Backpacking San Jacinto Peak to Strawberry Junction via PCT - San Jacinto SP, CA

The greatest thing about San Jacinto is that it was the closest backpacking trip to SoCal we've ever done. It was nice not to spend 7+ hours in the car just to get to our destination for a change. Although the scenery wasn't as epic and diversified as some of our other Sierra trips, you can still find some true wilderness and isolation up in these mountains. Strawberry Junction was absolutely beautiful, and we would definitely consider doing a variation of this trip again since it is so close.

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Hike Info

Dates: 5/11/12 - 5/13/12

Miles: 19.5

Elevation: ~2,400

Trail Type: Loop

Trail map
Trail map

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Getting There

We hit some traffic driving to Palm Springs from San Diego on a Friday, and we ended up sprinting into the office to buy tickets ($24) for the last tram up the mountain. We were able to watch the beautiful sunset over the desert on our way up the tram. I know some people hike up the mountain from another side, but this side of the mountain looked quite steep from the tram.

Taking the aerial tram up Jacinto to the trailhead
Taking the aerial tram up Jacinto to the trailhead

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The Hike

By the time we got to the top (8,516'), filled up on water, and headed out on the trail, it was getting quite dark. I definitely felt the thinner air as we hiked in. We passed lots of climbers and day hikers coming back to the tram station as we were leaving. Since it got dark, we got lost trying to find the right trail, so by the time we actually got going, it was quite dark and cold. We hiked the 2.1 miles to Round Valley with our headlamps, found a flat spot, and quickly set up camp. It was a really cold night, and when we woke up we saw what the rest of the campground looked like.

Camping at Round Valley in the spring
Camping at Round Valley in the spring
Spending the first night of our backpacking trip at Round Valley campground
Spending the first night of our backpacking trip at Round Valley campground

The trail started passing through patches of snow, and eventually very large snow drifts that reached past my knees with each step we took. We lost the trail numerous times, and had to rely on some of the previous footprints to figure it out. Eventually we started climbing up towards the summit.

Hiking through the snow at San jacinto in the spring
Hiking through the snow at San jacinto in the spring
Hiking and backpacking San Jacinto in the snow
Hiking and backpacking San Jacinto in the snow
Hiking to San Jacinto summit early season
Hiking to San Jacinto summit early season

3.7 miles later, we were at the top of the 10,834 foot mountain peak.

At the summit of Mt. San Jacinto Peak at an elevation of 10834
At the summit of Mt. San Jacinto Peak at an elevation of 10834
The view from the top of Mount San Jacinto
The view from the top of Mount San Jacinto
Overlooking the beautiful mountain views from the peak
Overlooking the beautiful mountain views from the peak
Panorama view from Mt. Jacinto peak
Panorama view from Mt. Jacinto peak
Gourmet pizza lunch overlooking the desert
Gourmet pizza lunch overlooking the desert
Relaxing at the peak
Relaxing at the peak
Tree climbing
Tree climbing
Looking for water sources along the trail
Looking for water sources along the trail
Pumping some ice cold water at a small stream we passed
Pumping some ice cold water at a small stream we passed

At 1.3 miles we passed Little Round Valley, and then 3.8 more miles later we reached Strawberry Junction to set up camp. Each camp spot is designated by a wooden post, and they are far from each other, giving everybody some privacy. We were surprised to see all of the other camp spots taken since we hadn't seen many people on the trail all day, but we were happy with our site. As the sun set, we climbed to the top of a nearby rock pile to watch the sky change colors, and we stayed there till the stars came out.

Our beautiful campsite at Strawberry Campground
Our beautiful campsite at Strawberry Campground
Sunset from strawberry campground at Mt. San Jacinto
Sunset from strawberry campground at Mt. San Jacinto

The next day we packed up to head to continue up the PCT to Saddle Junction.

Clark ducking under a large fallen tree over the trail
Clark ducking under a large fallen tree over the trail
Clark relaxing by the creek where we had lunch
Clark relaxing by the creek where we had lunch

After our lunch at Willow Creek Crossing, we had an uphill climb on cement to arrive back at the Tram to conclude our 9.4 mile day. We originally planned this as a 3 night trip, but we felt like we had enough energy to just go ahead and do it in 2. Strawberry Junction was one of the prettiest camp spots we've seen, and we would definitely try to hike to it again, perhaps from Idyllwild.

Other useful links:

Natekat

Abhiking

Greenadventures

Localhikes

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