Sometimes the best adventures can be found in your own backyard. You do not have to travel for days to a far off exotic land to immerse yourself into an extraordinary landscape. The Fish Creek Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness located in the mountains of southern California, a mere two hours from Los Angeles, is one of those such gems. The only year round natural lake in the San Bernardino National Forest, Dollar Lake, can be found in this region. Although access is a bit out of the way from the Fish Creek Trailhead it is worth the few extra miles. The views, peaks, and thick old growth forests more than make a visit to the San Gorgonio Wilderness a worthwhile venture. The views can include the Salton Sea 75 miles to the southeast and if the Santa Ana winds are blowing Catalina Island 105 miles to the west, or even Mt. Whitney 190 miles to the north!

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From the trailhead (see directions below) you make your gradual decent into Fish Creek Meadows. If it is early enough in the season you can find water in the meadow at approximately the one and 2.2-mile mark. If not you may have a ways to go before you get to the next water stop, so make sure you pack plenty of water and check the water conditions before you go at the San Bernardino National Forest and The San Gorgonio Wilderness Association websites.

At the 2.2-mile mark the trail leaves the Fish Creek drainage and gradually ascends the northeast flank of Grinnell Mountain. At the 5.5-mile mark you will reach the Fish Creek Saddle, which sits at 9,900’ and has a lovely campground surrounded by a thick old growth forest of Lodgepole Pines. At this point the trail mellows out considerably and trends along the flank of Lake Peak with splendid views of Mt. San Gorgonio, Jepson, and Charlton Peaks.

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At this point you have several options to choose from. You can continue 4.5 miles to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio, which is the highest mountain in Southern California at 11,502’, or you can camp at Dry Lake or even Mine Shaft Flats. Water can be found between Mine Shaft Flats and Big Tree Camp gurgling from a small spring. Another option for water is Lodgepole Springs near Dry Lake. Dry Lake tends to contain water from snowmelt off into the early summer. However, water levels in the lake depend on how good of a winter the region has experienced.

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You should always carry the basics when traveling in the San Gorgonio Wilderness; it is the best way to avoid an E.P.I.C. The week I ventured onto the Fish Creek Trail it was in the mid 80’s on Saturday. By Sunday there were snow flurries through Tuesday followed by a high chance of thunderstorms on Thursday after a brief clearing of the weather on Wednesday. Come prepared as the weather can change seemingly without notice. Please keep in mind that when the mountains are covered in clouds navigation can be difficult and while the trail intersections are well marked if you are not familiar with the area it can be surprisingly easy to get turned around. Make sure you come prepared and your visit to this amazing landscape will be a memorable and pleasant one.

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Directions to the Trailhead

Just getting to the trailhead is an adventure! These directions will help you.

Start out by taking Highway 38 towards Big Bear. At mile marker 33.49 (and at the end of the double passing lane) you will see a sign for Coon Creek – Fish Creek on your right. Turn right here off the highway onto 1N02. After a bit the road will turn to a well-graded dirt road. About two miles down this dirt road you will turn right onto 1N05. You will stay on this road for seven miles. The road is pretty rough in spots and may be hard if not impossible for a low clearance vehicle to navigate, so prepare accordingly. About 1,000’ feet before the trailhead for Fish Creek 1N05 will make a sharp left hairpin turn at a fork in the road, make sure you stay to your right. There is plenty of parking at the trailhead, which is at an elevation of 8,100+ feet.

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