The trek to the peak of Mount San Jacinto is one of the more strenuous hikes in the area – and worth every bit of effort it takes to navigation 11 miles round-trip with a 2,300 elevation gain.
As you’re heading out from the mountain station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, make sure to stop first at the ranger station and fill out a free permit for hiking in the wilderness areas of Mount San Jacinto State Park.
Once you’re on your way, the hike can be broken down into three parts:
– Tram station to Round Valley: The initial portion is about 2.5 miles long with a modest 700-foot elevation gain. You’ll keep bumping into (and crossing over) a stream with varying levels of water depending on the season. You’ll travel past large boulders and Jeffrey pines until you see a meadow to the north, your signal that you’re almost at Round Valley. There are pit toilets and a nearby campground with a spigot for washing (or boiling before drinking). Round Valley is about 9,100 feet above sea level.
– Round Valley to Wellman’s Divide: This is a steep incline, the most difficult stretch of the hike in my opinion. It has the same 700-foot elevation as the first segment but over only a one-mile distance. It’s a beautiful trail through thick pine forest with plenty of boulders to rest on if you need to catch your breath in the increasingly thin air. Once you arrive at the lookout with great views to the southwest; you may even be able to see Palomar Observatory. Now you’re just a bit under 10,000 feet above sea level – around 9,700.
– Wellman’s Divide to the Peak: Continue following signs at Wellman’s pointing to the peak. The tree cover will get thinner (as will the air), and as you switchback up the final ridge, you can look east and see both the open Round Valley meadow and the mountain tram station. You’ll go mostly up for about 2 miles until you crest the ridge and make your way across a brief flatter area until you see a stone house, used for rangers and emergencies. At this point, the trail ends, but to reach the peak, you’ll go boulder-hopping up to the very top, where a sign marks the 10,834-foot-high peak, the second-highest mountain (next to Mount San Gorgonio, viewable to the north) in southern California.
Take your time, take some photos and enjoy the beautiful 360-degree views at the peak before heading back the same way you came up. It’s a memorable journey, and you’ll earn bragging rights for conquering Mount San Jacinto… And I’ll brag: I’ve done it 5 times!