Hiking Southern California  by Ron Adkison

Hiking Southern California Guide Book

by Ron Adkison (Falcon Guides)
Hiking Southern California  by Ron Adkison
Sample 60 of the best trails southern California has to offer. Experience the area’s most scenic high-mountain landscape from 11,499-foot San Gorgonio Mountain, explore the world’s largest Joshua tree woodland in Mojave National Preserve, and discover the fascinating geology of Natural Bridge Canyon in Death Valley National Park. Southern California offers hikers diverse coastal, inland, and desert mountains; serpentine canyons, colorful badlands, and vast sand dunes; and cool conifer forests, isolated mesas, and dense cactus stands. Inside you’ll find: up-to-date trail information; accurate maps and elevation profiles; difficulty ratings for each hike; advice on water availability and the best seasons for each trail; tips on equipment, trip planning, and hiking with dogs and children.

© 2004 Ron Adkison/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Hiking Southern California" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 60.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 60.

This excellent backpack trip tours the north slopes and high western divides of the San Gorgonio high country, offering many fine places to camp and far-ranging vistas stretching across southern California’s wildest mountain country. This excellent loop trip explores the western end of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and includes an ascent of the highest peak west of Dollar Lake Saddle. The unmaintained trail leading past Johns Meadow to the San Bernardino Peak Divide offers a refreshing change of pace from more popular, sometimes crowded San Gorgonio Wilderness trails.
Angelus Oaks, CA - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 19.1
This rigorous and rewarding all-day trip leads hikers from a deep, brushy canyon to a pine-clad mountain in the southern Peninsular Ranges. Agua Tibia Mountain, the western end of a long hogback ridge known as the Palomar Range or Agua Tibia Range, supports cool forests of Coulter pine on its upper slopes and offers relief to the hikers who slog for miles up the mountain’s hot, brushchoked lower slopes. The Agua Tibia Range is one of many San Diego and Riverside County mountain masses belonging to California’s Peninsular Ranges province. Fundamentally, these are southern California’s coast ranges, which extend southward from the Los Angeles Basin for the entire length of Baja California. Coulter pine (or big-cone pine), a conifer indigenous to California and northern Baja California, forms extensive forests along the upper reaches of the Agua Tibia Range and other relatively high ranges in San Diego County. It inhabits dry rocky slopes between 3,000 and 7,000 feet in elevation, growing in pure stands or mixing with other conifers and oaks.With needles in bundles of three, it resembles the ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. However, its distinguishing characteristic is its large cones. Reaching 10 to 14 inches in length and weighing as much as five pounds, the heavy, clawed cones are the largest of the American pine cones.
Hemet, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 15.2
This short, pleasant day hike leads to a beautiful cascading creek in the South Coast Ranges. The Santa Lucia Wilderness lies near the southern end of the Santa Lucia Range east of San Luis Obispo. Few trails penetrate into this small but rugged wild area. Due to the dense chaparral that blankets the hillsides, off-trail travel is generally impossible. The trail up Big Falls Canyon penetrates a major westward-flowing tributary of Lopez Canyon and ascends to the crest of the range. The many large, deep pools in this canyon host a healthy population of small trout, although fishing is poor. Newts are also commonly seen in portions of the creek.
San Luis Obispo, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.5
This view-packed day hike follows the gently graded Pacific Crest Trail to a boulder-crowned summit in the extreme southern Sierra Nevada, where vistas stretch across the Mojave Desert to the distant San Gabriel Mountains. The Pacific Crest Trail north of Bird Spring Pass is seldom used, save for PCT through-hikers in late spring. This segment affords the fastest access to the plateau top of the Scodie Mountains and brings hikers within easy striking distance of the Scodies’ highest point, 7,120-foot Skinner Peak.The hike is rigorous, gaining nearly 1,800 feet of elevation, though the trail maintains moderate grades. The sandy tread of the PCT, sometimes trod by grazing cattle, follows a moderate grade northwest from the pass among Joshua trees and a variety of shrubs, including big sagebrush, Mormon tea, brittlebush, and hop-sage.These south-facing slopes are ablaze with wildflowers in springtime.
Ridgecrest, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.2
This rewarding high-desert hike follows one of the park’s westernmost canyons en route to a high peak in the Little San Bernardino Mountains. The hike up Black Rock Canyon to the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains is an excellent introduction to high-desert hiking. This trip makes a fine midwinter leg-stretcher, and hikers are rewarded with far-flung vistas from Peak 5195. This trip can be made as an overnighter if you are willing to carry water. Hikers can follow the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains for days and see few, if any, other hikers. Backpackers are required to sign in at the backcountry board at the trailhead. Always avoid this and any other desert hike during periods of thunderstorm activity—floods and lightning are real and dangerous possibilities.
Yucca Valley, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 6
This hike, part of it cross-country, leads into California’s Sonoran Desert via a deep, palm-dotted canyon in the San Ysidro Mountains. Encompassing more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in the nation. Much of its land is roadless, ranging from remote mountain ranges to low hills and desert plains. The unusual California fan palm, found only in a few canyons and moist areas along the western and northern edge of the Colorado (Sonoran) Desert in California, is well represented in two separate groves in Borrego Palm Canyon. Experienced and adventurous hikers are urged to explore the rugged forks of the canyon beyond the second palm grove. The Middle Fork leads into the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, where permission is required for entry. Hikers aren’t likely to find campsites in these narrow canyons, which are visited chiefly by day hikers.
Borrego Springs, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
This trip, nearly level throughout much of its length, leads hikers from Joshua tree–studded flats into the heart of the boulder-stacked landscape of the Wonderland of Rocks. The Wonderland of Rocks is Joshua Tree’s largest concentration of monzogranite domes, covering more than 10 square miles between Queen Valley on the southeast and Indian Cove on the northwest. Willow Hole lies near the center of this rockbound labyrinth, and this very scenic, nearly level hike leads you there, at first across flats studded with picturesque Joshua trees, and then through a winding, dome-embraced canyon in the heart of the Wonderland.
Twentynine Palms, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 7.2
This hike, following dirt roads throughout, leads to a commanding vista point on the western edge of the San Bernardino Mountains high above Interstate 15 and Cajon Canyon. This leisurely day hike, on dirt road all the way, provides an unparalleled view of Cajon Canyon and the San Andreas Rift Zone, through which I–15 passes.The area may be closed periodically due to fire danger. Conditions vary each year, so be sure to consult the Cajon Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest to find out if the area is open to travel. From Cleghorn Pass the road traverses north- and east-facing slopes, staying close to the ridgeline.You pass through areas of chaparral broken intermittently by grassy slopes. Among the trees along this stretch are black oak, its yellowing leaves offering virtually the only fall color in southern California’s mountains.You will also notice both big-cone Douglas fir and incense-cedar, which is typically found in canyon bottoms.
San Bernardino, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 8
Joshua trees, monarchs of the Mojave Desert, reach their grandest proportions on the desert slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains. This easy hike leads to the largest-known Joshua tree in the world and is a rewarding though brief introduction to the “desert side” of these mountains. The Joshua tree is one of many unusual plants found in California’s deserts.A member of the agave family, this unique tree is unmistakable with its stiff, narrow, foot-long daggerlike leaves. Its dense flower clusters, from greenish-white to cream in color, appear in April or May.The Joshua tree grows across a wide area—from the Mojave Desert north to the southern Owens Valley and east through southern Nevada to southwestern Utah and western Arizona. Growing at an elevation of 6,000 feet, the Joshua trees in Arrastre Canyon are near their altitudinal limit. Due to deep well-drained soils and moderate precipitation here, the Joshua trees in this canyon grow to greater dimensions than those anywhere else. This short hike, on doubletrack all the way, passes some of the largest Joshua trees in existence and ends at the impressive champion Joshua tree.The variety of plant life and the open feeling of the piñon woodland combine to make this a thoroughly pleasing, leisurely stroll.
Big Bear Lake, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
This very easy stroll through the conifer forests of the San Bernardino Mountains leads to the world’s largest-known lodgepole pine. Between the Santa Ana River Canyon in the south and Big Bear Lake in the north rises a well-watered, thickly forested plateau reminiscent of the Tahquitz Creek plateau in the San Jacinto Mountains. Lush meadows and several small, willow-clad streams enrich this interesting plateau. This leisurely downhill walk leads hikers to the largest-known lodgepole pine, standing at the edge of the largest meadow on the plateau. Lodgepole pines—easily identified by needles in bundles of two and by their scaly, light-orange to light-brown bark—are usually found on dry, well-drained slopes above the 8,500-foot level in southern California’s mountains but occasionally invade wet meadows at lower elevations. The lodgepole pines on this plateau are among the finest specimens anywhere.
Big Bear Lake, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.6
This easy stroll in the Mojave Desert/Colorado Desert transition zone of Pinto Basin leads through a dense stand of tall Bigelow cholla cactus. Joshua Tree National Park has a number of excellent self-guiding nature trails, and the Cholla Garden Nature Trail may well be one of the best. It is also the most remote, located on the western margins of lonely Pinto Basin in the center of the park, at the transition zone between the Mojave Desert and the lower—and hotter—Colorado (Sonoran) Desert. The trail, nearly level all the way, features numbered posts keyed to an interpretive pamphlet available for a small fee from a dispenser at the trailhead. Anyone traveling through this part of the park is urged to stop here. Stretch your legs, and enjoy this unusual stroll through a cactus garden in remote Pinto Basin.
Twentynine Palms, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.25
This memorable short hike, one of the most popular in Mojave National Preserve, leads to a rockbound vista point high on the flanks of Cima Dome, the eroded remnants of an ancient mountain range. This very scenic hike passes through the fringes of the most extensive and luxuriant Joshua tree forest on earth en route to the craggy prominence of Teutonia Peak,the high point of unique Cima Dome. Hikers will be delighted by the abundance of spring-blooming shrubs and wildflowers and will enjoy expansive vistas of much of the east Mojave Desert. Cima Dome is now protected as wilderness in the Mojave National Preserve, making the area a fine choice for a short desert backpack—but only if you pack in plenty of water and employ zero-impact practices to the fullest. With so many volcanic landforms in the California desert, Cima Dome may at first glance appear to be just another volcanic cone, but it isn’t. Encompassing 75 square miles, Cima Dome is an ancient mountain range in the advanced stages of old age.Erosion of this range has completely enshrouded it in its own detritus, forming a remarkably symmetrical, broad sloping alluvial surface known to geologists as a pediment.Teutonia Peak and a few residual crags forming a northwest-trending ridge along the eastern margin of the dome are all that remain of the prominent mountain range that once stood here. Carry an ample water supply for this hike; if you enjoy desert wildflowers, a good wildflower book will aid in identifying the diverse flora.
Baker, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4
This view-filled hike, recommended for hikers with routefinding experience, leads to a mile-high summit in the Black Mountains near Dante’s View. Experienced hikers driving to Dante’s View are urged to take the easy cross-country jaunt to Coffin Peak, where equally unforgettable vistas can be enjoyed in solitude from this fine vantage point atop the Black Mountains.This seldom-trod route is not particularly notable for wildflowers, but some desert trumpet and Indian paintbrush adorn the trail. This hike may entice you to return for extended treks in the Black Mountains. Water sources are virtually nonexistent, and it is necessary to cache water along the crestline route. A southbound trek along the Black Mountains’ crest offers endless panoramas, a true desert wilderness experience, and access to old mine ruins, including the mining-boom camp of Furnace.The Greenwater Road offers easy access to hikers establishing water caches.
Stovepipe Wells, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.5
This rewarding trip takes hikers from the upper reaches of San Antonio Canyon through the heart of the Cucamonga Wilderness to the landmark pyramid of Cucamonga Peak, where panoramic vistas unfold. The San Gabriel Mountains are part of California’s Transverse Ranges province. These ranges extend east-west across the framework of California’s predominantly northwest-southeast–trending mountains and valleys. The Transverse Ranges province is approximately 300 miles long, stretching from the Eagle and Pinto Mountains of Joshua Tree National Park in the east to Point Arguello near Santa Barbara in the west.Typically, the highest terrain lies near the eastern terminus of each of the mountain ranges constituting this province. Cucamonga Peak stands high on the eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains, soaring out of the deep gash of the San Andreas Rift Zone.This flat-topped “volcano-shaped” mountain is a familiar landmark to many southern Californians and is one of the most remote mountains in the range.The shortest route to its lofty summit involves a minimum 6 miles of hiking and thousands of feet of elevation gain. But hikers who complete this strenuous trip are rewarded with sweeping vistas of a large portion of southern California. The subalpine forest of weather-beaten lodgepole pine on this flat, sandy summit offers a cool respite from oppressive summertime heat in the valleys below. Hikers relaxing on the summit often see a variety of soaring raptors riding the strong thermals that often sweep the slopes of the peak. Usually taken as a day hike, this trip can be extended by an overnight stay in Cedar Glen or Kelly Camp, both of which have water.
Ontario, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 7
This short hike follows one of only four perennial streams in Death Valley National Park, leading through areas of riparian vegetation en route to a spectacular and rare desert waterfall. Darwin Falls is perhaps the most uncharacteristic locale in Death Valley National Park, its setting beyond the scope of most people’s perceptions of the quintessential desert landscape. Darwin Creek is one of the four perennial streams in the park’s more than three-million-acre expanse of desert valleys and mountains. Darwin Wash drains the westernmost reaches of the park, flowing from the volcanic tableland of Darwin Bench between the Inyo Mountains to the north and the Argus Range to the south. With its ribbon of riparian greenery and echoes of cascading water in a land that sees little rain, a walk through the shadowed hallway of Darwin Wash may be the most unique short day hike in the park.
Stovepipe Wells, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
This short trip, part cross-country, leads to a tree-crowned viewpoint north of Big Bear Lake. This seldom-visited yet easily accessible mountain, mantled in a pine and fir forest, provides views of Big Bear Lake and the San Gorgonio Wilderness and offers a refreshing (if brief) escape from civilization.
Fawnskin, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.2
This lightly used route follows a narrow, serpentine canyon through a landscape of colorful badlands. The hike is an excellent alternative to often-busy Golden Canyon. This fine short hike, an uncrowded alternative to nearby Golden Canyon, surveys the dramatic badlands landscape eroded from the Furnace Creek Formation at the foot of the Black Mountains along the eastern edge of Death Valley. The trail-less hike actually follows an unnamed canyon (the east fork of Desolation Canyon), a longer and deeper gorge than Desolation Canyon proper.
Shoshone, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
This memorable hike leads into the intriguing rock formations of the Devils Punchbowl at the northern foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Devils Punchbowl is another of California’s many striking rock formations. Lying at the northern foot of the San Gabriel Mountains along the San Andreas Rift Zone, this unusual, highly eroded sandstone-conglomerate-shale formation is especially interesting. The trail leads hikers to its best viewpoint, the Devils Chair, where the entire hellish landscape of the Punchbowl spreads out to the north, with the barrens of the Mojave Desert fading into the distance beyond. This hike can be taken as a leisurely overnighter. Backpackers will find good campsites in Holcomb Canyon next to the creek.
Palmdale, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5
This pleasant short hike, on an old road all the way, leads to the most prominent landmarks in the Mid Hills, the twin granite domes of Eagle Rocks. This fun, short hike offers an easy opportunity to experience the high country of Mojave National Preserve. The trip surveys a diverse assemblage of high desert vegetation; from the crest of Mid Hills, panoramic views reach across much of the preserve’s vast landscape.
Baker, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.4
This rewarding desert hike ascends alluvial fans toward the foot of the Vallecito Mountains, where a fascinating array of desert plants and magnificent, austere scenery awaits. Many persons view California’s deserts as a vast wasteland, an area to drive through as quickly as possible on the way to somewhere else. The deserts are vast indeed, but to those who have grown to love them, they are anything but wastelands. This short hike helps dispel that myth, for here on the eastern slopes of the Vallecito Mountains you’ll see a broad array of drought-tolerant vegetation, including many rare elephant trees, one of the most unusual plants in the California desert. This area is at its best in winter and spring, when many plants display brilliantly colorful flowers, providing a dramatic contrast to the stark desert landscape.
Ocotillo Wells, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.4