Thomas Mountain West Road to Anza Valley Overlook

Hiking Thomas Mountain West Road to Overlook

Thomas Mountain West Road winds up the side of the Thomas Mountain.

As the Coachella Valley broils in summer heat, the best place for hikers to escape the heat is in the surrounding mountains. Winter’s heavy snowfalls, however, have left many of the higher elevation trails covered in snow and some of the meltwater streams dangerous to cross.

Thomas Mountain, located between Mountain Center and Idyllwild on Calif. Hwy. 74, makes for a nice alternative until Mount San Jacinto and its peaks let go of their snowpack.

A great way to tackle Thomas Mountain is the 7.5-mile round trip Thomas Mountain West Road. The trail starts in the warm foothills and ends in a pleasantly scented pinyon-juniper forest with great views. The San Bernardino National Forest does sport a 2000 feet elevation gain, but the ascent is far more gradual than those heading up the San Jacinto range.

To reach the trailhead, from Palm Desert take Calif. Hwy. 74 south into the mountains. You’ll drive for about a half-hour on the Palms to Pines Highway. A little more than three miles past the Hwy. 371 cutoff, turn left/west onto Thomas Mountain Road. In about 400 feet, go left/south to a dirt parking lot; this is Yellow Post 1 on maps.

Hiking Thomas Mountain West Road to Overlook

Lake Hemet boasts 12 miles of shoreline and covers 430 acres.

Walk back to Thomas Mountain Road and head left. The trail (referred to as Forest Route 6S13 on some maps) begins at about 4390 feet above sea level and gradually curls southeast. This is high chaparral country, but you’ll quickly enter the pinyon pine and juniper forest.

At 0.75 miles, you’ll begin to see great view of Lake Hemet to the left/north. This view is particularly beautiful in April and May when green grasses and wildflowers fill the valley and lake rim below.

Lake Hemet is a reservoir crated by a dam constructed in 1895. Sporting 12 miles of shoreline, the lake covers 430 acres. It’s stocked with rainbow trout, channel catfish, bluegill and largemouth bass, which in turn attracts fishermen.

At 3.75 miles, you’ll reach an overlook. A spur goes left/south to a small knoll at about 5446 feet elevation. Fairly good views of Anza Valley to the south and the mountains near Hemet to the west await. Some older guidebooks and maps refer to this knoll as the Anza Valley Overlook, but other sources that say the same-named overlook is higher up. Either way, you’re looking at the Anza Valley.

Hiking Thomas Mountain West Road to Overlook

Thomas Mountain West Road topo map

If you’ve come to Rouse Hill Road, you’ve gone about 0.9 miles (one-way) too far.

After taking in the vista, retrace your steps back to your vehicle. You’ll be treated along the way to superb views of the San Jacinto Mountains in the north.

Alternately, you can continue to Thomas Mountain’s summit. That makes for a 16-mile round trip with an additional 657 feet of elevation gain. It’s a great backpacking trip or Jeep excursion.

Since the trail is a backcountry truck road, it’s wide and open to the sun. Be sure to don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat.





Image Sources

  • 04-Thomas-Mountain-West-Road-winds-up-the-side-of-the-Thomas-Mountain.: Rob Bignell
  • 02-Lake-Hemet-boasts-12-miles-of-shoreline-and-covers-430-acres.: Rob Bignell
  • Thomas Mountain West Road offers great views of Lake Hemet.: Rob Bignell