Hiking San Gorgonio Peak via Vivian CreekFor all serious hikers, San Gorgonio Peak represents the alpha and the omega of all trails in Southern California. At over eleven thousand feet, the way up to the top of the peak offers a challenging yet incredible day hike. The wilderness in which San Gorgonio lies gives hikers the opportunity to see some of Southern California’s rarest wildlife like bears and mountain lions. The peak also offers backpackers an excellent training ground for higher elevation or long distance trails. There are a couple known routes of getting to the top. The shortest route is through the Vivian Creek trailhead and is the one this article will focus on. The actual peak of San Gorgonio lies within the San Bernardino Mountains and is part of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and the San Bernardino National Forest. From the top of 11,503 feet, on a clear day a person can see far into the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, the southern mountain ranges of San Diego, The San Gabriel Mountain Ranges of Los Angeles, and Catalina and San Clemente Island in the Pacific Ocean. Because of the high altitude, San Gorgonio is usually capped with snow and ice for a few months during the winter. In fact, it’s white capped peak can easily be seen from as far away as Mexico and Mount Whitney. Hikers willing to take on San Gorgonio Peak will experience some beautiful terrain throughout the trail. The trail starts off with a mix of oak and chaparral forests before giving way to dense conifer forests. As the trail increases in elevation, conifer forests thin to a barren sub-alpine surface along the mountains broad peak. In fact, the peak is the only mountain in Southern California to show signs of glaciers from the previous Ice Age. The enormous structure of the mountain also draws in quite a bit of yearly rainfall. Along the trail hikers will experience three creeks suitable with water suitable for drinking at Vivian Creek, Halfway Camp, and High Creek.
San Gorgonio CampingThere are a few different camping sites to choose from: Vivian Creek Camp, Halfway Camp, and High Creek Camp. To my knowledge, it’s also possible to set up camp at San Gorgonio’s actual peak as well. All three campsites are near sources of water. The water source for Halfway Camp is approximately two hundred yards prior to reaching the camp. These camp sites make San Gorgonio peak a popular training grounds for those seeking backpacking experience. Please make note to not camp within 200 feet of a water source. For those that are seeking to backpack this trail and plan on staying overnight, a wilderness permit is required. Additional camping and permit information can be found through the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association who issues wilderness permits. Day hikers to San Gorgonio Peak do not need a wilderness permit. What’s required of all visitors who use the Vivian Creek Trailhead parking lot is either an Adventure Pass or an America The Beautiful Pass for being inside the San Bernardino National Forest.
On A Personal Note:I hiked San Gorgonio Peak on a Fall day prior to any major snow storms. This peak was one of the hardest trails I had ever been on. Once the trail became more barren around 10,500 feet or so the effects of the altitude were painstakingly obvious. I could definitely feel my body working harder to push to the top of the peak. I was more prepared with enough water and food but looking back, I probably should’ve eaten more. We had salty snacks but I probably also could’ve benefited from a Gatorade to replace some lost potassium. Don’t underestimate the amount of nutritional requirements for this trail. I would not recommend this peak for anyone who hasn’t done a hike of similar caliber in a day. Take into consideration the amount of daylight in a day. Winter days can be short. My fiance and I spent an hour and a half hiking down in the dark. We were also prepared for that possibility by carrying flashlights. For me the worst part of the trail was the 1,000 foot elevation loss at the end of the trail. After hiking all day the elevation loss in just one mile was tough on the knees. For those not wanting to make the trek up to the actual peak because of elevation or other various reasons, the Vivian Creek Trail can still be a beautiful trail to experience even if it’s not the whole thing. Have you hiked this trail recently? Please updates and/or pictures in the comments section below.
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San Gorgonio Peak via Vivian Creek Trail Quick Facts:
- Elevation: 11,503 feet.
- Elevation Gain: 5,449 feet.
- Estimated Distance: 17 miles.
- My Actual Distance: 18.4 miles.
- Estimated Time: 9-12 hours.
- My Time: 9 hours 17 minutes (moving), 11 hours 37 minutes total.
San Gorgonio Peak via Vivian Creek Trail Directions:
Click here for driving directions. Parking for the Vivian Creek Trailhead is near the very end of Falls Road. The parking lot is a decent size with a restroom. I have read that it can fill up at times so it’s best to parking there early in the mornings. Otherwise street parking will have to be found. We got there right at sunrise and had plenty of parking. The rest of Falls Road is closed to the residents in the area. From there you’ll have to start your hike from the parking lot down Falls Road along Mill Creek to the trailhead. This property is on National Forest land so you will either need an Adventure Pass or an America The Beautiful Pass. For those who are doing overnight backpacking trips, you will need to contact the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association to obtain a Wilderness Permit.