San Gorgonio Vivian Creek Trail Overview
Back in mid August my wife and I while continuing to train for Cactus to Clouds took the 18.79. mile round trip up Vivian Creek Trail to the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain and back down. San Gorgonio is one of our longest day hikes together so far, and honestly one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done in Southern California!
San Gorgonio, similar to Mt Baldy is just outside of LA. San Gorgonio is East of Mt Baldy and just North of San Jacinto where the Cactus to Clouds trail is located.
The trailhead for San Gorgonio was about a 2+ hour drive for us from San Diego and was thus another super early morning leaving around 4am.
San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek trailhead starts and ends at the Vivian Creek Trail Parking Lot. Clocked on my Garmin Fenix 7, the entire out and back trip was 18.79 miles with 5,450 feet of elevation gain. The entire hike took us 10 hours and 18 minutes total with a moving time of 8 hours and 31 minutes. The total elevation of San Gorgonio is 11503 feet. I will never forget that because in my head near the top I thought it was 11,00 feet, and thought I was closer to the top then I actually was... I was a bit tired.
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San Gorgonio Vivian Creek Trail Map
The San Gorgonio trail map below can be viewed and downloaded on Caltopo here.
San Gorgonio Packing List
I have been intentionally packing on the heavy side for day hikes recently in preparation for Cactus to Clouds training. It's been a pretty hot Summer in California as well so I wanted to pack plenty of water, which I may have been a bit overkill on this one. If I was doing this hike again, my biggest change to my pack would be less water and to bring a water filter. For someone who prides themselves in detailed planning, I really was disappointed that I didn't realize how much running water was on this hike. I was pleasantly surprised! With that said, don't just read this article and think you can go light on water and bring a filter. Conditions change yearly and make sure you confirm that there is a good flow before attempting with less water.
My entire pack weight came out to 27.58 pounds, and you can view everything I took with me in detail here.
San Gorgonio Trail Guide
We arrived at the San Gorgonio Trail Parking lot a little before 6am in the morning. At this time the parking lot was already filling up with everyone trying to beat the heat up the mountain.
ℹ️ For the latest info on Vivian Creek Trail 1E08 along with permit info, please check out the official Forest Service Website for Vivian Creek trail, here.
Their official website has info on parking fees and trail permits.
When we parked it was pitch black outside, and we had to pull out our headlamps to make use of the bathrooms at the trailhead. Once we prepped our gear we were off onto the trail basically right at 6am. The sun was just poking out and the temperature was perfect.
From the parking lot head out east and you will start off hiking along a fairly well maintained wide dirt road that follows a creek bed.
Just about a half mile up the dirt road you will see a turn off to cross the creek bed. Read the sign warning and don't attempt this hike after heavy rains. The creek bed can become dangerous and you will not always be able to cross.
This is a pretty wide and rocky creek crossing. When we were there the actual running water portion was not too wide but the entire creek bed was very wide and all rocks. When we turned off the road into the creek bed there was a loose path through the rocks that you could follow across to the other side. The "path" that was worn down by other hikers got pretty light in some sections, so try and look across and spot where the trailhead picks back up across the way you are, not following what you think is the path and getting a little off course. I provide this advice only because we wandered off course slightly as you can see below. Not a huge deal but worth paying attention to.
Once across Mill Creek the real fun of the San Gorgonio climb begins. After the nice stroll along the wide dirt road and the pretty scenic creek cross, the climbing begins! It may have some switchbacks but it's still pretty darn steep and you will gain the initial elevation of this hike as you move up towards Vivian Creek.
AS you climb up from Mill Creek up the steep switchbacks the views are. stunning, especially in the early morning sun. If you listen closely you will know when you are approaching the end of the steep switchbacks as you will begin to hear Vivian Creek get louder and louder (If it's flowing).
After these first set of switchbacks the trail really flattens out as it meanders along Vivian Creek. As someone who has been living in Southern California for a number of years hiking all over San Diego, it was magical to be in this lush green forest. Maybe I just didn't notice it on the climb, because of the valley views... or just dealing with the steepness of the climb. But once the trail leveled out it was as if I was transported to another world. From this point to Halfway Camp was just stunning, and the trail just flew by!
After you pass the sign for Halfway Camp, the trail begins to climb a little quicker with some long sweeping switchbacks. As you approach this section the trail gets a little rocky but the views are mesmerizing as you continue to gain altitude.
After this set of switchbacks the trail starts to approach High Creek Camp. High Creek Camp is roughly around 5.8 miles into the hike and is right before what I call the endless switchbacks. At this point in the hike I was feeling pretty good but starting to feel a little tired from the early wake up, long drive and the hiking up to this point. The next mile and a half of trail is all switchbacks and seemed to go by the slowest for me on the way up.
I think it felt slow because it was just back and forth, and you had no view of the summit to help motivate you every step uphill.
Once you make it through these switchbacks you come up onto a ridge-line with beautiful views. Maybe that's actually why I didn't like the switchbacks leading up to this point, they lacked drastic views to distract my mind.
This area looked fairly recently burned in the last few years, but the trees were also starting to get sparse due to the elevation. At this point we were just shy of 10k feet in elevation. I was tired but feeling good, and trying to get a glimpse of the summit and figure out how much trail we had left.
I am not sure if I was just tired at this point, or just completely forgot that San Gorgonio was about 11,500 feet.... I had it in my head for some reason that it was only 11k feet. Which was messing with. my head a little I basically thought we were a tiny bit closer to the summit then we actually were.
From here we are more on a ridge line, so say goodbye to any real large switchbacks and get ready for the final strong push to the top. From here it is just about 2.4 miles to the summit, and it's a slug up at this point. I felt pretty tired but ok once we got to the view point, but from here on out my energy levels quickly started going down. This sea level living beach lifestyle of San Diego was starting to be felt as I approached 11k feet.
I am not new to being at higher levels of elevation, I have hiked the High Sierra Trail and summited Mt Whitney, and my wife and I made a Mt Shasta Attempt on here 30th Birthday. I have been up above 11k a number of times, and luckily never got any serious forms of altitude sickness. On this hike up San Gorgonio, I never got a headache or felt like I was going to throw up. I just felt tired and my body wasn't a fan right now of getting less and less oxygen with each breath.
With the tree line fading away, we could see the long straight slug ahead of us.
One thing I love about long hikes into higher elevations is the social experience you almost always find yourself in on the last mile push. Everyone on the trail at this point has woken up early, hiked all day, and feeling the effects of higher elevation. Essentially there is always a small group of people you just keep leapfrogging each other back and forth for the last little bit of trail to the summit. Each group taking a quick standing break to catch their breadth and murmur slurs of encouragement to each other back and forth. It's like a super exhausted, tired cheering squad of strangers. I love it.
In this area a few trails start to cross each other as well. So even though you are tired make sure you are still paying attention to navigating. Don't want to accidentally start walking down hill before you get to the summit!
The closer you get to the summit, it kind of looks like it's getting flatter, and as you can see in the picture above it's a bit of a false summit. As you are hiking up, you might think where the rocks meet the bright blue sky is the summit, but it unfortunately is not. But don't worry it's not too much longer. Once you get a glimpse of what looks to be a big pile of rocks, that's the summit, the big pile of rocks.
When we finally reached the pile of rocks, we sat down and broke out some victory snacks to enjoy the view. The summit had a ton of happy hikers and runners on it this particular day and we waited a little for a couple of groups to head down. We did have to wait a few minutes in line to get our summit shot holding the San Gorgonio sign, but it was well worth it!
After enjoying the views, snapping a few pictures and refueling, it was time to start heading home. That's when it hit me... we hiked just over 9 miles up to the summit of San Gorgonio and now we had to hike another 9ish miles back down to the parking lot.
The hike down was less tiring, but 9ish miles of down hill is rough on an already exhausted body. The down hill was definitely the worst part of this hike.
Despite the long painful down hill, San Gorgonio is top on my list for most beautiful Southern California hiking trail!