Objective: Summit San Jacinto Peak, San Jacinto Mountains, California
Distance: 10.3 miles (out and back)
Peak Elevation: 10,834′
Elevation Gain: 2,506′
San Jacinto is one of “Three Saints,” ultra-prominent mountains over 10,000’ in So-Cal: San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, San Antonio (Baldy). It is also the highest point in Riverside County. Taking the Aerial Tramway from Palm Springs to Mountain Station is a nice shortcut. However, this is still a challenging hike that provides great altitude training for taller peaks.
Directions to Trailhead
Drive east on the 210. Head east on the 10. After Cabazon, take exit 111 for CA-111. Turn right on Tram Way and parking is at the end of the road. Take the tram to Mountain Station.
Directions to Summit
Trailhead: At Mountain Station, follow the concrete path to the ranger station.
0.33 miles: Trailhead: Hike along the Round Valley Trail.
0.46 miles: At the junction sign “Round Valley 2 →”, turn right and hike along Long Valley Creek.
0.90 miles: At the junction, turn left and head southwest to Round Valley.
1.84 miles: At the junction, turn right and head west to Round Valley Campground.
2.22 miles: At the junction, keep left.
3.10 miles: At Wellman Divide, turn right at the junction to go north on Wellman Divide Trail.
4.80 miles: At the junction, make the final push up San Jacinto Summit Trail. There is Class 2 scrambling below the top.
5.10 miles: You have reached the summit. Turn around and head back.
5.70 miles: At the bend, leave the trail for Class 3 scrambling to Miller Peak.
5.80 miles: Return to Mountain Station.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway shaves 5,873′ of elevation gain and 11 miles off the legendary Cactus to Clouds hike. The ride is one of the highlights and while passing each tower, the tram disconcertingly sways like a yo-yo. The tram rotates so everyone has great views of the crags and sheer granite walls. Once the tram doors open with a hydraulic whoosh, the expedition begins down a concrete path from Mountain Station. At the ranger station, you must fill out a self-issued permit, where you can also purchase souvenirs.
The Round Valley Trail starts off relatively flat as it rambles through Long Valley. At the junction to Round Valley, fork right as the trail climbs tight switchbacks and negotiates some bridges and boulders. The route progresses through a nicely shaded pine and fir forest and passes a green meadow.
From the Round Valley Campground, you steadily ascend a slope to a saddle between Jean Peak and Marion Mountain. The combination of steepness and distance is rather strenuous. Wellman Divide provides a sweeping look at the southern ridges and valleys all the way to the Salton Sea.
The trail parallels the ridgeline above connecting Jean Peak and San Jacinto Peak. After a spot where it looks like many boulders have fallen, climb the long, sunny, unswerving side of the mountain. The slope looks like a bed of pesto green bushes with white burrata cheese balls. The path makes a 180 degree turn near the saddle between San Jacinto and Jean Peak.
The Summit Trail quickly zig zags up some switchbacks past the San Jacinto Peak Shelter. You can slide the bolt and look at the mountain shelter. Soon, the trail disappears and it becomes an easy Class 2 scramble to the giant boulders atop San Jacinto Peak. Due to the prominence of the peak, you can survey the lands below for many miles in every direction.
As a bonus, you can backtrack to the sharp bend, go off-trail until reaching the rising pile of stone slabs. Execute some Class 3 scrambling to gain Miller Peak.
Parking at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway lot costs $5. A roundtrip ticket on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway costs $25.95. You must fill out a self-issued permit at the ranger station.
San Jacinto Peak is the high point of the San Jacinto Mountains and Riverside County, CA. John Muir wrote, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!”