back to home pageMay 12, 2012
When most people hear of a trail that starts at the desert floor and ascends over 10,000 ft to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto, the first thing that usually pops into their heads is the "Cactus to Clouds" trail. Cactus to Clouds is well known, well traveled, and easily accessible. It is seemingly the only one of its kind in Southern California.
What many don't know is that there is another one of those such trails which ascends a completely different side of the mountain. The elevation gain of this trail is slightly lower than that of Cactus to Clouds, but the overall distance is longer. This "Snow Creek Trail to San Jacinto (S2S)," is the only trail that ascends Mt. San Jacinto from the north. It contains very different scenery than one would encounter on any other part of the mountain. Out of all the trails I have hiked in the San Jacinto Mountains, in my opinion S2S is the most scenic one, even more scenic than Cactus to Clouds.
S2S begins on a road a little over a tenth of a mile before (north of) Snow Creek Village (elevation 1,200 ft), a small settlement below the north face of Mt. San Jacinto. Because of DWA property issues, one must park here and then walk 1.2 miles up a gravel road to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (1,700 ft), which branches off to the right. From here, the PCT switchbacks 16.3 miles to a campground and picnic area at Fuller Ridge (7,700 ft). After Fuller Ridge, the PCT goes for 5 more miles to intersect the Deer Springs Trail (8,900 ft). From here, exit the PCT and head 1 mile up the Deer Springs Trail towards Little Round Valley (9,800 ft), and then another 1.6 mi to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (10,834 ft). From here, most choose to hike 5.5 mi down the popular San Jacinto Peak Trail to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (8,500 ft), take the tram down, and shuttle back to their cars at Snow Creek Trailhead.Getting to the trailhead (from the west):
Take I-10 east, 6 miles past Cabazon, and turn right onto CA 111. Travel 1 mile on CA 111, then turn right onto the paved Snowcreek Canyon Rd. Travel 1.6 miles on Snowcreek Canyon Rd until you see two signs on either side of the road: one that says "Snow Creek Wildlife Refuge" to the left and another that says "Snow Creek Village" to the right. This is the trailhead. Upon starting your hike, be sure to veer left onto another paved road (Falls Creek Rd) 100 ft further up Snowcreek Canyon Rd from the trailhead. If you continue up Snowcreek canyon Rd, you will enter Snow Creek Village. You should not have to pass through any part of the village for this route.
Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 33.893765, -116.682985
Left turn onto Falls Creek Rd: 33.893587, -116.682969
It was early in the morning at around 2:30 am as twelve pairs of feet began hitting the pavement. Temperatures were supposed to rise over 100F on the desert floor later that day. At 3am, the temperature was already in the low 80s. A steady 40mph wind managed to keep us cool for the first mile or so. We hoped to get above 4,000 ft by sunrise, when the heat would really start vamping up. We started up the main road, but this proved to be wrong as we ended up in Snow Creek Village. We doubled back and found the left branching road. There was a gate at the intersection with a sign reading "no trespassing on watershed property." Feeling excited, Desmond and I quickened the pace. Soon, we had the group somewhere behind us. I didn't know how far they were because I couldn't make out their lights anymore. We kept on walking. After a while, I thought to myself that this could not be right. We had walked more than 1.2 miles. Suddenly, we head a voice on Desmond's radio. It was Mihai, who said that the group was already at the PCT turnoff and was wondering where we were. Oops, looked like we missed it. We doubled back and found it. It was an obvious turnoff. Someone had even spray painted "PCT" on a rock. There were another group of hikers bivying there. It looked like our large group had woken them up.
The PCT gradually switchbacked up the hillside. The upwards angle was so gentle that most of us were barely aware that we were ascending. Everyone was still generally quiet, probably not awake yet because of the early start. The only sounds that followed us were the rustles of legs brushing against desert shrubs. It was a very peaceful morning. As we ascended, it was nice to feel the temperature gradually drop. We reached 4,200 ft at sunrise.