Pacific Crest Trail: Most Diverse - San Jacinto Mountains, CA

This 49.8-mile traverse passes through all six California life zones, from scrubby deserts of chaparral and shaggy Mojave yucca to the frosty spine of the San Jacinto Range.
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
2
This 49.8-mile traverse passes through all six California life zones, from scrubby deserts of chaparral and shaggy Mojave yucca to the frosty spine of the San Jacinto Range.

The best place to experience the PCT's notorious elevation changes is on the traverse of the San Jacintos. From the 10,804-foot top of Mt. San Jacinto, you'll descend almost 9,600 feet in about 20 miles, dropping through all six of California's life zones. In two or three days, you'll go from a barren alpine summit to forests of white fir, lodgepole pine, and western white pine to a scrubby desert of chaparral and shaggy Mojave yucca—the biotic equivalent to walking from Alaska to Death Valley. Following a long ridge, this traverse features high-mountain views of rugged side canyons, the cliffs of rock-climbing mecca Tahquitz Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, and Southern California's highest peak, 11,499-foot San Gorgonio. Tagging Mt. San Jacinto's summit requires a detour off the PCT via the Wellmans Cienaga and San Jacinto Peak Trails (a distance comparable to the PCT stretch you'll miss). The payoff: views stretching into Nevada and Mexico, and to the Pacific.
LOCAL WISDOM Hike northbound to knock 3,200 feet off your climb. The best campsites are on side trails: Cedar Spring, a mile north via Cedar Spring Trail 4E17; and Little Tahquitz Valley, .3 mile north on the Tahquitz Valley Trail.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 78.5

Waypoints

PCT075

Location: 33.5633010864258, -116.576713562012

To begin, head N from CA 74 (Pines to Palms Highway) on PCT

PCT076

Location: 33.5922393798828, -116.570655822754

Penrod Canyon, stagnant creek; best not to drink

PCT077

Location: 33.6231346130371, -116.564002990723

Saddle and spur to Live Oak Spring

PCT078

Location: 33.6426315307617, -116.57054901123

Notch near Lion Peak with great views of San Jacinto and out east

PCT079

Location: 33.6662330627441, -116.575302124023

Cedar Springs spur trail

PCT080

Location: 33.6710166931152, -116.580032348633

Great views rocks to relax and enjoy; good camping here too

PCT081

Location: 33.6844329833984, -116.600234985352

Switchback up Palm View Peak

PCT082

Location: 33.6900329589844, -116.609352111816

Febes Saddle junction

PCT083

Location: 33.6899185180664, -116.609901428223

Water cache

PCT084

Location: 33.7099838256836, -116.622535705566

Trail junction

PCT085

Location: 33.716682434082, -116.624519348145

Apache Peak; old trail junction

PCT086

Location: 33.7277679443359, -116.632713317871

Dry campsites

PCT087

Location: 33.7606315612793, -116.644653320312

Dry campsites

PCT088

Location: 33.7606010437012, -116.665397644043

Straight at offset (Y) trail junction

PCT089

Location: 33.7576179504394, -116.671600341797

Go R to stay on PCT, or take L for sidetrip to Tahquitz Peak

PCT090

Location: 33.7740669250488, -116.673065185547

Saddle Junction turn L onto the Devil's Slide Trail to head down to Idyllwild

PCT091

Location: 33.7876014709473, -116.678199768066

Saddle

PCT092

Location: 33.7865676879883, -116.689514160156

Creek with good water at Strawberry Cienega

PCT093

Location: 33.7835693359375, -116.69995880127

Creek with good water

PCT094

Location: 33.7825660705566, -116.702713012695

Strawberry Junction camp

PCT095

Location: 33.7828826904297, -116.704170227051

Keep R @ Strawberry Junction; trail goes down to Idyllwild area

PCT096

Location: 33.8008003234863, -116.704917907715

Seven Pines Trail junction; keep R

PCT097

Location: 33.8000183105469, -116.699348449707

Navigational aid: this stretch might be covered under snow, upcoming WPT's are for routefinding in case trail is faint

PCT098

Location: 33.8005485534668, -116.698852539062

San Jacinto River headwaters

PCT099

Location: 33.8018341064453, -116.699066162109

Navigational Aide

PCT100

Location: 33.8019676208496, -116.698783874512

Fuller Ridge Junction

PCT101

Location: 33.8075485229492, -116.697547912598

Major creek

PCT102

Location: 33.8087158203125, -116.697448730469

Navigational Aide

PCT103

Location: 33.8105506896973, -116.697319030762

Creek

PCT104

Location: 33.8168334960938, -116.701568603516

Navigational Aide

PCT105

Location: 33.8201332092285, -116.703750610352

Navigational Aide

PCT106

Location: 33.8210678100586, -116.705215454102

Navigational Aide

PCT107

Location: 33.829948425293, -116.712249755859

Navigational Aide near Castle Rocks

PCT108

Location: 33.8349990844727, -116.719718933105

Navigational Aide

PCT109

Location: 33.8363723754883, -116.723045349121

Large dirt road flat with camping possibilities but possibly no water

PCT110

Location: 33.8563346862793, -116.733116149902

At the end of the dirt road, PCT trail re-starts. Take R and begin epic switchback session down to Snow Creek and desert floor.

PCT111

Location: 33.8692817687988, -116.697814941406

Water with decent flow

PCT112

Location: 33.869701385498, -116.693420410156

Water, decent flow

PCT113

Location: 33.8773002624512, -116.680114746094

Snow Creek

PCT114

Location: 33.878101348877, -116.678970336914

Water fountain placed for PCT hikers

PCT115

Location: 33.9251327514648, -116.694869995117

CA 10 underpass

Crags and pines

Location: 33.8228149414062, -116.707542419434

Intermittent views over the pines and outcrops of the San Jacinto Wilderness. ©Jack Haskel

Snow-laced slopes

Location: 33.8288230895996, -116.710975646973

From Fuller Ridge, find stellar views overlooking the north face of San Jacinto Peak and the Colorado desert and windmills below. ©Jack Haskel

Snow on Fuller Ridge

Location: 33.8331680297852, -116.71549987793

Navigation can get tricky in the snow-covered section in the San Jacinto wilderness. ©Jack Haskel

Impromptu Trail Sign

Location: 33.853271484375, -116.735534667969

Look for this turn to begin the descent to the desert floor. ©Jack Haskel

Over the valley

Location: 33.8644371032715, -116.716491699219

The view north toward Palm Springs over the canyons of the San Jacinto Wilderness. ©Jack Haskel

Wildflower medley

Location: 33.8672981262207, -116.711196899414

Signs of the life in an otherwise parched landscape. ©Jack Haskel

Fountain

Location: 33.8787498474121, -116.677993774414

Not a mirage: this fountain was gifted to thirsty PCT hikers. ©Jack Haskel

Shady spot

Location: 33.9244117736816, -116.694885253906

Hikers hanging in the nice shade of the freeway. ©Jack Haskel

Water Cache

Location: 33.6897926330566, -116.61116027832

Wooden seats and some great trail magic at a water cache. ©Jack Haskel

Craggy Peak

Location: 33.670783996582, -116.580032348633

Rocks jut from a ridgecrest, framing the sprawling folds of the San Jacinto Range. ©Jack Haskel