San Jacinto Mountains

Back when I was frequently backpacking, which was more than a decade ago, my favorite mountain area was the San Jacintos.

I always felt more comfortable there than in other mountain ranges. There was something about the San Jacintos that made me feel at home. It was non-rational. I don’t know why I felt that way about it.

I would drive up to Idyllwild and pack up via Devil’s Slide or Deer Springs trail, or take the Palm Springs Tramway up to the northeast shoulder of the range, then pack around for however many days were available to me.

I went by myself most of the time. It was yet another form of meditation. I’d come back home dirty from not showering for a couple or a few days, but feeling rejuvenated.

The San Jacintos remain my favorite mountain range. I ride up into and through the range three times as often as any other.

The map was originally inaccurate in a couple places. The town of Idyllwild was labeled “Saddle Junction” and the hamlet of Pine Cove was labeled “Pine Wood”. I corrected the labels. As always, click on a photograph or map to view the large version.

The Roads

On the 56 mile (85 kilometer) stretch of Route 74 from Hemet, CA to Palm Desert, CA the road is also known as the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway. From Hemet, the 74 rises toward the mountains through a canyon, snaking alongside the San Jacinto River toward Mountain Center. Just past Mountain Center, the road clears a ridge line then drops in a long grade toward Lake Hemet and Garner Valley. As the road rises, the climate and flora slowly shifts from semi-arid to alpine.

Garner Valley runs for a dozen miles to the southwest and is reminiscent of “big sky” western movie sets. It is easily to visualize John Wayne, Gary Cooper, or Clint Eastwood on celluloid, riding a horse through the ranch land between the big pines. Past the valley, the road slowly winds toward the east, then north and down from the mountains to the city of Palm Desert in the Lower Colorado Desert. When it coils down into Palm Desert it displays a succession of extraordinary long viewpoints across the desert valley floor and to the mountain ridges beyond.

Route 243 rises up in tight coils from the desert valley in Banning to the Barker Peak area where the road straightens out into smooth curves, then rolls through Pine Cove and Idyllwild to Mountain Center. The stretch of road is 29 miles (47 kilometers) long. The photo here show a view to the east from Route 243 above Banning. The white object in the middle is Casino Morongo in Cabazon. To the right, in the middle distance is a field of wind generators to the west of Palm Springs.


Idyllwild is a small town, but has all of the necessities of modern civilization; both fast and fine dining, shopping, motels and rental cabins, and gasoline stations. It is a popular resort town. The Art Alliance of Idyllwild publishes a list of local events on its Web site here.

The Good Times Pub & Grill

A stopping point that is highly favored by my riding group is the Good Times Pub & Grill in Idyllwild. Open for lunch and dinner, Good Times serves excellent food made with high quality, fresh ingredients. In addition, the cook and owner, Mary, bakes fresh pies daily. The types of pies vary from day to day, depending on what local fruit and ingredients are the best on any particular day. In my opinion, you won’t get better pie anywhere within a hundred miles.

On the day I shot the photos of the pub shown here, I made the 120-mile (193 kilometer) round trip ride to the pub just to get a piece of pie. The pub also has a good selection of beer, many of them in tap. Pie and beer. That pretty much covers it for my riding group, which varies at times from four to a dozen. Below Left: Fresh apple pie. A la mode, of course. Center: The beer list. Right: The patio dining area.

Lake Hemet

Lake Hemet is a group campground, meaning if you camp there, you will be quite close to other campers. It doesn’t look like a good place to “get away from it all”, but it may fit the bill for some people. The secondary attraction of the campground is the fishing in the lake. It is a good place to make a rest stop on a ride, since it has restrooms (no sinks or bathing, however) and shaded picnic tables. The photo here is of the riding group taking a break in 2011.

Garner Valley

Garner Valley is quite attractive in my eyes. I’d love to have a “weekend” cabin in the valley, but I’d have a hard time motivating myself to return to the valley during the workweek. The photographs below were taken in the valley at various times.

The photograph shown here is from the roadside on Route 74, past Pinyon Pines and just before it begins making the descent down to Palm Desert. The plants along the road, like the spindly manzanita and the yucca blossom (partially obscured by manzanita, left center) are signs of the approach of the Lower Colorado Desert.