San Gorgonio Mountain is the tallest mountain in Southern California. Part of the San Bernardino Mountain chain and found within the realms of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, it tops out at 11,503 feet. As you might imagine, the views from the summit are quite spectacular. Several hiking trails lead to the San Gorgonio summit, and since this summit sits above the tree line, there are no trees to block the amazing vistas.
You don’t need to be an experienced mountain climber to reach the summits of many California mountains. San Gorgonio Mountain is an example of this. Being in relatively good shape can come in handy, however. The trails that lead to the summit are several miles long. The Vivian Creek Trail is the most popular route, and it extends for nearly eight miles. The elevation gain is around 5,500 feet.
Summer is widely considered to be the best time to hike to the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain. That being said, there really isn’t a bad time to attempt a trip to the top. Even winter climbs can be fun, especially since there are no crowds to deal with. In fact, if you climb San Gorgonio in the winter, you might find that you are the only person on the mountain. This can be a confounding thing, especially since Los Angeles is less than 100 miles to the west. By the way, if you wish to climb in the winter, you can expect to encounter snow. Snowshoes are recommended gear in this case.
The San Gorgonio Mountain trailheads that most people use are found along Highway 38. You can hop on this highway in nearby San Bernardino and head east. A permit is required for use of these trails, and permits are required for camping in the wilderness as well. They are free, and if you don’t apply for them in advance, you can get self-issued permits at the Ranger Station in Mentone. It is also possible to get permits at the visitor center in Barton Flats or the Fawnskin Ranger Station in Big Bear. Summer permits for the especially popular Vivian Creek Trail tend to get claimed several weeks in advance, and it is becoming more popular for other trail permits to go just as fast.
As a side note, the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail passes through the San Gorgonio Mountain area. This trail, for those who might not know, stretches through California, Oregon, and Washington and is a dream for hikers and horseback riders alike.