Portions of South Fork Trail run through area destroyed in the 2015 Lake Fire.

Beat Desert Heat Hiking South Fork Trail

The South Fork Trail starts at about 6890 feet above sea level.

A day hike on the side of San Gorgonio Mountain is a sure way for Coachella Valley hikers to beat the summer heat. The higher elevations mean cooler temperatures, sometimes by up to 20 to 30 degrees than what the mercury reads in Palm Springs.

One great hike on the mountain is the South Fork Trail (1E04) in the San Bernardino National Forest. It runs 5.2 miles round trip from the trailhead to the appropriately named Poopout Hill, mostly at an elevation of 6900-7900 feet above sea level.

To reach the trailhead, from the Coachella Valley take Interstate 10 west through the Banning Pass. In Yucaipa, exit onto Oak Glen Road and take it right/northeast. Next, turn left/north onto Bryant Street, then right/northeast onto Calif. Hwy. 38. This takes you into the mountains. Well past Angelus Oaks, turn right/east onto Jenks Lake Road West. Follow the winding road for about 2.5 miles to the South Park Trailhead parking lot, which is on the left/north.

From the lot, cross the road and head south onto the trail. You’re at an elevation of about 6890 feet.

Beat Desert Heat Hiking South Fork Trail

A spur heads to Poopout Hill about 2.5 miles from the trailhead.

The trail climbs some 760 feet over the next 2.5 miles but feels fairly gentle. Along the way, you’ll cross Horse Meadow at 7380 feet elevation.

Looming above you the entire way is Mt. San Gorgonio. Standing 11,503 feet high, San Gorgonio Mountain is Southern California’s tallest peak and can be seen from a number of vantage points in the Coachella Valley. It’s a full 67 stories higher than San Jacinto Peak.

Portions of the South Fork Trail run through an area destroyed in the 2015 Lake Fire. Though the tree trunks are burned out, low brush and manzanita now flourishes. Even as the area recovers, it’s strikingly green compared to the desert floor, and depending on the season multicolored wildflowers fill the landscape.

After the meadow, you’ll cross an old jeep trail. A few yards beyond it, the trail enters the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Beat Desert Heat Hiking South Fork Trail

Poopout Hill includes a picnic table beneath towering pines.

At 2.5 miles, a spur heads left/east to Poopout Hill, which summits at 7740 feet. A couple of historic cabins sit here. There also are plenty of tall trees as this area was untouched by fire. It’s a pretty spot for a picnic.

If interested in backpacking or camping, you can continue on. Heading up the mountain, in 1.7 miles the trail reaches South Fork Meadows at 8200 feet. The trail than forks. To the left/east is Dry Lake, which is another 1.5 miles away at 9000 feet. To the right/west is Dollar Lake in 2 miles at 9300 feet.

Camping is available at both Dry and Dollar lakes. Day use permits are required with the group size limited to 12 people.

Because a lot of the trail is unshaded, be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat. Bring plenty of water and pace yourself to avoid altitude sickness.




Image Sources

  • 01-The-South-Fork-Trail-starts-at-about-6890-feet-above-sea-level.: Rob Bignelle
  • 03-A-spur-heads-to-Poopout-Hill-about-2.5-miles-from-the-trailhead.: Rob Bignell
  • 04-Poopout-Hill-includes-a-picnic-table-beneath-towering-pines.: Rob Bignelle
  • Dry Lake sits 5.7 miles above the South Fork trailhead.: Rob Bignell