San Bernardino County is a county in the southern portion of the state of California. It spans 20,105 square miles – that’s the largest county by area in the entirety of the United States. San Bernardino County has been in existence since 1853. Its population has consistently grown since its founding and now rests close to 2.2 million people. That’s just over 5 percent of the entire population of California (39.24 million)!
This county has a lot to offer, but we’re going to focus on the biggest thing – quite literally. San Bernardino is home to southern California’s highest peak – San Gorgonio Mountain. This mountain has an incredible summit hike that we’re going to take a look at in this article. Let’s start by taking a closer look at San Gorgonio Mountain!
About San Gorgonio Mountain
San Gorgonio Mountain is a southern California giant, towering at an elevation of 11,503 feet! San Gorgonio has a prominence of 8,294 feet and possesses more than one name. It adopted the name ‘Old Greyback’ due to its shape and slope. This mountain is the 7th most topographically prominent peak in the United States. It can be seen clearly from the summit of Mount Whitney (190 miles away).
The mountain is part of the Transverse Range and has a pyramid shape that is similar to other mountains in the range. The plateau on the summit of San Gorgonio is huge – a full square mile. The mountain is long and broad along with being tall. High erosion plateaus have characteristics similar to the shape of old Greyback. The mountain is rich with fault lines that help define its shape. Three rivers source their waters from this mountain – the Whitewater, San Gorgonio, and Santa Ana Rivers.
Where is San Gorgonio Mountain on a Map?
San Gorgonio Mountain protrudes from the San Gorgonio Wilderness in San Bernardino County, California. It lies nearly due east of the city of San Bernardino.
How San Gorgonio Compares to Other California Mountains
It’s true that San Gorgonio is the tallest mountain in southern California. However, its height pales in comparison to several other California mountains. We’ve included a table of the 15 tallest mountains in California – all of which tower over Old Greyback. You’ll notice, though, that only a few of the peaks match or beat the prominence of San Gorgonio. We will highlight those in bold lettering so you can see the differences in prominence between some of the largest mountains in California and the largest mountain in Southern California. As a reminder, the prominence of San Gorgonio is an impressive 8,294 feet.
|1. Mount Whitney||14,505 feet||10,080 feet|
|2. Mount Williamson||14,379 feet||1,676 feet|
|3. White Mountain Peak||14,252 feet||7,196 feet|
|4. North Palisade||14,248 feet||2,894 feet|
|5. Mount Shasta||14,179 feet||9,772 feet|
|6. Mount Humphreys||13,992 feet||2,563 feet|
|7. Mount Keith||13,982 feet||1,936 feet|
|8. Mount Darwin||13,837 feet||1,891 feet|
|9. Mount Kaweah||13,807 feet||2,027 feet|
|10. Mount Morgan||13,758 feet||2,648 feet|
|11. Mount Gabb||13,747 feet||2,601 feet|
|12. Mount Tom||13,657 feet||1,992 feet|
|13. Mount Dubois||13,565 feet||2,339 feet|
|14. Mount Pinchot||13,500 feet||2,110 feet|
|15. Mount Ritter||13,149 feet||3,990 feet|
Notice how only three mountains compare in prominence to San Gorgonio? Only two mountains in the top 15 have greater prominence than San Gorgonio. That’s pretty wild when you look at their impressive elevations.
The San Gorgonio Mountain Hike
There are a few ways to get to the summit of Old Greyback, but the most popular one is the Vivian Creek Trail. This hike is not for beginners, but it will take determined hikers all the way to the large, open summit of San Gorgonio Mountain. Out and back, the trail is nearly 18 miles long and rated as challenging. This hike requires a permit, but don’t worry. The permit is free, just limited. You can use the permit to day hike the mountain, overnight backpack the trail, or simply explore the wilderness in the area surrounding the mountain.
Alltrails.com says that the average hike time for this trail is nearly 11 hours. Hikers will gain nearly 5,500 feet of elevation to reach the summit. Be considerate of your physical capabilities before attempting this hike. Since the average time to traverse it takes nearly the whole day, make sure that you are prepared with plenty of food and water when you go. The hike could take more or less time than the estimated average, depending on your walking speed, need for breaks, and weather conditions.
You’ll pass plenty of beauty on this steep climb. The trail takes you through coniferous forests and near streams before you climb above the tree line and experience sweeping views the rest of the way to the summit. The summit is a beautiful place to rest for a while. You’ll get to see Nevada in the distance in one direction and the channel islands in another. Camping is allowed on the summit, though there is no water access and it can get quite windy. The large plateau does have very flat ground, though, and rock walls have been erected around the summit campsites to help serve as wind barriers.
This is definitely a mountain in California worth climbing, for those able to do so. Remember that it takes quite a bit of strength and determination to hike that many miles, especially with such large elevation gains. We’ll include a list of starter mountain hikes in the area in our next section.
A Couple of Easier Hikes in the Area
If you’d like to do a mountain hike in southern California but you’re not sure if you’re ready for San Gorgonio, we have a few shorter climbs with great views that you can try out! We’ve made a table with five hikes that you might want to check out. We’ll cover elevation gain, the rating of the hike, and how many miles the hike is. All of these hikes are still moderate to difficult and should be approached with knowledge and care.
|Name||Location||Elevation Gain||Distance||Trail Rating||Trail Type|
|Gray’s Peak Trail||Fawnskin, CA||1,174 feet||6.4 miles||Moderate||Out-and-back|
|Bertha Peak Trail||Big Bear Lake, CA||1,354 feet||7.5 miles||Moderate||Out-and-back|
|Palm Spring Tram to San Jacinto Peak||Palm Springs, CA||2,555 feet||10 miles||Difficult||Out-and-back|
|Keller Peak||Running Springs, CA||2,099 feet||12.4 miles||Difficult||Out-and-back|
|San Bernardino Peak||Angelus Oaks, CA||4,711 feet||15.8 miles||Difficult||Out-and-back|
Wildlife Near San Gorgonio
San Bernardino County is home to several animal species, and the San Gorgonio Wilderness is no exception. The wilderness that surrounds and includes San Bernardino County’s highest point contains many animals, including several protected and endangered ones. The isolated nature of some areas of this wilderness makes it a perfect place for more solitary critters to hide out.
Animals such as bighorn sheep, bears, and deer wander the wilderness. Western toads and California tree frogs live here, along with birds such as the California towhee, the common raven, and Wilson’s warbler. The area also has reptiles, such as desert spiny lizards and red diamond rattlesnakes.
Aside from the animals, the flora here is incredible. Visitors may be lucky enough to see a variety of plants, like the Mojave yucca, purple owl’s clover, white rhatany, and beavertail pricklypear.
As a reminder, you should keep your distance from most wildlife. Humans constantly infringe on the natural habitats of animals. When you’re wandering in the wilderness, it is their home you are treading in. Practice being respectful by being quiet and maintaining plenty of distance from any wildlife you might spot. Keep in mind that not all wildlife is timid or friendly. Some animal encounters can be dangerous if you aren’t careful. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to the world around you. You’re sure to see some beautiful and precious things while keeping yourself safe.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Richard Par
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