San Gorgonio via South Fork Trail – San Bernardino National Forest

The miles you spend outside, only matter if you take it in and enjoy it

*Originally hiked: May 8-9, 2021

Well we needed another hard backpacking trip under our belts for training for the John Muir Trail and what better than to do San Gorgonio the tallest peak in Southern California. I believe the weekend we picked, the trailhead from South Fork had just opened.

Location Mileage Elevation Gain Type
San Bernardino Mountains 24.53 miles 4,675 feet Out-and-Back
San Gorgonio Mountain sits at 11,000 feet in the San Bernardino National Forest.  It’s the tallest peak in Southern California and is often hiked as a day hike from other trailheads. Via the South Fork Trail makes for the hike to be over 23 miles and there are many cool campsites along the way that one can stay at.  Check water sources before your trip as it is very scarce.

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Permits & Weather

*Permits are required to hike San Gorgonio all the time, whether you are day hiking or overnight backpacking.

San Gorgonio Wilderness Information


Permits are required for both day hiking and overnight trips, but there is no cost (free wilderness permit).  In order to obtain a permit for either visit the: San Gorgonio Wilderness Permits page.  This page has information on trailhead, mileage, camping locations and water sources.  Once you click MAKE (or cancel) A RESERVATION, follow the instructions on the form for the trip you’d like. 


I definitely recommend checking weather anytime and anywhere you go, especially when you’re going in higher elevations.  Weather can change at any times. Here’s some links for the trailhead and the peak.

South Fork Trailhead ForecastSan Gorgonio Peak Forecast


Maps, Books and Gear Recommendations


  1. Tom Harrison San Gorgonio Wilderness Map – I know they have a lot of guides on phones out there these days, but I love taking an old school map wherever I go.  Tom Harrison at least for local California ones is the best way to go in my opinion.
  2. BeFree Katadyn Water Filter – The area doesn’t have much water, but it does have a spring that water can be collected at.  Good to always take a water filter with you!
  3. Peak Refuel Chicken Pesto Pasta – This is a long hike and Peak Refuel offers some of the best freeze-dried backpacking meals. 
  4. Garmin inReach Mini2 – recommend this for anyone who goes out into the backcountry!

Hike Stats


the start of a long day: south fork trailhead

The plan was to do as much mileage as possible on this day, so that we get used to long days for JMT training.  Our day began early as we had a little over an hour and half drive to get to the trailhead.   We started at the South Fork entrance, which had been closed for a while due to the fire in the area earlier this year.  We kept checking updates as to which trailheads would open for us to be able to hike San Gorgonio! I recommend doing this hike if you are local for training for a larger hiker or any training hike!

The beginning of the hike you could see the devastation but thank you forestry for clearing everything up and making it safe for us to hike in the area.  We passed over about 5 creeks it was nice to see so much water flowing, but it would be the last we would see other than a spring and Dry Lake up the way.

reaching Dry Lake and the springs

The reason why we picked this trail for training was the elevation we end up at and the elevation gain.  It felt like never-ending uphill, but at this point we were in better shape as we had done a few other hard hikes the weeks before and had been training with a 30 lb vest.  Honestly, I would recommend anyone getting out there training for big backpacking trips to use the vests in their training regimens.

We reached Dry Lake around 12:30pm and decided to go fill up as much water as we can from the spring nearby; the water from Dry Lake didn’t look to inviting.  At this point, we decided not to stay near Dry Lake, but to forge onto a camp right before the last push to the top.  

I haven’t gotten stopped many times by rangers to check for permits, but at the springs there was a ranger in the area asking those around for their permits.  We showed ours and headed on our way – don’t go to the area without a permit; it is for your own safety to have one! 

reaching camp, munchie and summiting

Our permit campsite was for Trail Flats and honestly, I liked how this turned out because before summiting we set up our tent, had a good lunch and headed up towards the summit.  We were alone at Trail Flats, which was quite nice as I would have expected more people to stay at this site since it was closer to the summit.  We at a good hot meal and set out with our lighter packs for the summit with water, extra food, headlamp and some warmer clothes to be safe and as comfortable as we could.

This part of the trail to the summit seemed endless.  We only hit a couple patches of snow left, none of which was something we needed to worry about – but we did pack our micro spikes in case.  At the summit we weren’t alone, but it was such a good feeling to finally have summited this mountain, tallest in Southern California!

quiet night, running speed downhill

After our running descent back to camp, we slipped into our tent and sleeping bags and fell right asleep as we had hit 16 miles.  The night was so quiet, either that or we just fell deep into sleep from a long day on the mountain.  We awoke pretty early the next morning, made some coffee with hot chocolate and headed back down to the car.  We got down fairly quickly as there was no uphill on the way down, those are the way hikes should be right?

And guess how we got to finish our hike?  We found a small cafe and had a nice breakfast/lunch with mimosas for the win.  What a way to end a beautiful weekend.


I hope you enjoyed this write up and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to write comments below.

Happy Adventures! Annette


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