Southern California always floors us with its environmental variety. When we lived close to Joshua Tree National Park, the town of Idyllwild was just a mere sixty-three miles away. Desert to mountain winter-wonderland in just sixty-three miles (or ~75 minutes in the car)?! Ah-maz-ing! Although it’s not always snowy (duh.) this small town of 2,500 is a great pick any season during the year.

DSC01778

Located in the San Jacinto Mountains and usually a tad less busy than Big Bear, Idyllwild is full of outdoor activities. Whether you’re spending a few days in bustling Palm Springs or visiting J.T, National Park, we encourage you to make a day trip to check it out this peaceful little spot, after all, who can resist an adorable mountain town filled with towering pines, locally owned shops and cute restaurants?

DSC01776

Hiking

If you’re interested in diving into nature, Idyllwild is loaded with numerous hiking trails that cater to a wide range of ability levels. If you don’t have a ton of time or perhaps you have wee ones we recommend checking out the Erine Maxwell Trail! Although this trail is fairly heavily trafficked, we love it for its simplicity, length, easy difficulty, and beauty. Unlike some of the other hikes in the area, it does NOT require a special permit in addition the the $5 Adventure Pass mentioned below. The gorgeous 5 mile route (2.5 miles each way) winds through the woods and presents with some gorgeous views (particularly of Tahquiz Rock). Moreover, with only a slight elevation gain (859 feet) we feel almost anyone interested in hiking can handle it.

DSC01692

DSC01701

To be safe, we would allow 60 – 75minutes each way of hike time or ~2.5hours of daylight to complete the route (although we have done it in as little as 50 minutes each way this is most certainly at a very hustled pace).

DSC01738

Pro Tip: Pack headlamps or your trusty travel flashlight just in case! The day we visited there was fresh snowfall and the parking area was super crowded. The upper parking lot was completely snowed under, so there were only about 9 legal spots just outside the main area.  It took us a good bit of time to finally nab a legal parking spot. Not a lot of people were actually on the trail, but quite a few people were there with sleds just to play in the snow.  Consequently,  we got a bit later start than we were expecting and had to hustle to get back before dark. **Beware, we’ve read in multiple places (including their Facebook page) that they routinely ticket and/or tow vehicles parked illegally.**

DSC01734

Our experience on the trail was obviously dominated by the 18+ inches of snow that dumped on the area the previous week, but overall we found the trail to be easy to moderate in difficulty. It has a pyramidal shaped elevation curve, as you climb from the parking lot up to the highest portion before slowly making your way back down. It’s not overly technical but still provides some amazing views of Tahquiz Rock and the surrounding mountains. 

DSC01749

We plan on going back for one of the longer wilderness hikes in the area requiring permits either later in the winter or next spring, so we will make sure to keep this page updated with more info as we get it! There are hundreds of miles of trails in the area, so we will have plenty to keep us busy.

Ernie Maxwell Hiking Trail:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: Free, however it’s limited at the trailhead, so if you visit during a busy time you may have to stalk someone in order to get one – after all who wants to have a ticket on their windshield after a peaceful hike? 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 at any ranger station. Once you purchase the pass just scratch off the date and then display it from your rearview mirror – easy day.

DSC01795

Full disclosure we act as an affiliate for several sites, so clicking through and purchasing products via our links does make us a little money and allows us to continue to put out (hopefully) useful content.