Devil's Slide Ascends to Heavenly Sites

Humber Park is the main jumping-off point to the San Jacinto Wilderness for hikers and rock climbers. The Devil's Slide Trail switchbacks up to Saddle Junction, where the hiker can take trails leading in four directions--to lush flower-strewn meadows and craggy granite peaks. Today the Devil's Slide Trail is such a well-engineered, well-constructed route that its name ought to be changed. In the 19th Century, however, the trail was an infamous bone-crusher for man and beast.

Carry water on this hike. Water quality in the wilderness area is suspect.

To reduce impact on a fragile area and to ensure a quality hiking experience, the Forest Service has a strict wilderness permit system governing the San Jacinto Wilderness. Use of the Devil's Slide Trail on weekends and holidays is limited to 5 permits per day issued in advance and 20 permits per day "at the door." The door in this case is the Idyllwild Ranger Station on Highway 243 at Pine Crest Avenue in Idyllwild. The ranger station is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.

To avoid disappointment, I suggest: 1) hiking this popular trail on a weekday, when wilderness permits are not rationed; 2) letting state or national forest service rangers steer you to the Deer Springs Trail or to other fine trails in the San Jacinto Wilderness, or 3) asking for a permit well before your visit.

For more information, contact the Idyllwild Ranger Station: (714) 659-2117.

Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 10 in Banning, go southeast on Highway 243 to Idyllwild. Proceed up Pine Crest Avenue, which soon joins Fern Valley Road. Follow the signs to Humber Park and park in the large lot.

The hike: Devil's Slide Trail begins below Tahquitz Rock and day hikers will often find themselves in the company of rock climbers, jingle-jangling along with half a hardware store on their backs, out to conquer Tahquitz Peak. The trail switchbacks through a forest of oak and Jeffrey pine and gives you occasional views over Strawberry Valley. In a mile, you'll pass Jolley Spring, now a trickle. After switchbacking across an exposed manzanita slope, the trail enters piney woods and arrives at Saddle Junction. Here is a five-way trail intersection with signs high on the trees.

Option: To Skunk Cabbage Meadow. From Saddle Junction, follow the signed east fork. You'll pass through some tall pines to another junction in a half-mile. Continue toward Willow Creek, following the trail another half-mile to Skunk Cabbage Meadow. The "cabbages" are not cabbages at all, but very poisonous corn lily. The corn lily grows thick along the waterways, all but hiding the streams. There's ideal picnicking in the meadow.

Return the same way.

Option: To Tahquitz Valley Lookout. From Saddle Junction, follow the east trail, whose sign points to Tahquitz Valley. In half a mile, another trail junction offers opportunities to hike to Skunk Cabbage Meadow and Tahquitz Valley. Head toward the valley, hiking an easy mile through a Jeffrey pine forest to lush meadowland. Here you'll walk hip-deep in ferns and seasonal wildflowers. Stroll through this green bowl below Tahquitz Peak until you find the ideal picnic spot. A century ago, the cows that survived the Devil's Slide Trail found grass and contentment here.

Return the same way.

Option: To Tahquitz Peak. From Saddle Junction, take the south trail to Tahquitz Peak. A mile hike through the forest brings you to Chinquapin Flat Junction, appropriately named for the dense colonies of this spiny burred shrub found in the vicinity. Take the signed southwest trail and follow the trail through chinquapin and scattered lodgepole pine toward the summit.

You may notice insect-like creatures high on the rock walls of this mountain. Southland rock climbers come to practice on the superb rock walls of Tahquitz. Lily Rock is the official name of the great rock, though most climbers prefer the more Indian-sounding Tahquitz.

Tahquitz Peak dominates the southern San Jacinto high country, lording over Strawberry Valley on one side, Tahquitz Valley on the other. A fire lookout tower near the summit is manned during the long fire season. The view is inspiring. You can look out over the San Jacintos and to the distant Santa Rosa Mountains.

Return the same way.

Devil's Slide Trail

Humber Park to Skunk Cabbage Meadow

6 miles round trip; 1,600-foot elevation gain

Humber Park to Tahquitz Valley

8 miles round trip; 1,700-foot elevation gain

Humber Park to Tahquitz Peak Lookout

8 miles round trip; 2,400-foot elevation gain

Wilderness permit required

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