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 one might think the scenery here isn't as epic and diversified as what is found in the Sierra, you can still experience some true wilderness, isolation, and raw beauty 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.
Dates: 5/11 - 5/13
Miles: 19.5 roundtrip
Trail Type: Loop
Trailhead: Google Maps
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.
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 started hiking. 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.
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.
3.7 miles later, we were at the top of the 10,834 foot mountain peak.
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.
The next day we packed up to head to continue up the PCT to Saddle Junction.
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.
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