defense, we got there at 5:30 AM). I was happily sipping a cold beer when the forest rangers drove by. No warning — just a $60 fine and a lesson learned.
But the best part was the way my fellow hiker John R. described what they did with the five unopened cans.
“The Forest Service helped us celebrate the ending of the Six-Pack of Peaks series by ceremoniously watering the forest with our 6-pack of beer, symbolizing the connection between the hikers and the trees of the forest.”
Right on, John.
San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail Map & Elevation Profile
PRO TIP: I track all my hikes using GaiaGPS. It’s the best solution for staying on the right trail, it works even when you don’t have cell service, and there are versions for iOS and Android. The app is free, and you can get a discounted membership for maps here.
San Gorgonio Photo Gallery
Click any image to view a larger version. You can leave comments on individual photos, too!
Additional San Gorgonio Resources
- GPS user? Download the GPX file
- View the trail in Google Earth
- Trailhead on Google Maps. Click the blue pin and “directions” for turn-by-turn driving directions to the trailhead. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking.
- Permits are required, even for day hikes, and group size is limited to a maximum of 12. They checked us near the summit, so they mean business.
- San Gorgonio Wilderness Association
Weather Forecast for San Gorgonio
Note that the conditions at the top can be considerably colder!
Special thanks to my Hiking OC friends Jim, Tari, John, Emily, Barry and of course Joan for joining me on this hike!
Title photo credit: Doc Searls
Wish I was there with you all Jeff, it was a great details report and best wishes on your John Muir journey coming. If my time permits, I’ll try this trail this summer. Thanks again for posting, organizing and sharing with us your adventure. See you this Sat. on the trails!
SoCal Hiker says
Thanks, Lily! This was a great hike and we all enjoyed it. Hopefully this will inspire others to hike a little further and higher.
Hey Jeff, long time lurker, first time commenter.
That was one of the hardest day hikes I’d ever done when I did it 5 years ago this August. My gps had the round trip (without the detour) at 22 miles. I had a little trouble with the altitude as I approached the summit, but once I started down I was fine. That was a terrific hike. Nice job, Jeff. Loved the pix, too. Brought back some fine memories.
SoCal Hiker says
Thanks for the comment, Mike! August would be a brutal time to do it — pretty hot I’d imagine. We were fortunate — the weather was cool the entire trip up, even though the sun was quite warm and the skies were clear. On the way back down, it was noticeably warmer, and I was really glad to be moving downhill.
22 miles seems too much long, but GPS devices can be less than perfect, particularly with heavy forestation and switchbacks. On the other hand… it did FEEL pretty long, especially on the way back. You reach that point toward the end of the hike when you start wondering if you’ll ever reach the trailhead (you know what I mean).
You have quite a grand display of photos from this one Jeff, nice shooting! Great write up as usual. I’m glad I could join in on a couple of your “six pack” hikes, this one especially…and even despite the extra “adventure” with the Park Rangers :p
SoCal Hiker says
Thanks Lemily! Glad you could join a couple of them, too! Hey can I add one of your photos to this write-up? You got some great shots!
And yeah, the “incident” with the Forest Service guys was unfortunate, but I still had a great time.
SoCal Hiker says
Someone asked me via Twitter when these photos were taken. This report and the accompanying photos are from a hike on Saturday, July 3, 2010. Both Vivian Creek and High Creek had a fair amount of water (as attested by the photos), but the snow was melting fast. As things heat up, YMMV.
Bob Adams says
Did the Vivian Trail many years ago in the dead of winter right after a big storm. Probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done. We went up with 16 well experience hikers all in preparation to take two groups (30 each) of high schoolers into the back county of the Sierra’s for a week. It took us three day. Out of the 16 people who attempted, only the leader and I made it to the top. Have not been back since but looking to give it a go here in a couple of weeks.
Looks like a great hike! Thanks for the write-up. I hope we have time to bag Gorgonio before heading to Whitney in July, though it’s not looking likely. If we have to do it as a day trip (driving from San Diego), do you have any recommendations for shortening the hike but still getting the altitude?
Jeff Hester says
There is an option that has less elevation gain, but it’s also longer (if you go for the summit). I’m going to post an alternate trail guide on June 18. Check back then!
Ha ha. You deserved that fine, and then some. Celebration calls for a healthy can of low sodium V8. Not the beverage of Lucifer. Good report. Keep hiking. Leave no trace.
done on 11/11/2013. 4h:20m up, 3h:20m down, 10m on top. total 7h:50m with several breaks to eat, and several other shorter breaks to rest. pack light, you don’t need anything other than shorts, shirt, water, food, salt and sun lotion. it gets a bit windy close to the top, but bearable.
Jeff Hester says
Way to go, Simon! Sounds like a good day. And yes, it does get windy and much more cold at the top.
Have you done the Dollar Lake/Dry Lake loop hike? It’s about 24 miles/4500′ gain starting at South Fork TH, took us about 10 hrs to finish.
Jeff Hester says
@Jason not yet! Sounds like pretty strenuous hike.
Amazing site. Thank you so much for all the great information. We are beginner backpackers and will be visiting San Gorgonio in late May. Do you have suggestions for what kind of first aid to take? We see a lot of lightweight kits but feel we should have something more appropriate for each region we visit. Or do those generic kits supply enough for any region? Thank you again for sharing such great information for us all to succeed and enjoy nature.
Patricia Oohlala says
HI Everyone…I am looking to hike this mountain first weekend of September. Is there any tips you all have for me? It’s a friend and I that are doing it….we want to do it in one day. We hear you can overnight it but we’re not doing that….I’m not a camper, I’d like to get on that trail and conquer it! I’m super new at hiking, I’ve done a few small trails but nothing this long or this intense. I would appreciate any feedback, suggestions or tips you all might have for us. Patricia
David Lamondin says
I’m not one to break the rules but I have a free day this weekend and I would love to do this hike. I did Mount San Jacinto this last weekend and it gave me the itch. My questions is this. Do they check for a permit? I tried this morning to get one and it is not a shock that there are none available this close to my hike date. Any feedback would be welcome.
Jeff Hester says
David, I did this trail two weeks ago and DID get stopped for my permit. Not sure what they would do if you didn’t have one. I also know that they reserve some portion of permits for walk-ins. If you’re first in line when they open, you have a good chance of scoring a permit. And if not for Vivian Creek… probably for one of the other trailheads.
Just tried this yesterday and made it until near the end of the ridgeline before giving up. Our feet were sinking to knee-deep in snow with every step, and that last 1.5 miles could’ve easily been 2-3 hours. Snowshoes are a must. When does the snow usually melt up there?
chris wilson says
Loved the hike. Our running Garmin showed 19 miles from car in lower parking lot. 13 hours for us. More irregular trail than the Mt. Baldy trail, which we did last week in 5.5 hours. 56,000 steps per our iphone (versus say 36,000 for a marathon run). Plenty of water on April 19, both at High Creek and down below. Hard to move fast up or down due to lots of small boulders and rocks on the trail. Not a design defect, just the way that mountain happens to be. It rewards patience. Used all our fatigue management tricks on the way down (listening to music in one ear, caffeine pill, aspirin, extra shot of salt, extra shot of dextrose, meditation, singing to self, shot of smelling salts). All worked out fine and had a grand time. Used iodine tablet in 1 bottle of High Creek water and had 2 bottles filled with pumped/filtered water (kind other hiker loaned her pump). All tasted fine and went down without incident. Got off trail coming back along the high traverse for about 30 minutes – trail is hard to find in that area. Quite calm and warm at top. Had a 20 minute snooze, then had nice photos taken by other kind hikers of us (wife plus me) hoisting the Mt. St. G sign. Wish they made patches to sew on to back pack for Mt. St. G, Baldy, Whitney, etc. Went pretty light, less than 10 lbs each, mostly 8 seventeen ounce bottles of fluids (frozen concoction of water, 100 calories of dextrose/glucose, 1/4 tsp each of koolaid powder, salt/potassium, baking soda). No mosquitos. Beautiful redwoods, hike along creeks. Tree line quite high, say 11,000 feet. Almost no snow. Stayed in Redlands night before, drove in 20 minutes. Launched at 6:10 AM. Summit at 12:45. Best we could do going down was around 35 minute miles (versus say 20 minute miles along fire roads and easy trails segments on Baldy). Thanks for the helpful write up and photos. Seems like a nice trainign route for Mt. Whitney, which we hope to try in 2 weeks or so.
My buddy and I are planning on doing an overnight trip within the next month and I’m wondering if there are any cheap/quality hotels close to Vivian Creek trailhead?
Matt Payne says
Summitted this past Saturday (5/9) and the snow was totally manageable. Ridge had moments of 6-8in where drifts had blown across the trail, but that was it. The rest was a steady inch or two in various parts; snowshoes definitely not necessary. However, according to the following link, heavy snow is projected for the mountain starting tomorrow morning (5/15), upwards of 1ft+ towards the summit:
Summitted for the first time on Sunday 6/14! Great hike. Perfect weather! Definitely struggled on the way up, but made up time on the way down. Thanks so much for the write-up, it was very helpful! We skipped Peaks 4 and 5, but we are planning to complete them before our Whitney hike on 4th July weekend!
I would like to hike San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek trail in the next few weeks but I can’t find this hike on any of the area’s meetup groups. Does any one knowof one? I never have hiked this before and I don’t want to try it alone.
Jeff Hester says
Michael, check our Event Calendar (link in the top menu) for some of the Meetup groups I’ve hiked with. Right now, Hiking OC has a San Gorgonio hike planned for August 22nd: http://socalhiker.net//event/san-gorgonio-via-vivian-creek-levels-34-very-strenuous/
Stella adorable says
Hi Jeff! Is it a paved road to the parking lot? Thanks!
Jeff Hester says
@Stella Adorable– Yes, it’s paved all the way to the trailhead.
I have a day hike permit for next week, where can I camp near the trailhead? Thanks!
Elizabeth Schirmer says
What a fantastic hike! We hiked it on Sunday 10.25. We were lucky with the weather – there was a high cloud cover that kept us cool but allowed views that seem to go on forever. Very few people on the trail, so no problem with parking. We ran out of daylight on the way down, so our headlamps were appreciated. We started just before 8:00 a.m. and made it to the top around 2:00. At this time of year that’s probably too late to expect a daylight finish. A few other day hiker groups were also coming down in the dark.
Thank you for the great trail write up.
Is there water available at high creek in November? Was wondering if the creeks are dry due to drought? Rob
Jeff Hester says
@rob I was just up there two weekends ago and the water was still flowing.
Kathy Veilleux says
Hey Jeff. I live in NH but will be in Southern Cal for Memorial Day. Thinking of taking this trail and even if we do not summit I will make it higher than 6288 (our state high point at Mt. Washington’s summit). Wondering about time. I know everyone is different, but I am a frequent hiker and in excellent hiking shape. Here over ice and snow and in spring/summer over roots/rocks/rivers I avg 2 mph. Any help or further guidance wicked appreciated. THANKS! ~ Kathy
Travis Vliet says
I love your page. San Gorgonio is the first mouton I summited it holds a special place in my heart. Keep up the good work with this page, it’s much appreciated.
Depending on which trail head you start out of you might start at 6,000+ elevation. The altitude will hit you but don’t be alarmed its normal and ok to feel short of breath and a slight burn in the muscles much sooner than you are used to. Trust me when I say the experience is well worth the uncomfortable first mile / mile and a half, but your body will adjust and you’ll find your groove. 1st off get a permit 2nd you can day hike it but its going to be a long day (not too long). Plan for roughly 9 hours on the trail, bring layers because the summit can get windy, but you’ll be ready for by it the you summit. If you have the time try and do an over night it allow for you to get to know the area a little better and there is nothing like spending a night on a mountain (camping on the summit isn’t permitted) I’ve stayed at High Creek, Dry Lake, and Dollar Lake campsites. You can call the ranger station and they’ll help you get situated with a place to camp based on you goals for that weekend.
Can someone tell me of a nice campsite near the peak? Thinking of the summit but not sure of the conditions. We will be there towards the end of October. trying to get a permit for 12 and we have 4 going so far. If you want to join let me know. Broadbentlak@aol.com
Just curious while planning this hike.. and these details are not make or break… I’ve been thinking about this hike by the numbers listed here.. 17.3 miles / 5840 elevation gain. A hiker I met on a trail today said it was 20+ miles. The San G WIlderness website list the Vivian Trail as 18.6 miles / 5422 elevation gain. What’s with the differences? One of the above comments mentions it at 22 miles?
I’m not a gps pro but can they be that off from one another? I’ll see what my gps comes up with when I do it.
Alan M says
Here is the distance my Garmin gave when we did this 6 years ago, 18.5 miles RT (elevation is not accurate though but close as this is a GPS only watch). , heading back on 9/16 to finish the Six-Pack! https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/48583491
Robert Stegman says
How is the water situation on the trail?
For what it’s worth here’s what I got using the Gaia GPS app starting from the parking lot; 18.2 miles / 5625 ft
The creek was flowing at High Creek if that’s what you mean by the water situation
Jenny Schlick says
Any ideas on what the weather will be like in mid October? This is my second time hiking Vivian Creek trail, but my first was in the Spring.
Sept 24th, 2016 on my hike with Peaks Up Adventures the water was flowing in two places… 1.5 miles up from Mill Creek and then again at High Creek about 3.6 miles from the first water. Great weather!
Thinking about this hike for thanksgiving weekend! Any idea what the snow should be like, if it is manageable??
Hello my name is Saed, I’m planning to go this Saturday with 6 other people! The longest hike I have done was mt. baldy! What advice do you have for us beside being early there? Whom do I call to get a permit? Can you please send me the specific address to get there (the beginning of the trial)?
SoCal Hiker says
Saed, all of your questions are answered in the “Additional San Gorgonio Resources” section near the bottom of the post. We have a link where you can apply for your permit, as well as a link to turn-by-turn driving directions via Google Maps.
long rider says
Thanks for a great write-up. FYI, the phrase is “a rite of passage” 😉
SoCal Hiker says
You are correct! Thank for spotting our typo. We’re using the “right” word now. 😉
Is it possible to start hiking at dark and try to reach the summit and watch sunrise?
Jeff Hester says
Anything is possible, but I wouldn’t attempt unless you are very familiar with the route and if the trail is free from snow.
A second option would be to backpack to High Creek and camp for the night, then do a 2 or 3am start for the top in the morning.
I’m going to be in L.A. for my sisters wedding in early/mid April and am thinking this would be a great overnight hike to do during my time there. Anyone know what I should expect for conditions during that time of year (I’m a year-round hiker in New England, so I have the gear and experience, just a matter of what to bring on the flight).
Also, should I expect to be able to get a permit this close to my hopeful hike date?
Headed to hike to the summit in tje next couple weeks. We are local and way hing the weather. Anyone been up in the last two weeks? Hows the ice lookkng?
Stan Osborne says
We did it cross country from Vivien Creek Trail head the first week of January 1972. Two friends and myself,. We were all 19 years old. We were members of a Sierra Club sponsored Explore post and had trained for more than a year in cross country wilderness hiking / camping. We drove up the night before and slept in the parking area. At early daylight we could see the peak. The weather forcast was clear for several days. There had bee some snow. Trails were covered with ~18: of coars snow. We decided to walk straight towards the peak. At one point along the way we decided it was to slippery and steep so we roped up and continued. we got to the top by early afternoon. The view in all directions was fantastic. Near the top the trail was easy to find so we followed it down. The last two hours were in the dark, but the moon was bright enough to see the trail. We were prepared, had extra water, clothing, food and a bit of experience. This method is not recommended for beginners.
Thank you for the great info!!!
PS: In this section: San Gorgonio Wilderness Trail Tips
“Carry the 10 essentials.” The link does not work.
Jeff Hester says
Thanks for the kind words and the heads up, Rodney. I’ve fixed the link to the 10 Essentials. 😉
A P says
Hi all! Backpacked up Vivian Creek trail and camped at the summit this weekend (Apr.28-Apr.29). Great conditions for the hike. Just a few patches of remaining snow/ice, (like 2-3 points in the trail). Windy summit. Water flowing at a number or points Vivian Creek and High Creek. I hope this helps!
Just completed this hike as part of the Six Pack Series, yesterday. I’m feeling it this morning. It was an amazing accomplishment. It feels great that I can say I hiked the tallest peak in Southern California. It was also my first 11K mountain. I liked what you said about it being anticlimactic at the top. This peak wasn’t my favorite looking trail out of the bunch. I’d have to award that one with San Jacinto.
Holy Jim says
fyi but permits are not required for day hikes on this trail any more. Overnight camping, yes. Day hikes, no. Happy trails!
Lee Duran says
Just hiked the trail as noted in this site. The weather was perfect. The summary was spot on; including the fact that the downhill was harder than first expected. It still took me 9 hours in total. My high regards to the kind people who have done such a wonderful job to maintain the trail. Even I could follow it and was moving steadily. I highly recommend this trail/climb.
Bill Mue says
Just finished the hike today, was a doozy! Maybe due to the altitude. Good thing was a beautiful day, but forgot it gets so dark early there and had to do two mile via flashlight, not the best hiking!
Also, please pay attention to route after tree line, the scree all but obscures trail and it’s easy (at least for me) to get off trail.
Thanks for all the info!!
Hey Jeff…hope your well.Thanks for all your helpful info over the years. When we started hiking in California we headed straight for Whitney went to 12000 for a day hike..epic of course..really want to summit one day.Acclimated a bit in lone pine..drank some powder…no problem at the 12000 ft mark next day went to death valley…got a nose bleed..lol .After Mt baldy and half dome we hit gorgonio on our last Big hike there.Starting out with headlights no problem coming back down once we were on headlights again I found it difficult to navigate by traditional means.As a hiker I try to notice things along the way in the daylight so thankfully I finally came upon a tree root I had noticed water coming out of on the way up then I knew we wouldn’t have to wait out the night temporarily disoriented. We spent a lot of that day with some younger girls from San Pedro and they stayed at summit longer than Wendy and I so I always wondered how they made out cause they weren’t in too prepared.My girl was whimpering a few miles from the car ,first time ever,I was almost burned up too.My legs were sore for 3 days and that never happens.Great adventures, so grateful, were in our 50s now dont ever want to stop hiking out there,San Jacinto is next on the list.Jmt would be the dream.Best wishes to you and all the great people met in the socal wilderness….if there is such a thing anymore..lol..maybe a Tuesday?
Garret Lungin says
HI, we are considering which trail to do for a one overnight backpack up to San Gorgonio.
Vivian Creek trail or the northern South Fork Trail (via Dollar Lake or Dry Lake). Which would you recommend for beauty and ease?