Discover the Epic Path to the Highest Point in San Bernardino County

Written by Telea Dodge
Updated: August 11, 2023
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San Gorgonio Mountain -The Highest Point in San Bernardino County
San Gorgonio Mountain is called ‘Old Greyback’ due to its shape and slope.

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

Aerial view of San Bernardino Mountain and San Gorgonio Mountain

San Gorgonio Mountain has an elevation of 11,503 feet.


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 Whitney14,505 feet10,080 feet
2. Mount Williamson14,379 feet1,676 feet
3. White Mountain Peak14,252 feet7,196 feet
4. North Palisade14,248 feet2,894 feet
5. Mount Shasta14,179 feet9,772 feet
6. Mount Humphreys13,992 feet2,563 feet
7. Mount Keith13,982 feet1,936 feet
8. Mount Darwin13,837 feet1,891 feet
9. Mount Kaweah13,807 feet2,027 feet
10. Mount Morgan13,758 feet2,648 feet
11. Mount Gabb13,747 feet2,601 feet
12. Mount Tom13,657 feet1,992 feet
13. Mount Dubois13,565 feet2,339 feet
14. Mount Pinchot13,500 feet2,110 feet
15. Mount Ritter13,149 feet3,990 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. 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.

NameLocationElevation GainDistanceTrail RatingTrail Type
Gray’s Peak TrailFawnskin, CA1,174 feet6.4 milesModerateOut-and-back
Bertha Peak TrailBig Bear Lake, CA1,354 feet7.5 milesModerateOut-and-back
Palm Spring Tram to San Jacinto PeakPalm Springs, CA2,555 feet10 milesDifficultOut-and-back
Keller PeakRunning Springs, CA2,099 feet12.4 milesDifficultOut-and-back
San Bernardino PeakAngelus Oaks, CA4,711 feet15.8 milesDifficultOut-and-back

Wildlife Near San Gorgonio

A closeup shot of a bighorn sheep in a forest in South Dakota

Bighorn sheep

are endangered in North America, but one variety of them makes their home in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

©Wirestock Creators/

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 © Par

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About the Author

Telea Dodge is an animal enthusiast and nature fiend with a particular interest in teaching a sense of community and compassion through interactions with the world at large. Carrying a passion for wild foraging, animal behaviorism, traveling, and music, Telea spends their free time practicing their hobbies while exploring with their companion dog, Spectre.

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