Deep in the pine forests of Southern California lies Mount San Jacinto State Park. Located along the famed 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail and only two hours from Los Angeles and San Diego, California, this sprawling 14,000-acre state park is a bustling outdoor playground. At 10,384 feet above sea level, the rugged granite summit of Mount San Jacinto is the second highest peak in Southern California.
For those not up to the Herculean task of conquering such a towering peak by trail, the summit can be accessed via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in Chino Canyon. Don't miss out, as American naturalist John Muir wrote, "the view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!"
Mount San Jacinto State Park offers two beautiful campgrounds located near the rustic town of Idyllwild. The Idyllwild and Stone Creek Campgrounds provide a variety of options including RV and primitive camping. At Idyllwild, RV campers will appreciate sewer, potable water, and electrical hookups, allowing for a fully functional basecamp to drop anchor. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Stone Creek Campground offers dry camping and more of a wilderness feel, as no hookups are available there. Do keep in mind that the maximum RV length is 24 feet, pets are required to be on a leash, and the park is usually covered with snow from November to April
RV Rentals in Mount San Jacinto State Park
Transportation in Mount San Jacinto State Park
At over 14,000 acres, Mount San Jacinto State Park is spread out and driving terrain varies greatly. In Idyllwild, near the park headquarters, visitor center, and ranger station, RV campers will find a small town feel with limited parking. The main highway, 243, is a single-lane road. Steep inclines and tight corners up at elevation make for some hairy traveling. The campground's maximum RV length is 24 feet. Within Idyllwild Campground, parking areas are limited to campsites and a couple small lots near the campground entrance. Up at Stone Creek Campground, designated parking areas are restricted to personal campsites only.
The park is typically covered in snow during the winter months. What makes for a gorgeous whitewashed landscape also requires drivers to be diligent in their preparation. Chains are required for many vehicles when things get slick, especially at elevation. When descending in a big rig or hauling a trailer, remember that no matter how well you climb, braking on a downhill is an entirely different animal. Even four-wheel drive vehicles will need to take extra precautions. That said, during fair weather you will gain easy access to beautiful vista views, world-class hiking trails, and attractive amenities that are well worth your effort.
Campgrounds and parking in Mount San Jacinto State Park
Campsites in Mount San Jacinto State Park
With 31 developed campsites, including one "Hike & Bike" site for those hikers on the PCT, Idyllwild is compact and user-friendly. While there a few sites with full RV hookups, some only provide electric hookups. Campers will appreciate the picnic table and fire ring at each site, as well as the food locker to help keep wildlife at bay. Fires are only allowed in established fire rings or camp stoves. Some sites are tight and the maximum trailer and RV length is 24 feet. Try and respect quiet hours and other guests, campers are asked to only operate generators during the day. Idyllwild Campground does have bathrooms with flushing toilets and tap water. Reservations are available year-round, and there are some tent sites to choose from in case a tagalong buddy requires a place to crash in the great outdoors. Heads up, dogs must be leashed at all times and not allowed on wilderness trails.
Stone Creek Campground
At 5,900 feet, Stone Creek is relatively hard to reach compared to Idyllwild Campground. Located about six miles from town, navigating here will take you up some hefty inclines and around some windy roads. Stone Creek is a seasonal campground open May through October. The campground offers 48 developed sites to choose from, 22 of which are designated for tenting and primitive camping only, so be sure to check in well in advance if you plan on setting up shop in your rig here. Reservations are only available when the park is open.
Stone Creek Campground offers a nearby alternative with a more backcountry vibe. RV sites provide electric hookups, however, no water or sewer hookups are available in the campground. Stone Creek Campground is off the beaten path while remaining well-monitored and giving campers access to beautiful hiking trails, as well as plenty of nearby attractions including Humber Park, Devil's Slide Trail to Tahquitz Peak, and Panorama Point Trail, a one-mile scenic viewpoint loop. Be aware, chains may be necessary on vehicles tires during winter weather.
There are no first-come, first-served campgrounds at this state park.
Seasonal activities in Mount San Jacinto State Park
Known to some as the eighth wonder of the world, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches a staggering 2,650 miles through three western states, all the way from Mexico to Canada. Roughly 180 miles from the PCT's southern terminus in Campo, CA, through hikers often find respite at Idyllwild Campground. Not feeling so ambitious? No worries. Share stories and learn about the unlimited hiking possibilities. Offer a cold drink or a campfire dog to a grubby trail mutt and you will win their infinite gratitude. Heads up: day hikers require permits to enter the wilderness, which can be obtained at any ranger station. Hopefully, you packed your boots in your camper because Mount San Jacinto is a hiker's paradise.
Enjoying the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway & Mountain Station
After you've taken in the sights on the rotating cabin of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, you may want to rest and refuel, pick up a gift for Grandma, and learn about the history of Mount San Jacinto State Park. Hang out at Mountain Station where you can enjoy two restaurants, the gift shop, snack bar, and state visitor center, all at 8,500 feet in the sky. In addition, you will find a picnic area with barbecue stoves and restrooms, a self-guiding nature trail, a ski center, and panoramic mountain views from Desert View Trail. Strop in, grab a bite ,and make some memories.
Bouldering at The Tramway
Crash pad in tow? Great, get ready to send it then. Known as "The Tramway'' because most climbers use the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to access it, this bouldering area is prime real estate for travelers looking to grab some granite. The boulders here are fairly well consolidated, but traffic is not super dense. When you get off the tramway, there is some pretty steep warm-up climbing while making your way to the site, but it is fairly close to the Tramway station so consider it a hearty warm-up. Well worth it though, considering there are almost 500 climbs ranging from the V0 "Emerald City," to the precarious V7 "Swing Dance." Don't forget to fill out a wilderness permit, even if you're only there climbing for the day.
Nature & Wildlife Viewing
Mount San Jacinto State Park is host to a complex ecosystem, sure to excite everyone from the budding dendrologist to the burgeoning birder. Study species from Jeffrey, lodgepole, and sugar pines, to red crossbills, chickadees, white-headed woodpeckers, and more. In 2002, 255 acres of Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness was designated as the Hidden Divide Natural Preserve, guaranteeing the highest level of protection to the regions sensitive environment. Then, in 2013, the Rustic Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A true naturalist haven, be sure to get down to earth and enjoy one of America's finest wild places.
Grab some goodies at the local farmers market, visit one of the parks many picnic areas, or set up shop at your personal campsite and take part in this favorite American past time. Perhaps #vanlife has been a bit fast paced and you and the fam require some quality time, or maybe you haven't enjoyed a flame-broiled burger in a while and you're craving burnt meat. Regardless of your drive, downshift and drop gears as you sit by the campfire and slow down for a home-cooked meal outside the RV.
Showshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing
Take the 15-minute ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and step into a winter wonderland. As one of the world’s largest and longest single-lift passenger tramways offering stunning scenic views of the valley below, you might want to stay on for the ride down to witness it for a second time. But, once you hop off and make your way toward the trails, you won't want to turn back. If you have your gear with you, great, just strap up and go. If not, don't worry, head to the Winter Adventure Center and they'll get you going with one of their winter sports packages.