the Top of Mt. San Jacinto :
The Marion Mountain, Pacific Crest Trails
the shortest, the steepest and, in the opinion of some hikers, the most
scenic ascent of San Jacinto Peak. Marion Mountain Trail gains 2,400 feet
in just 2.5 miles. The rest of the climb to the peak via Pacific Crest
and Deer Springs trails is nearly as steep.
While reaching the summit of
the great mountain is ample reward for most hikers, Marion Mountain Trail
scatters additional rewards along the way. This is a hike for tree-lovers,
a climb to remember through Conifer-Land.
Marion Mountain's lower elevations
support stands of Jeffrey pine and even some oaks. Higher up the mountain
grow ranks of sugar pine and white fir and higher still, some lofty lodgepole
If you want
to learn the highly intriguing (to the arboreal appreciative, anyway)
50 species of conifers, I highly recommend perusing the just-published "Conifers of California" (Cachuma
Press, $24.95) by Ronald Lanner. It's a beautifully illustrated and captivating
natural history and field
guide to the state's native cone-bearing trees.
Marion Mountain Trail is a
great conditioning hike for anyone planning a High Sierra adventure. The
altitude and altitude gain of this hike approximates some Sierra sojourns.
With forests and bold granite outcroppings, this part of the San Jacinto
Mountains even resembles the Sierra Nevada.
Get an early start and allow
plenty of time for this hike-six to nine hours, depending on your pace
and how long you linger on the summit. Even if you're a well-conditioned
hiker, don't be discouraged if it takes you four hours or more to make
San Jacinto Peak. And don't rush the descent: the steep and rocky trail
has a high ankle-turning and knee-wrenching potential.
The majority of Marion Mountain
Trail traverses the Mt. San Jacinto State Park Wilderness; this means
the hiker must obtain a wilderness permit, available from the state park
headquarters at 29505 Highway 243 in Idyllwild.
In addition, because trailhead
parking and the first mile of trail is in the San Bernardino National
Forest, you'll need to display a U.S. Forest Service Adventure Pass or
purchase a $5 day use pass from the forest service's San Jacinto Ranger
District at 54270 Pinecrest in Idyllwild.
Directions to trailhead: From
Interstate 10 in Banning, exit on Highway 243 and ascend south some 19
winding miles. Just about opposite the Forest Service's Alandale Station,
turn left (east) on the road leading to Stone Creek Campground. You'll
soon fork left and follow the signs for Marion Mountain Campground 1.5
miles to the start of Marion Mountain Trail on the right side of the road
and trail head parking on the left.
The hike: Signed Marion Mountain
Trail begins what is briefly (0.2 mile) a mellow ascent through the piney
woods. You'll soon pass a spur trail leading north down to Marion Mountain
Campground and begin the vigorous ascent of the northwest flank of Marion
A bit more than 1.25 miles
up the trail, a sign informs hikers they've entered the Mt. San Jacinto
State Park Wilderness. Like a window on the world you left behind, the
trailside view briefly opens up to reveal Highway 243 snaking through
the mountains far below and the murky flatlands of the Inland Empire to
Almost immediately, it's back
to the trees, interspersed with ferns and big boulders. That hammering
you hear could be from a high altitude headache but is more likely the
rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker working away high atop one of the many snags
near the trail.
After what may seem like one
of the longest 2.7-mile stretches of trail in the Southland, you'll come
to a junction. It's not quite the perfect four-way intersection pictured
on trail maps, but it's well signed. You'll first encounter Pacific Crest
Trail (Deer Springs Trail) coming in from the right (south). Turn left
and walk 50 feet to a second junction. Seven Pines Trail descends to the
north, but you continue your climb east on the signed PCT.
After a 0.3-mile ascent on
the very well engineered and maintained PCT, you'll pass gurgling Deer
Springs. The modest springs-spawned creek forms part of the headwaters
of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River.
The ascent continues another
0.25 mile up the other side of the creek canyon and junctions Fuller Ridge
Trail. Keep right, and keep switchbacking for another mile to Little Round
Valley, where a small trail camp is located.
The trail curves east, still
climbing, still switchbacking for another 1.3 miles and 800-foot elevation
gain to San Jacinto Peak's summit ridge. A final 0.3-mile ascent via the
summit trail leads past a stone mountaineers hut to the peak.
view John Muir described as "the most sublime spectacle to be
found anywhere on this earth!"
Jacinto State Park, tel. (909) 659-2607;
San Bernardino National Forest
San Jacinto Ranger Station, tel. (909) 659-2117.
trail, high-altitude hiking. Both a wilderness permit and Forest Service
Adventure Pass required.
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