The San Jacinto range is one of those magical places that lures hikers back year after year. The seasons are more distinct there than most anywhere else in Southern California. Hikers also enjoy the contrasts this range offers--the feeling of hiking in Switzerland while gazing down on the Sahara.
Seven Pines Trail ascends the cascading North Fork of San Jacinto River to its headwaters at Deer Springs. The pathway travels along a granite ridge top, then drops down forested slopes to the North Fork. Energetic hikers will join the Deer Springs Trail for an ascent of Mt. San Jacinto.
For more information about facilities and trails in Mt. San Jacinto State Park, call (714) 659-2607. Remember to obtain a wilderness map from park headquarters, off California 243 just before you get to the town of Idyllwild (if you reach the town's stop sign, you're about 100 yards past it).
Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 10 in Banning, exit on California 243 (Banning-Idyllwild Road) and proceed 20 miles southeast. Just past the Alandale Forest Service Station, take the turnoff (Forest Road 4S02) toward Dark Canyon Campground. After a mile's travel on the dirt road, veer left at a junction. Pass through the camp and bear left at Azalea Trail junction to the trailhead.
The Hike: Seven Pines Trail ascends the ridge between Dark Canyon and the canyon cut by the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. You soon hike out of the San Bernardino National Forest and into Mt. San Jacinto State Park. After a mile the trail tops the ridge, descends east to the North Fork and crosses it. Now the river is slow and mellow, but in spring, when the river is swollen with snowmelt, the North Fork has quite a heady flow.
The trail climbs along a pine-and-fir-covered slope, recrosses the river and reaches a junction with Deer Springs Trail. (A right turn on this trail leads to Strawberry Junction and past Suicide Rock to California 243. Another possibility is to bear south on Marion Mountain Trail, which descends steeply a little over 2 miles to Marion Mountain Camp. A 3-mile car shuttle or walk leads back to Dark Canyon Campground and the trailhead.)
Follow Deer Springs Trail left (east) mile to the former site of Deer Springs Trail Camp. The camp, overused in past years, has been abandoned by Mt. San Jacinto State Park. However, its all-year water supply and pleasant setting make it an ideal lunch or rest stop.
A short walk up Deer Springs Trail from the former camp brings you to another junction. The fork to the left is Fuller Ridge Trail, which leads northwest 5 miles to Black Mountain Camp. However, you'll bear right at this junction. The trail switchbacks up a sunny slope, crests a ridge, continues upward to Bedspring Creek, then ascends another steep half-mile to Little Round Valley Trail Camp.
From Little Round Valley the trail climbs through stands of lodgepole pine and liber pine and in a little more than a mile arrives at a junction with San Jacinto Peak Trail. A left turn on this trail takes you a quarter-mile past a shelter cabin to the top of the 10,084-foot peak.
Clear-day views--San Gorgonio Pass, the shimmering Pacific, the Colorado Desert, distant Mexico--are superb. John Muir found the view "the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!"
Seven Pines Trail
Dark Canyon to Deer Springs: 7 1/2 miles round trip; 2,600-foot elevation gain.
Dark Canyon to Little Round Valley Camp: 10 1/2 miles round trip; 3,600-foot elevation gain.
Dark Canyon to San Jacinto Peak: 13 1/2 miles round trip; 4,400-foot elevation gain.
Wilderness Permit required.