Well, this past weekend, we went out to Lower Fish Creek near the San Gorgonio Wilderness. One of the nice things about this hike is that it's outside of the wilderness which means you don't have to stop to get a permit or worry whether or not all the permits have already been taken.
Also nice is the fact that it's a semi-loop. I say "semi" because you enter and leave via the same trail but there's a nice loop at the far end of the hike. Take a look at the below map, and I think you'll see what I mean. I've highlighted the route in yellow. Click to enlarge. Note that there you can go beyond the route that I've highlighted on the map. I'll say more about extended day hiking and backpacking options in the appendix.
|The Lower Fish Creek Loop hike. Click to enlarge.|
The hike starts at the Lost Creek trail head. One parks across (on the north side) of highway 38, opposite the entrance to South Fork Campground and starts on the Santa Ana River Trail (2E03). The trail uses an underpass to cross the highway although traffic isn't typically so heavy that you'd need to use it; I leave that up to you, the reader. If you take the underpass, it's pretty easy to stay on the trial. If you just cross the highway, you have to look for the trail heading right (west) before you enter the campground proper. Periodically, you'll see signs with the trail number on them.
|Trail 2E03 (Santa Ana River Trail)|
The trail first heads west and then joins an old road and turns east. You'll soon come to the junction with the Lost Creek Trail (1E09), but don't turn here, go straight (east), staying level.
|Junction with the Lost Creek Trail|
|A backpacker crossing Lost Creek|
OK, now here comes the hard part, so pay attention. Do you see the junction I've circled in red on the map? This is the trickiest part of the whole trip. The old road that you've been following goes straight, into "College Camp" (which I think was once affiliated with UCLA). The Santa Ana River Trail heads right. It's not at all well marked. There's no sign. You just have to be looking for it. What appears to be the main track heads straight. You're going to want to go straight, but you just have to bear right at this point. If you get into a camp with buildings and such, simply retrace your steps back to this junction – and then take the other fork.
|The unmarked junction. The Santa Ana River Trail bears right here.|
|The old road that is now the Santa Ana River Trail (2E03) descending into Fish Creek.|
|Willows in fall splendor along Fish Creek|
|Cottonwoods at Fish Creek|
|A black oak in fall color and a young hiker.|
|Creek Crossing on the Santa Ana River Trail, Fish Creek|
|The author and his daughter, crossing Fish Creek|
|The author's daughter, crossing Fish Creek. Easy.|
|Unmarked junction in Fish Creek.|
The trail goes through this distinctive cut in this large old log. In the photo below, my wife is standing at the junction. The distinctive cut in the old log is clearly visible from the junction.
|The trail heading up Fish Creek|
|Down tree, lower Fish Creek Trail|
|Second crossing of Fish Creek|
|Equisetum and gooseberry along the lower Fish Creek Trail|
|Climbing up to the old road bed.|
|Third Crossing in Fish Creek|
|Trail junction just beyond the third crossing|
|The upstream sign points out the continuation of the lower Fish Creek Trail|
|The old road bed on the far side of Fish Creek|
|The path climbing out of Fish Creek|
|Following the trail/old road bed on the far side (east side) of Fish Creek|
|Woods and fall color.|
|What appears to be an old gas tank or some other paraphernalia from a motor vehicle|
|Road 1N39A (what's left of it). Not recommended for family outings.|
|Unsigned junction of the road from Fish Creek with the Santa Ana River Trail.|
|Downed tree, Santa Ana River Trail|
|Road 1N39A heading steeply down to the Santa Ana River|
|Looking straight down the remains of road 1N39A|
|Descending from the east on the Santa Ana River Trail into Fish Creek|
|Nearing the bottom of Fish Creek.|
|The distinctive log cut on the lower Fish Creek Trail|
Thanks for "joining" me on this loop hike through the lower section of Fish Creek. I hope you find this trip report/trail guide helpful.
Appendix – Other Hiking Options
If you can read maps well, you'll no doubt see many other hiking and even backpacking options in the vicinity. I'll make a few remarks below that you might find helpful.
Now, I've made mention that the lower Fish Creek Trail goes all the way to Aspen Grove, and indeed it does. For some reason the topo map from the USGS shows the trail abruptly ending just north of hill 7210. This is not correct. The trail is a through trail. Given that this is a through trail, this leads us to an interesting backpacking possibility, what I call the Grinnell Mountain Loop. I've marked the loop on the below topo map. You'll want to click on the map to zoom in. You can make it a two day hike, staying at Dry Lake or Lodgepole camps, or you can make it a three day hike staying at Fish Creek Camp the first day and Grinnell Ridge Camp the second. Grinnell Ridge Camp is a neat spot and is far less visited than many of the other camps in the wilderness. I recommend it. Note that there are several sections where the topo map does not show a trail, but rest assured there is decent trail all the way.
|The Grinnell Mountain Loop|
II. Longer Day Hikes
Here, I'm going to refer to the original map that I posted.
|The Lower Fish Creek area. Click to enlarge.|
|The author at the Wilderness boundary sign on the main trail from the Aspen Grove trailhead.|
Option B, a longer Lower Fish Creek Loop. Note road 1N39A which runs from the Heart Bar area. I've circled the northern end in an aqua color. I've taken this road from the Heart Bar area. It's really hard to find the start of the road and where the road crosses the river. It's very overgrown. I didn't find that route particularly worthwhile.
However, if you go further along the road, you'll see where it leaves Santa Ana River Trail (circled in purple) and where it joins the lower Fish Creek trail (also circled in purple). One could take a nice loop hike, similar to the loop hike described in the main body of this post, but instead of using the route highlighted in the above map, use road 1N39A to complete the loop. Note that road 1N39A is in somewhat rough shape. There were downed logs over the road and not a lot of signs of use when last I travelled the road. Both ends of this section of the road are a bit tricky to find. I'll describe here how to find the northern end (circled in purple) where it leaves the Santa Ana River Trail (2E03).
Just east of the unsigned junction of 2E03 with 1N39A that is described in the main body of this post, the old road climbs slightly. I apologize for the poor photo quality, but here's what it looks like. You're clearly on an old road bed here.
|Road 1N39A/Trail 2E03 (they're one at this point) climbing slightly.|
The trail is going to veer slightly to the left as seen below. Do you see the stump over to the right in the distance at the tree line. That's the road. The road switch backs hard right at the stump. Once you get to the stump, the road is easy to follow, but the first 100 yards/100 meters or so is tricky to find.
|Trail 2E03 veering left slightly as it leaves the old road bed of Road 1N39A.|
You can more or less see the outline of the old road bed if you look closely, but it's not distinct. You just have to be looking for where the trail leaves the road bed and veers a bit left and goes downhill. You can kind of see the outline of the road in the photo below. Note again that stump, here just slightly left of center. Head for the stump.
|The outline of the old road bed veering right from the trail.|
Right at the point where the road leaves the trail, there is a somewhat worn "2E03" trail sign.
|A trail sign at the point where the old road leaves the trail|
This old road (1N39A) is an interesting variant of the shorter loop that I described in my main post (above). As I mentioned, it's in rougher shape, so I'd say this is for either adults or older kids.
I'm sure you can think of additional variations in this area on your own, but I hope you find my trail notes helpful.