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, this small town of 2,500 is a great pick any season during the year.

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Located in the San Jacinto Mountains and usually 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?

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Hiking

Ernie Maxwell

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.

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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).

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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.**

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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. 

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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.

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Mount San Jacinto via Deer Springs Trail

John Muir once wrote that the view from San Jacinto is “the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this Earth.” Well, say no more, we’re going! When we moved to the Southern California Desert in 2019 we spent a good chunk of time exploring with the majority of those trips heading towards Palm Springs. Each drive we would wind around this curve and there staring us in the face would be Mt. San Jac in all its glory. As a result, Dom and I decided – “We gotta climb this thing!” Many folks take the Palm Spring Ariel Tramway and then climb up to the top from there. But Dom and I like a good challenge and thought might as well do the full hike leaving outta Idyllwild splitting it up into two days with the kids in tow! As luck would have it, Dom’s sister Nikki had some time off work the weekend we planned on tackling the hike and was looking for a little adventure as well!

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It was a grand 2-day adventure and we plan on outlining the full trip in later post as honestly this one was one for the books and deserves a page all of its own! If you’re reading this blog you (probably) have kids and well…we just wanted to give you a friendly reminder to never let anyone ever tell you adventuring stops when you have littles. It simply isn’t true. If you are sitting over there reading this thinking “there is no way my child is going to hike 19+ miles and camp in snow,” you may or may not be right. However, if you build them up little by little we think you’ll be surprised with how much they are capable of doing. Little people bring challenges, yes, however, they bring so much more than that. Their resilience. Their love for all things great and small as well as their desire to spend time with you make them some of the most awesome travel companions on the planet. Just give them a challenge and watch what they do with it!

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Oh, and San Jacinto was one of the most epic hikes we did while in Southern California. Read our full post (coming soon) for all the deets!

Mt. San Jacinto via Deer Springs Trail:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Permit is required for this hike. Applications for permits are accepted up to 56 days in advance via snail mail. Telephone or fax requests will not be accepted. Fees are $5.00 per person payable by check or money order (do not send cash) to California State Parks. To download the permit click here.
  • Parking: Free

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Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail

If you’re looking for something more challenging than the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail (see above), but not ready to commit to San Jacinto yet, 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, and views. The route starts off at Humber Park (parking area) and then winds through the San Bernardino 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.

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There is a good dose of elevation gain (~2,300 feet) on this one, 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! Overall, we found the trail to be moderate in difficulty and not overly technical.

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 the spring 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.

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Note: Our Apple Watches always seem to clock the hikes longer than they are recorded by the parks/the AllTrails app. The 8.1 mile length (mentioned above) is what the park website has recorded 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. Our 6yo (as well as us!) found the downloaded trail map a great way to manage expectations as to how far we had hiked as our watches (as mentioned previously) tend to over estimate distance which can be a bit of a bummer when your legs are starting to tire.

For all the deets including info on permits, hiking directions, as well as suggestions on what to pack see our full post on tackling Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail.

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Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Permit required
  • 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.

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