Bucket List Hikes in Southern California Version 1.0

“It is never too early to begin a bucket list, don’t wait for that someday that may never come.” — Annette White


Several years ago I put together a bucket list of mountain hikes I wanted to complete while we were in California. The list included:


1. Mount San Jacinto

2. Pinto Mountain

3. Mount San Gorgonio


I’m happy to say that as of October 2021, these three gems have been completed; so now it’s time to think about expanding this initial list.


Mount San Jacinto

Anyone lucky enough to view Mt San Jacinto can understand how it draws you in like a magnet. Whether I’m leading guided hikes for Friends of the Desert Mountains or exploring the Coachella Valley with friends and family, there is always some mention of San Jacinto. People may get bored with the facts I recite but hopefully they hear my passion for this mountain. No matter where you drive or hike in the valley, the mountain is always visible - only storm clouds are capable of obstructing views of this beast.


Although only the 39th highest peak in CA, San Jacinto is considered the 6th most prominent mountain in the contiguous US because in slightly less than seven horizontal miles the north face (pictured below) rises from 800 to 10,834 feet above sea level. This escarpment is one of the largest gains in elevation over such a small horizontal distance. No other mountain in the lower 48 states rises so high so fast, not even the Sierra Nevada or Grand Tetons. Naturalist John Muir wrote of San Jacinto Peak, 'The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!'.

Since we are fall and winter residents of the Coachella Valley, we have a narrow ‘weather’ window to complete these types of hikes. We need to hike late enough in the season to avoid the heat and still have sufficient daylight but early enough to avoid the snow. We were lucky to get just the right conditions and complete the climb in the fall of 2019. It’s not a technical hike but it has jaw dropping views from start to finish. Click here to be redirected to the San Jacinto blog.


Pinto Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

Did you ever just see a mountain and feel the need to climb it? I first saw Pinto Mountain back in 2018/2019 when we drove into the park from the South entrance. As the main access road winded its way through the mountain and desert landscape, the emptiness of the Pinto Basin came into full display. Most people react either one of two ways to the basin. You either think of it as boring, lifeless, and devoid of the famous Joshua trees or you get pulled into the emptiness and appreciate the solitude of these arid lands. I fell into the latter camp.


Driving through the basin, I began to focus on an unknown mountain peak that rose above the basin floor and was ringed by lesser peaks. An educational park display along the roadside identified the peak as Pinto Mountain and at that moment this mountain was elevated to a backlist hike. However, since we were nearing the end of our stay there was no way to squeeze this hike in so I was determined to make it happen the following year.

What a sense of accomplishment when we completed this hike in February 2020. The description of the hike in the AllTrails app includes the following details.


  • NOTE: Route finding for Pinto Mountain is extremely difficult and requires real off-trail navigation skills. Please use EXTRA caution and research before attempting this hike. This is an EXTREMELY strenuous cross country route to Pinto Mountain. Route finding skills, map, and compass are necessary to reach the summit. There is no official trail and many hikers find themselves making several attempts before reaching the summit.

  • CAUTION: Be prepared with GPS track and a good topo map - there is a lightly used trail on ridge but it's essential to have route-finding skills.

Completing this hike not only gave us the confidence to push ourselves even further in terms of adventures but also it gave us laughs, memorable moments (i.e. Dave almost falling onto a barrel cactus), and lasting memories. Click here to be redirected to the Pinto Mountain blog.


Mount San Gorgonio

There are two reason why San Gorgonio was included on my list. First, it sits across from San Jacinto and together these two giants stand guard over the narrow opening to the Coachella Valley. Secondly it is the tallest peak in Southern California with an elevation of 11,503 feet. Those two reason made it an obvious addition to the list.

Tallest snow capped peak left of center

There were a few problems trying to plan this hike.


1. Weather: The only reasonable time for me to hike San Gorgonio was during the early fall since by winter the mountain is snow covered and not in my preferred conditions for hiking. Finding a 2-day window of acceptable weather became my mission during the fall of 2021.


2. Solo hiking: Dave had made it clear that he no desire to sleep overnight in the San Bernardino forest to climb San Gorgonio but he understood my 'need' to complete this hike.


3. Reliable water source: On the trail I had chosen, there were no reliable sources of clean water so I needed to bring sufficient water for this adventure. Water equals weight and to be exact I carried 9 liters or 20 pounds of water for this hike. Add in the weight for my food, tent, sleeping bag, and other items and it turned out be close to 40 pounds.


These 3 factors might not be significant for some of you but for me it was a new experience and a challenge. Summiting San Gorgonio was a great moment for me personally. Over the first hour of the hike, my initial nerves were replaced with confidence a renewed feeling of strength and recognition that age is not slowing me down ... at least not yet. Click here to be redirected to the San Gorgonio blog.


Now as I sit comfortably at home in New Hampshire, I’ve begun researching new bucket list hikes. I can’t hold off aging so there is no time to waste. I think Dave’s getting nervous and frequently checking my Google search history. Maybe Mount Baldy. More news to follow!


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