The best way for Coachella Valley hikers to escape the summer heat is to gain elevation. One good nearby spot to do that is the other side of Mt. San Jacinto in Idyllwild.
Nestled in the foothills at a little more that 5000 feet up, the quaint town offers a number of great trails, especially at the Idyllwild Nature Center. While there, try the 2.6-miles round trip Summit-Hillside Trails Loop. Morning is the best time to hike as temperatures generally are in the 70s.
To reach the nature center, from northern Coachella Valley, take I-10 west to Banning then go left/south on Calif. Hwy. 243 to Idyllwild; from central or southern Coachella Valley, take Calif. Hwy. 74 south then turn right/north onto Hwy. 243 to Idyllwild. The center is at 25225 Calif. Hwy. 243 at the end of a driveway. Both the nature center and its trails are part of the Riverside County park and open space system.
From the nature center parking lot, go right/west and follow the path around the building’s side. In about 0.1 miles, go right/west.
You’ll soon start hearing a variety of different songbirds. Several of them settle in the park between March through November before snow sends them migrating.
In another 0.1 miles, you’ll come to a trail junction; continue straight/southwest. At the next junction in 0.1 miles, you’ve reached the Hillside Trail; go right/west onto it.
The Hillside Trail crosses Lily Creek, which usually is dry by late summer.
After about 0.2 miles, you’ll arrive at the Summit Trail. Go straight/west onto it; this is the beginning of a loop. Steep and the most difficult portion of the hike, this trail definitely is an aerobic climb.
But the effort is worth it, and not just for your heart. You’ll pass a number of rocks/boulders to scramble over, which will be a joy for any kids with you. There’s also a good view of the 800-foot high Tahquitz Rock, the larger of the two granite crags above Idyllwild that are popular with rock climbers.
Upon reaching the hilltop, the trail briefly levels out. From the summit there are great views of treetops stretching seemingly forever. Mt. San Jacinto rises to the north and blue Lake Hemet to the southeast.
After about a mile on the Summit Trail, you’ll reach a three-way junction. Go left/northeast onto the Hillside Trail. You’ll descend from here for a moderate workout through fragrant, green terrain.
In 0.6 miles, the Hillside reaches the junction with Summit Trail where you began the loop. Go right/east. You’ll recross Lily Creek; at the next trail junction, go left/north and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
Once back, be sure to stop at the nature center, which offers displays on local wildlife and the Cahuilla Native Americans who have lived in this area for the past 2000-2500 years. Be forewarned that the nature center is not open every day and closes near evening.
Though plenty of pines line the route, a few yards here and there aren’t shaded, so don sunscreen and wear a brimmed hat.
A fee is charged to enter the park. Dogs also can hike the trail but must be leashed, and a nominal entry fee is charged for their entry.
- 02 A female white-headed woodpecker is one of many songbirds you can see at the conifer-rich Idyllwild Nature Center trails: Rob Bignell