When we lived close to Joshua Tree National Park, the town of Idyllwild was just a mere sixty-three miles away. Desert to alpine in just sixty-three miles (or ~75 minutes in the car)?! Ah-maz-ing! Honestly, the small town of 2,500 is a great pick any season during the year and it might just be our favorite mountain getaway in the area. We had enjoyed some great adventures in the area during the winter of 2019 along the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail and later the next year we thought what better way to celebrate warmer weather than to head back out to check out Tahquitz Peak!
If you’re looking for something more challenging than the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail (see our Idyllwild page here for more details), but not ready to commit to 19+ mile beast that is Mt. San Jacinto, Tahquitz Peak is an excellent choice! Although fairly heavily trafficked, we love this ~8.1 mile out-and-back adventure for its simplicity, length, shade, moderate difficulty, and (most of all) the views. The route starts from at Humber Park (parking area) and then winds through the San Bernardino National Forest taking you up to Saddle Junction via Devil’s Slide Trail. Here you’ll dive onto the PCT for a bit before finally making your final ascent up to the fire tower landing you 8,846 ft. up (the highest point in the San Bernardino National Forest). Interested? Also note that dogs and horses are welcome on this trail, so if you want to bring your four legged friend (big or small) you’ll have no problem.
This hike has a good amount of elevation gain (~2,300 feet), however our 6 year old was able to handle it no problem. Honestly, we think with the right gear (and snacks, of course) most things are possible! Note: Our Apple Watches always seem to clock the hikes longer than they are recorded by the parks or the AllTrails app. The 8.1 mile length (mentioned above) is what the AllTrails app has recorded the length of this hike to be. Our advice? Go by landmarks and make sure to have the trail map downloaded from AllTrails before venturing out just in case you lose cell signal along the way. Our 6yo (as well as us!) found the downloaded trail map a great way to manage expectations as to how far we had actually moved on the trail. Doesn’t seem like a big problem until you are counting the steps to the finish with some very tired kiddos.
To be safe, we would allow ~5-6 hours to complete the hike with the littles in tow. This gave us enough time to travel at a relaxed pace with the kids, enjoy a few breaks on the ascent/descent, as well as a prolonged lunch break up top. We completed this hike during daylight savings time, however regardless of the longer days we always pack headlamps just in case because ain’t nobody want to be on a pitch black mountainside without light.
Overall, we found the trail to be moderate in difficulty. Honestly, it’s not overly technical, and does have quite a few switchbacks making the elevation gain not quite as much of a beast.
Getting to the Trailhead/Parking
It takes 2.5 hours to reach the trailhead from LAX and 2 hours 15 minutes from San Diego International Airport. Just plug in “Humber Park” into Google Maps and off you go. It’s good to know that Idyllwild, although not as popular as Big Bear, can still get busy and parking is somewhat limited at the trailhead. So if you visit during a busy time/midday you may have to stalk someone in order to get a space. Additionally, it’s important to note that you’ll need to obtain an Adventure Pass before parking in order to be 100% legit. You can grab one of these little beauties for $5/day at any ranger station or if you’ll be back frequently you can opt for an annual pass ($30/year). Once you purchase the pass just scratch off the date and then display it from your rearview mirror – easy day.
Once parked, you’ll have access to free restrooms (albeit primitive so make sure to pack that pocket hand sanitizer and perhaps some T.P. just incase!).
Before moving into the hike, it is important to note that unlike the Ernie Maxwell Hike (which also leaves out of this same parking lot), Devil’s Slide Trail does require a special permit in addition to the $5 Adventure Pass (mentioned above) for parking. Whether you need a trail permit or not depends on when you hike.
Hikers traveling on weekends in between Memorial Day and Labor Day will need to get a special permit. Quota permits can be obtained by either showing up day of to the ranger station and seeing if any are available for the day or printing out the permit ahead of time and then faxing it to the ranger station. The folks there will then fax it back or there is always the good ole fashion USPS route. Then just bring the trail permit with you (although we have never been stopped and asked to show our permit, we have read other have, so be safe and don’t forget it at home). A word of caution, if you don’t receive your permit back in a couple weeks make sure to follow up. Our request has gotten lost in the mail before!
Hikers traveling on a weekday or outside of the Memorial to Labor Day window just need to get a free day-use permit as there is no trail quota during these times. Simply just head to the ranger station (you’ll drive right by it on your way to the park) and fill out a free permit at the little stop out front (since the box is located outside of the station you will also be able to access it even if the station is closed) and drop it in the box. Simple.
The Devil’s Slide Trail begins out of Humber Park (same place as Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail). Once you’re at the park you’ll want to drive up to the upper lot and try to snag a spot as that’s closest to the trailhead (you’ll see the bulletin boards located at the trailhead). Public restrooms are also situated here as well (note: no sink available, so make sure to pack that pocket hand sanitizer and maybe some T.P., too, just in case!). Starting up the trail, you’ll quickly come to a sign reminding you that Devil’s Slide Trail is a permit only trail as well as the San Jacinto Wilderness sign. Information for all the hiking trails located in the San Bernardino National Forest San Jacinto Ranger District can be found here.
Note: Unlike when we hiked Ernie Maxwell, Devil’s Slide Trail up to Tahquitz Peak had just a wee bit of snow along the way. This obviously varies from year to year though, so your best bet is to call the Idyllwild Ranger Station ahead of time and ask about the conditions (909-382-2921). The folks at the station are super helpful when it comes to giving up-to-date trail info. Honestly there is nothing worse than not being prepared for a tough hike other than not being prepared AND having littles along.
We took a couple breaks on our way up to Saddle Junction where we turned right to continue heading up to the peak. It’s nice to note that once you pass the Saddle, things somewhat level out for a bit and your legs get a little break from climbing. After the turn you’ll be on the PCT for a bit. Make sure to pay attention to the arrows here!
And through the pine trees you go!
After a bit you’ll reach a second junction. Here you will make another right and leave the PCT. The sign will be facing the opposite direction of the way you are hiking, but if you hike in front of it and turn around you’ll see the arrow pointing you in the direction of Tahquitz Peak Lookout (see junction sign above).
From here you’ll continue to follow the trail up to a third junction. Take a left and just a short ways up will be the fire tower. Enjoy the views, you earned them! If you packed a lunch now is a great opportunity to enjoy it! Miles in particular loves a bit of rock scrambling, so that’s how we ended up devouring lunch in the shade of a bunch of rocks. We setup our Big Agnes chairs here, too, although to be honest there wasn’t much room. There is however, a lot more room up by the fire lookout so don’t go thinking that the actual lookout is this rocky.
For the descent we came back down the same way as we came up. ~8.1 miles was enough mileage for our crew for the day. Legs tired. Happy hearts. Until next time, Idyllwild!
What to Pack
Deuter Kid Comfort Hiking Pack: In our opinion, a structured carrier is a must for this hike when carrying littles. We feel that Penny would have a significant amount of time in the saddle and in order to minimize complaining the comfier the seat the better the experience for all. In particular hand, we love this carrier for its built-in pillow, pocket made specifically for a water bladder, storage pockets, and sunshade.
Trekking Poles: Additionally we all had trekking poles and if your knees have a rough time with descents we would recommend them! This hike is by no means really technical (unless you do a bit of rock scrambling up at the top), so although they aren’t completely necessary, we feel like they are a huge help with balance with or without a kid on your shoulders.
Sunscreen: We love mineral-based sunscreen and our family go-to has been Blue Lizard. It’s a bit more expensive than many of the other brands out there, but, in our opinion, well worth it. Mineral sunscreens are a bit different than the typical ones you can find on store shelves (many of them chemical-based) as they sit directly on your skin instead of penetrating into the skin’s layers. This essentially creates a better barrier from the sun. We’ve tried many of their products and have been extremely happy with how they feel when we use them as well as how they don’t leave us looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost!
Water: When we hiked Tahquitz Peak, Dom and I each carried 3L of water and Miles (our 6yo) carried 1.5L of H2O in his Osprey HydraJet Pack. All of our water was packed in CamelBak type bladders as it’s easier to access that way and as a result we all tend to drink more because of it.
Osprey Backpack: This beauty has been on nearly every trip (+10 countries!) with us since we purchased it years ago. Osprey products are no doubt expensive, but are incredibly durable and there seems to be a spot for everything.
Snacks: If you have kids you know the value of throwing in some solid snacks. If you’re looking for some ideas our trusty “go-tos” are: fruit and nut bars, Kids Clif Bars, clementines, apple slices, trail mix, grapes, Kind Bars … you get the idea). This is a long enough hike that we would also encourage you to pack a lunch in addition to enjoy at the top. Really the views are breathtaking and as long as everyone is in good spirits you’ll probably wanna hang for a while at the peak. Our “go-to” hiking lunch is always tortillas, salami and Baby Bel cheese rollups (however I do always throw in two timeless PBJs just in case one or both of the kiddos isn’t feeling the roll-ups that day).
Hiking Boots: We love our boots! We have used them for all sorts of wilderness adventures including trekking through Nepal, climbing numerous mountains in Japan, as well as up Mt. San Jacinto! Although not completely necessary with the weather we experienced this particular day we do recommend Gor-Tex just in case of rain or snow! Nothing worse than soggy, wet feet.
Enjoy the Trails,