Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire, Backpacking in the Inland Empire

Best Overnight Hikes in the Inland Empire

We smell another long weekend ahead! Well, maybe we smell the fresh air and smoky campfire and sizzling backcountry bacon. Which all smells like long weekends!

The Inland Empire in Southern California is home to California’s best and most diverse hiking south of the Sierra Nevada. And it’s all conveniently located within a short drive of a lot of Southern California residents, making it the perfect spot for an overnight backpacking getaway.

Here are five backpacking trips from the newly-revised Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire by David Harris.

Nine Baldy Area Peaks

26 miles one-way
Very strenuous 

The mother of all hikes in Southern California, this trek tours nine major summits around San Antonio Canyon: Ontario, Bighorn, Cucamonga, Timber, Telegraph, Thunder, Harwood, Baldy, and West Baldy. There is substantial elevation gain and loss between most of the peaks, making this the toughest of the multi-mountain challenges in the Inland Empire. As you stand atop Ontario Peak at dawn, mighty Mount Baldy beckons from across the deep canyon separating the peaks. Standing atop Baldy at dusk, you look back at the dramatic ridges of Ontario. Bring a headlamp, a generous supply of water, and boundless enthusiasm.

Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire, Backpacking in the Inland Empire

Santa Ana River Trail

38 miles one-way

It’s hard to say whether the Santa Ana River Trail is an underused gem-in-the-rough or a sad mistake in trail planning. The river is rarely in sight of the trail, and comes in direct contact with the trail only at South Fork Campground. Some portions are poorly marked. Several miles of the route above Morton Peak follow a dirt road rather than trail. On the other hand, the trail offers good views as it traverses conifer and oak forests, riparian zones, a meadow, and chaparral-clad hillsides. And traveling the full distance gives a unique perspective into one of the region’s major watersheds. The lower segments receive sparse use and offer solitude and sweeping views. The long trail has strong promise for backpacking or extreme trail running, and the periodic road crossings make caching water or food easy.

San Jacinto Peak

18 mile loop

This trip is a popular favorite tour of the San Jacinto Wilderness high country. This is a land of superlatives: the most dramatic granite faces, most beautiful conifer forests, and second-highest mountains in Southern California. Starting at Humber Park in Idyllwild, it makes a counterclockwise loop by way of Saddle Junction and over the Wellman Divide, then goes to the very pinnacle of San Jacinto Peak before descending through Little Round Valley and returning along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It’s a great way to get to know the San Jacinto Peak area. Beautifully situated camping zones along the route offer tempting backpacking options.

Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire, Backpacking in the Inland Empire

Quail Mountain

13 mile out-and-back

Quail Mountain (5,813′) is the highest point in Joshua Tree National Park. The summit offers panoramic views on a clear day. Four other major high points in the park (Eureka Peak to the west, Inspiration Point to the southeast, Ryan Mountain to the east, and Queen Mountain to the northeast) are all visible. On the horizon are the highest points in three more distant ranges: San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains, San Jacinto in the San Jacinto Mountains, and Toro Peak in the Santa Rosas. After enjoying the view, return the way you came.

Fried Liver Wash

15 miles on-way

Fried Liver Wash cuts a long canyon through the heart of the remote Hexie Mountains. Who could help but want to visit a place with a name like this? The wash is especially attractive in April after a wet winter, when it’s a great place to admire desert wildflowers.There is no defined trail; the hike simply follows the wash. Cross-country navigation skills are required, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself. This trip can be done as a day hike or overnight trip. If you’re staying overnight, no wilderness permit is required. However, you must sign in at the backcountry board, camp at least a mile from the road, and carry plenty of water.

Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire, Backpacking in the Inland Empire

Tanya Twerdowsky

I am a Jersey girl living in Alabama who loves to run far and eat lots.

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