Temperatures on Morton Peak Trail are 10-20 degrees cooler than Palm Springs

Escape Desert Heat on Morton Peak Trail

A historic fire lookout tower sits atop Morton Peak.

Ah, mountain views, a fire lookout tower, and cooler temperatures – who could ask for more on a hike?

The 5.2-miles round trip Morton Peak Trail offers all of that and more for Coachella Valley hikers. The trail sits in the San Bernadino National Forest among the foothills west of Mount San Gorgonio.

Temperatures there in early to mid-June usually are about 10-20 degrees cooler than in Palm Springs, so this makes a good morning hike.

To reach the trailhead, from the Coachella Valley take Interstate 10 west over the Banning/San Gorgonio Pass. In Yucaipa, exit right/north onto Sandalwood Drive. Take the very first right onto Fifth Street then right/east onto Wildwood Canyon Road. Next, go left/north onto Bryant Street. This takes you to Calif. Hwy. 38/Mill Creek Road where you’ll turn right/northeast. A road to the trailhead and its parking lot is on the left/east. You’re at just under 3280 feet elevation.

Escape Desert Heat on Morton Peak Trail

Mount San Gorgonio looms east of the Morton Peak.

The trail, which really is a backcountry truck road, heads northwest from the dirt parking lot. Some maps refer to it as the Warm Springs Truck Trail and others as Morton Ridge Road. The official Forest Service designation is the poetic 1N12.

At 0.1 miles, the trail dips into a verdant draw then climbs to the ridge crest and serpentines up the ridgeline.

The foothills are in the California montane chaparral and woodlands ecoregion. Largely limited to Southern California, the ecoregion covers a mere 7900 square miles, about the size of Massachusetts.

The trail takes another dip higher up the draw at about 0.55 miles.

Chamise chaparral and scrub oak chaparral dominate the ecoregion.

Escape Desert Heat on Morton Peak Trail

Green Valley stretches like a ribbon below Morton Peak.

The chamise chaparral is a unique and resilient shrub that’s also known as greasewood or simply as chamise. This plant is easy to spot thanks to its signature resinous foliage that gives it a bit of a greasy feel. Although it’s not the most colorful flower in the region, the chamise chaparral blooms throughout the spring months, peaking in May with a beautiful display of small white or pinkish flowers.

One incredible feature of the chamise chaparral is its ability to bounce back after a wildfire has burned its stems. It accomplishes this through its lignotuber, a specialized structure underground that allows it to resprout even when the above-ground portions of the plant have been destroyed.

Scrub oak chaparral grows up to 6.5-feet tall and has sharply toothed, dull green leaves that are leathery on their top surfaces and somewhat hairy underneath. It’s also a host to a number of butterflies and moths, the former of which include the striking Western Tiger Swallowtail, Lorquin’s Admiral, and California Sister.

Escape Desert Heat on Morton Peak Trail

Early morning fog sits below Morton Peak.

When the road splits at 1.2 miles, go left/west. This places you on Forest Service Road 1S13.

Great views of the surrounding valleys and sharply rising mountains abound. Side faults off the nearby San Andreas have folded and raised the landscape here.

At last, you’ll reach Morton Peak about 2.6 miles from the trailhead. The summit sits at 4613 feet. San Gorgonio looms to the east. Spreading out below you to the south is Yucaipa. Mount San Jacinto is the high point to the southeast.

A historic fire lookout tower also sits at the summit. Built in 1960, it replaced a 1934 structure destroyed in a wildfire. When the tower is staffed, you can even go inside the cab.

The entire trail is exposed to the sun, so be sure to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trail. An Adventure Pass is required for your parked vehicle.







Image Sources

  • Historic fire lookout: Rob Bignell
  • Mount San Gorgonio looms east of the Morton Peak.: Rob Bignell
  • Early morning fog: Rob Bignell
  • The Morton Peak Trail: Rob Bignell