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Forest Falls, California, United States

San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek

At 11,503' "Old Greyback" is the tallest mountain in Southern California.

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 17.3 miles / 28 km
Duration: Full day
Overview: San Gorgonio is the tallest mountain in Southern California, and a right of passage for serious hikers in the area. At 11,503′, “Old Grayback” provides an excellent high altitude training for those preparing to summit Mt. Whitney, and only 90 minutes away from Orange County.

There are several trails leading up to San Gorgonio, but none as steep as the Vivian Creek trail, which in less than eight miles to the summit climbs over a vertical mile.

This is the last of the six southern California summits in the 6-Pack of Peaks bundle. Done in sequence, they provide great training anyone preparing for bigger hikes such as Mt. Whitney or Half Dome. Each hike in the 6-Pack is progressively higher in altitude, and all have respectable distance and vertical elevation gain.

Tips: Apply for your permit early. This is the second most popular trailhead in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and permit quotas often fill up in advance. The permits are free, and the entire process can be handled via fax.

Start hiking early. The trailhead parking officially opens at 6am. We got there about 5:35 and there were only a few spots left in the upper lot. It’s a long day, and by starting early you’ll avoid the worst of the heat. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking.

Be prepared. Yeah, it’s the old Boy Scout motto, but on an all-day mega hike like this, preparation really counts. Carry the 10 essentials. It’s a long trail. Don’t underestimate the water and electrolytes you’ll need.

Points of Interest


Vivian Creek Trailhead Parking

This is a pretty small parking lot that fills up quickly. There is a larger, lower lot for overflow parking down the hill. A National Forest Adventure Pass must be displayed in your car.

At the time of this writing, the first 1/2 mile of the trail has been temporarily rerouted along Mill Creek due to downed trees across the trail.

Vivian Creek Trail

The trail crosses the broad, rocky wash to the steep-sided slope on the north side, where you begin a grueling ascent that climbs nearly 1,000 vertical feet in a one mile.

Vivian Creek Campground

One you reach the top of the first ridge, the trail passes through Vivian Creek campground. For the next two miles, the trail darts alongside the gently sloping creek through beautiful forest.

Stay on the trail

When you cross the creek here, you'll see a false trail that veers left along the creek. Ignore that path and continue straight up the rocky steps ahead. In about 20 yards you'll reach a junction to more campsites along upper Vivian Creek.

High Creek Campground

This is the last campground you'll see en route to the summit, and the last water source. This can run dry late in summer, so play it safe and bring enough water for the entire hike.

From here, the trail climbs a number of switchbacks with good western exposure. It can get hot, if you especially if you didn't get an early start.


From here to the summit, the trail hugs this ridge. There is considerable southern exposure. This would be a good time to apply another coat of sunscreen!

There are great views to San Jacinto Peak and across the southland. Take a moment and soak them in.

[JCT] Dollar Lake

Here the trail joins the Divide trail from the west. Turn right towards the east. The summit is an easy hike from here.

[JCT] Sky High Trail

The Sky High Trail joins the ridgeline trail from the south. Continue straight east to the summit.

San Gorgonio Peak

You made it to the top of the highest peak in Southern California. Sources ascribe different elevations to this summit, so I use the 11,503' on the benchmark.

The summit itself is a broad shoulder with small to medium sized rocks. There is a summit log to sign, and if the skies are clear, you should linger as you enjoy your lunch and take in the 360 degree views.

When you've rested, retrace your steps to the Vivian Creek trailhead parking.
Pictures in this guide taken by: jeffhester, CCF_Hiker, Ze

San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail Map

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About the Author

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I live in Southern California, where most people are completely unaware of the hundreds of great hiking...

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