By John McKinney
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Get the most out of your time on the trail! Inspiration, information, practical tips & entertaining stories
Mt. Rubidoux Trail
3-mile loop with 500-foot elevation gain.
The isolated, 1,337-foot high granite hill towering above the city’s western edge has long been a landmark to travelers and residents alike, ever since the 1880s when Riverside emerged as the quintessential Southern California citrus town. The mountain was named for one of its 19th century owners, wealthy ranchero Louis Robidoux.
With the help of the deep pockets of Southern Pacific Railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, Frank Miller, owner of the lavish, pride-of-Riverside Mission Inn, purchased the mountain in 1906. Their intention was to use the mountain as an attraction to sell residential lots at its base.
Mt. Rubidoux was landscaped and a road constructed to the summit, where a cross was planted. Some historians believe America’s first Easter sunrise service took place atop Rubidoux in 1909 and inspired similar observances around the continent.
Credit the developers for going all out on the road. Nothing but the best would do, and they even hired the engineer who designed Yellowstone National Park’s road system. While the developers originally viewed Rubidoux strictly as a way to boost lot sales (their subdivision strategy was a commercial failure) and as a tourist attraction for Mission Inn guests, their vision (particularly Miller’s) soon expanded dramatically.
The road to Rubidoux was designed to be more than a mere recreational walk or drive; it was a pilgrimage to a cross, a flag, and to monuments of famous men of the time. This “trail of shrines” ascended to a long white cross honoring missionary Father Junipero Serra credited, by early developers anyway, for “the beginning of civilization in California.”
Thus today’s pilgrim views an assortment of plaques, monuments and memorials on the shoulders and summit of Rubidoux that is eclectic, even eccentric. Hike past a monument in honor of Charles M. Loring, “tree lover and civic enthusiast” and one that presents the Boy Scout Oath (On my honor, I will do my best…).
Rubidoux’s most significant sights-to-see are the Peace Tower and Friendship Bridge. Frank Miller was a lifelong advocate for world peace and his friends constructed the distinct tower to honor him in 1925.
For many, many years, Mt. Rubidoux was a drive, not a hike. Arrows painted on rocks indicated an “up” route and “down” route for autos. The mountain has been closed to vehicles since 1992 and today hosts joggers and walkers of all ages, including lots of parents pushing strollers.
Locals access the mountain’s roads and hiking trails from several trailheads, but the best route for first-time Rubidoux ramblers is by way of the Ninth Street gate, an inspired beginning for what can be an inspiring jaunt.
Directions to trailhead: From the Pomona Freeway (60) in Riverside, exit on Market Street and proceed east into downtown. Turn west (right) on Mission Inn Avenue and drive 7 blocks to Redwood Drive. Turn left and head 2 blocks to 9th Street, turn right and continue 2 more blocks to the distinct trailhead (gated Mt. Rubidoux Drive) on the left. Park safely and courteously on adjacent residential streets.
From the Riverside Freeway (91) in Riverside, exit on University Avenue and head west through downtown to Redwood Drive. Turn left, travel one block, then turn right on 9th Street. Proceed two more blocks to this hike’s start on the left.
The hike: Pass through the entry gate and walk along and landscaped lane past pepper trees, eucalyptus and huge beaver tail cactus. After 0.3 mile of southbound travel, the road makes a very tight hairpin turn north and nearly—but not quite—intersects the downward leg of Mt. Rubidoux Road, which makes a similar hairpin turn from north to south. Note this junction because on your return journey you’ll need to cross from one leg of the road to the other to close the loop.
The road ascends rather bare slopes, dotted with brittle bush, mustard and century plant. Lupine and California poppies brighten the way in spring.
After passing a memorial to Henry E. Huntington, “man of affairs, large in his bounty, yet wise,” the road bends west, then south. City views are exchanged for more rural ones, including the Santa Ana River that gave Riverside its name.
The main Mt. Rubidoux road junctions a circular summit road, which you’ll join to see the sights—the Peace Tower, Friendship Bridge and plenty of plaques. From the Father Junipero Serra Cross at the summit or from one of the peak’s other fine vista points, partake of the 360-degree panorama of great mountains and metro-Riverside.
Return to the main Mt. Rubidoux Road for a short (0.75 mile) descent that loops south, east, then back north. Just as this downward leg bends sharply south, leave the road and step over to the other road leg that you used to ascend the mountain. Retrace your steps a final 0.3 mile back to 9th Street.
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