Ernie Maxwel Scenic Trail is best hiked May to November.
With temperatures growing hot on the desert floor, Coachella Valley residents can cool off with a hike in the higher mountains. The Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail near Idyllwild marks one such great backcountry hike without having to head into the remote mountains.
The trail runs 5.2 miles round trip and sports almost 700 feet of elevation gain. It’s best done May to November.
A point-to-point trail, it has two trailheads. Start at the southern trailhead on Tahquitz View Drive in Idyllwild rather than the northern one at Humber Park. If you go south to north, the uphill part of the trail will be the first rather than the second half of the hike. You won’t need to get a parking pass either.
To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 243 in Idyllwild, take Saunders Meadow Road southeast. Turn left/north onto Pine Avenue then right/northeast onto Tahquitz View Drive. The trailhead will be on the right/east after the road runs to dirt. There’s no parking lot at this trailhead, so be sure to park close to the right/east side so other vehicles can pass.
As you set out on the trail, you’ll gradually notice the incline. Don’t worry, it’s a gentle climb, and you’ll be rewarded with some truly breathtaking views.
To the north lies Suicide Rock, a well-known and beloved climbing spot. Its name dates back to a haunting story of a Native American princess and her lover who leapt to their deaths rather than be separated by their tribe. While the tale probably was fabricated in the early 1900s to attract tourists, the legend endures and adds to the rock’s mystique.
Interestingly, Suicide Rock’s history also marks a pivotal moment in American rock climbing – the 1930s saw climbers flocking to this region, setting the foundation for modern rock climbing as we know it today.
The trail soon becomes shaded, providing a cool respite from the uphill climb. As you wind your way through the thick forest, keep an eye out for the unique trees that make up this area’s foliage. The Jeffrey pine, ponderosa pine, Coulter pine, incense cedar, and various firs each have their own distinct beauty and pleasing scents.
Stellar jays, white-headed woodpeckers, and other birds can be seen flitting among the trees. In the understory, watch for flowers like the pretty wild sweet pea.
With small springs, streams and drainages peppered all along the trail, you’ll need to make some water crossings. Don’t worry if you didn’t don your waterproof boots; most of the time you can just hop right across without even breaking a sweat. These water sources all eventually flow into Strawberry Creek, a popular spot for rainbow trout fishing further downstream in Idyllwild.
The trail also passes several large granite boulders.
Speaking of rocks, the trail offers some grand views of Tahquitz Rock (also known as Lily Rock) as well as Marion Mountain and Strawberry Valley. Along the way, you’ll pass a junction with the Climber Trail, which heads to the area where climbers can tackle Tahquitz Rock.
The trail ends at Humber Park with the parking lot’s asphalt marking the turnback point. There are picnic tables and bathrooms there should you need. From the lot, retrace your steps back to your vehicle.
The trail is named for Idyllwild resident Ernie Maxwell, founder of the town newspaper and a conservationist. Maxwell passed in 1994.
He was familiar with his namesake trail though. In 1959, the trail was built to provide horses a safe and accessible path to navigate through town without having to trot on the risky roads. Maxwell, with the help of the Forest Service, saw a dire need for horses to have their own passage and immediately took action. The trail was completed by none other than Riverside County convicts.
- Several kinds of evergreens grow along the trail, including Jeffrey pine, ponderosa pine, Coulter pine, incense cedar, and various firs.: Rob Bignell