Although this trail is out of the way, it is a great little hike with good views of the countryside and San Jacinto Mountains. It’s easy to get to, has great parking, and the trail has recently been improved thanks to the California Conservation Corps.
- Distance: 5 miles round-trip, or 4.5 miles if you decide not take descend to the river
- Elevation gain: 500 ft. in the first 2 miles, another 500 ft. if you decide to go down to the river and back up
- Difficulty: Easy if you take the 4.5 mile option, a great hike for beginners. The 5-mile option is moderately strenuous.
- Trail type: mostly dirt, very few rocks, seasonal streams
- Restrooms: none
- Trail hazards: This is the only trail where I’ve found ticks on my clothes, so be sure to wear repellent and check your skin afterwards.
- Parking: National Forest Adventure Pass
- My completion time: 2.5 hours
From the 215 take the 74 freeway east for 29 miles. You will pass through Homeland, then Hemet, then into the National Forest heading to Idyllwild. The dirt parking area for the trailhead will be on your right, just fater a hairpin curve. It’s difficult to spot from the road, so keep an eye out for the two rectangular-shaped water towers as you ascend Highway 74, they mark the parking lot area. They are most visible upwards and to your right just before you get into the hairpin curve in the road. This is the direct route takes you through Hemet, check Google Maps or your navigation system for quicker alternatives. GPS: N33 41.51 / W116 45.36
The trail begins on the south side of the parking lot, which you can see in the above map is marked “South Fork Trail.” The first 20 minutes of the hike rise steadily uphill, but it really flattens out after that. I first did this hike after the amazing storms that occurred in late December of 2010, so there were several seasonal streams and waterfalls to enjoy along the way. Also due to the storms, the California Conservation Corps was on the trail clearing vegetataion and repairing storm damage to make this trail usable. Thanks guys! You are the best.
After about two miles, you will notice a steep decline as you head towards the San Jacinto River. You can stop here and enjoy the views of the valley below, making your hike 4.5 miles round-trip. If you decide to head down to the river, the trail descends 500 ft. in about a quarter of a mile.
Once you’ve descended the trail, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the rushing San Jacinto River, or if you are lucky like me, spot a colony of ladybugs. Spotting a ladybug colony is wondrous. It’s happened to me three times in my life…it starts when you see a speck of red, and a few more, and then your eyes begin to take in the enormity of their numbers. You start seeing them everywhere. It’s creepy and fascinating at the same time. When I did this hike, there were massive amounts of ladybugs, clumped together in baseball-sized groups all along the riparian shore.
It was truly amazing and it’s one of the things I love about hiking – getting to see cool wildlife. Plus, it made the trek back up worth it! It is definitely a steep climb back out of the valley, so take it slow and easy. The rest of the way back to the trailhead is a cinch, and before you know it you’ve hiked 5 miles!