San Bernardino National Forest – South Ridge Trail
For some of the most spectacular views of the Desert Divide and Strawberry Valley, this jaunt is one you should check out. After the drive up from SD County, we checked in at the ranger station in Idyllwild to obtain our permit. The rangers are normally very friendly and have a lot of information about the various trails. I should mention that you will also need a National Forest Adventure Pass to park in the National Forest areas in Southern California. We purchased one while in the Laguna Recreation Area last year and the $30 was worth it. You can order these online or at various vendors throughout the state. I try not to be political in my blogs, but with the amount of taxes we pay in this state, it is ridiculous to pay for day use on public land. Today, the ranger suggested the South Ridge Trail (3E08) and gave us directions to get there.
The forestry service road was rutted by erosion, but we were able to navigate with the small Toyota. We stopped short of the trailhead after hitting a particularly deep rut and walked about 1/3 mile up. The rut was actually the only serious one on the road but the extra walking distance warmed us up for the trail. At the end of the dirt road, there was a parking area that holds about 8 cars. Another late start for us, we were probably the last to head up the trail. Starting out around 6,300 ft. the trail began a gradual climb and it didn’t take long for the beauty of this area to present itself. The first half of the trail is wide and one of the best maintained that we’ve seen.
After a couple of miles, we found an area where boulders had fallen and formed a tunnel. We climbed through and found the perfect lunch spot. A flat ledge made for a great bench and views to the south and east where we could see the area that the PCT passed through. It was a quiet and perfect weather day. The boulder formations along this hike are really cool. After leaving the site, we ran into a forest ranger who asked for our permit. He was a nice guy, initialed our permit and we were soon on our way. We passed a family who were not in the best of moods. My guess is that they got caught on the trail without a permit and were either fined or asked to leave.
After the two-mile mark, the trail narrows a bit and the elevation increases quicker. Well, at least there were switchbacks. The last 1/2 mile is an intense cardio workout in thin air where today it seemed like we were stopping every few minutes to catch our breath. What does it mean to catch your breath? Do this hike and you’ll find out. Near the summit of Tahquitz Peak, the terrain is similar to San Jacinto Peak, lots of boulders and scree. The lookout tower at the top has some history. It’s over 77 years old and apparently the highest one in Southern California. Mostly abandoned, I’ve read that it is staffed part time after May. The 360 degree views made the trek worthwhile.
We were warned by the ranger not to go past the tower since trail conditions were bad. There was quite a bit of snow up here and I didn’t even see where the trail went after the summit. Like most hikes, we didn’t spend a lot of time at the top, and started down moving three times faster. Talk to most serious hikers and they will tell you that hiking poles are a necessity going downhill. They save your knees and give you much more stability. I don’t fall much on the trail thanks to the poles. Another summit in the bag, we descended with the setting sun bringing a new perspective in the forest. Dude, you just gotta get out here – it will just clear your mind.