If you are up for a bit of four-wheelin on a fire road followed by some sweet views, then this is the trail for you. Don’t forget to pick up your hiking and camping permits at the Visitor’s Center in Idyllwild.
In the past two years, we have hiked almost every trail in the San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area. This area has some of the most beautiful alpine hikes ever.
The Fuller Ridge Trail is located approximately 8 miles up Black Mountain Fire Road (4S01)from SR243 north of Idlyllwild. We did this one in early Nov during a mild and dry fall weekend. It follows the western ridge up to San Jacinto and is a tough 14.2 mile out and back hike to the peak with approx. 4,000 ft. of elevation gain. I’d give the full hike a good 7-8 hrs. We didn’t have enough time for that and just hiked a few miles in. If hiked in its’ entirety, it is a good practice hike for Mt. Whitney.
Driving up this single lane fire road is a bit of a bone jarring experience, but believe it or not, a vehicle with good clearance can make it through. It does require some maneuvering but the Jeep had no problem tackling this one straight on. The road takes you up the north side of the San Jacinto range with views of Banning and Palm Springs along the way. Ol’ Grayback (Mt San Gorgonio) is a close neighbor. Amazingly, we didn’t run across any vehicles coming down as it would have required some jockeying to make room for two. You might want to hit the restroom before this drive because it will test the strongest of bladders. There are a few pull offs along the way for pics. Around 6,800-7,000 ft., the road comes to an end with the entrance to a campground and Fuller Ridge trailhead. Only one other vehicle here this fall afternoon. We began our ascent through a heavy cover of conifers. It was cool and crisp with the wind whispering through the gentle giants.
The trail meanders through the forest with occasional views into the desert below. It is one of the most peaceful and secluded trails that you can hike around San Jacinto. Most people will not drive 30 minutes up a fire road to hike. It’s also a nice back way in to San Jacinto Peak. We would not be doing the 7 miles to the top, but it is a fairly mild if not long journey there.
The only sounds were the woodpeckers seemingly fussing at each other and the occasional chatter of the chipmunks. This appears to be a nice trail for runners as the slopes are generally mild and the trail is mostly single-track. We noticed a fair amount of ups/downs the first few miles. No water sources were available on this trip, so bring what you need. If hiked in the spring, you may run across some PCT through hikers on their long trek north.
It is a mostly shaded, well maintained trail with occasional steep slopes on either side. Almost all trails in San Jacinto are worth the trip. This one is no exception.
Today’s tip: Always let someone know where you will be hiking. We usually send a text to a family member with the trail name, location and when we expect to return.
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Marion Mountain Trail-2E14
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks, pine straw
Distance as hiked: 12.5 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,400ft., Top of trail-10,834ft.
The last time we hiked Marion Mountain Trail was in April/May of 2012. Snow covered a good portion of the trail above 8,000 ft, and we only made it to the junction. It is known as one of the shortest and steepest routes to the summit of San Jacinto.
We took my brother on this hike as a warm up for the JMT at the end of the month. this is a challenging trail with difficult terrain. You must keep a sharp eye out for the path as it gets tricky.
Less than half a mile into today’s hike, I came within a foot of a Pacific rattler, who warned me in the nick of time. My hiking pole was inches away from his tail. I backed away slowly to allow this 4-5 foot adult make his way up the slope. Close encounters with rattlers gets the adrenaline going. The color and pattern of this one blended in perfectly with the trail. While I’ve had over a dozen encounters with rattlers in my few years of hiking, this was the closest. Our altitude was approx. 6,700 ft. In my observation, snakes are rarely seen above 8,000 ft. in the San Bernardino Mountains. It made me more cautious the rest of the day and I also took the time to brief my hiking partners on how we would handle a poisonous snake bite situation.
After snapping a few photos of this viper, we focused on our journey to the summit. The trail wastes no time in elevation gain as it climbs out at over 900 ft. per mile. The short switchbacks and rocky, sandy trail makes for a calf and quad burning extravaganza.
Due to the lack of snowfall last winter, the vernal streams are fewer and water flows much less. The first significant stream was around 9,300-9,400 ft., and probably feeds into the tiny San Jacinto River. The temps stayed in the 80’s for much of this trek and we were using up our water faster than predicted. There were a couple of other streams where a someone with a pump could extract some water.
Sometimes, I question why we do these tough hikes. Marion Mtn is one of the hardest ones around. It’s really mind over matter because it isn’t always fun. It does build confidence in the sense that once you put your mind to something, you can conquer it. Besides, if you always hiked on flat terrain it would be boring.
We took many breaks today due to the heat and intensity of the trail. We started feeling the possible symptoms of mild acute mountain sickness (AMS) around 9,000 ft. To compensate, a motrin and increased fluid intake helped, as well as slowing the ascent. Symptoms may include nausea, light-headedness and a mild headache. We kept an eye on this and agreed to head back down if the symptoms did not go away. AMS is nothing to play around with and is important to recognize it as it can lead to a more serious condition. You can read about it here: http://www.altitude.org/altitude_sickness.php
We took a lunch break at the junction of the PCT/Marion Mtn/Seven Pines trails. From the junction, you enter a heavily wooded area for 1/2 mile and begin a steady climb that is exposed to afternoon sun. The trail is rocky with occasional shade under some conifers. We continued on to Little Round Valley campground. It is a nice area with private campsites less than a mile to the summit. The nearby vernal stream was pretty much dry, so I recommend you top off at the stream about 700-800 yds before camp on the ascent.
We broke out into a clearing with signs that pointed us to the summit and points to the tram, Wellman’s Divide, Deer Springs Trail and Humber Park. The views to several 10,000+ peaks and the desert below are beautiful.
No hike to San Jacinto is complete without stopping by the summit cabin. The last 200 ft. to the summit are spent scrambling up boulders and around the flora. At the top, we saw several others – not too bad. Sometimes, you can run in to 30 or 40 people crowded around the sign. It was 5:30 by then, so that might have something to do with it.
We started down by 6 p.m. knowing that it was going to be a close call on darkness. I have to admit, this trail is no easier going down since you have to pick your way around the rocks and scree. We burned through our food and snacks due to the extra effort going up. Now, we were on auto pilot.
As darkness approached, we broke out the headlamps and realized we would be hiking for at least another hour. The forest and moonless night made for a slow descent as we picked our way over the obstacles. My headlamp needed the batteries replaced, but I kept going. I did have spare batteries, but just didn’t want to stop. After a week of night hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness last year, this wasn’t too bad. My hiking partners weren’t digging it though. Actually, I was tired and ready for it to end too.
If you’ve hiked this trail, you know how hard it is to follow – especially at night. As Mary discovered, the scorpions come out at night here. While I was struggling to see the trail ahead, she was seeing every crawling critter on the path. Oh well, at least the scorpions are small.
After 1 1/2 hrs, we finally reached the parking area and were dog-tired. We were still committed to the post-hike celebratory meal of In-N-Out with “animal style fries”. Well, if you live out here – you know what that is.
This hike is a great workup for a Mt. Whitney type trip. We used it as a warmup for the JMT. Even though the trail humbled us, we came away confident with a few lessons learned.
1. Take more water than you think you need or have the ability to filter some. For me that’s 1 liter for every 3 miles. Your mileage may vary. I carry a backup 24 oz. Camelbak bottle and needed it on this hike.
2. Take extra food and snacks. While we had enough, it wasn’t enough if we had gotten lost and needed to spend the night. Keep some of those nuclear proof classic Clif Bars in your emergency pack.
3. Hiking at night is slow going, especially in tough terrain. Scree isn’t as obvious and a rolled ankle 3 miles from the trailhead is a bad thing.
We use trekking poles when hiking. This is a good set that is reasonably priced: Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue Unless you are a pro, don’t spend your money on the carbon fiber poles.