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Idyllwild, California: The Colorado of Southern California?

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

A sunset over Idyllwild California

When I first heard of Idyllwild, my first thought was what did you just say? Once I realized it was a real town, then I heard it was going to be cold and snowy, which are not my two favorite things. Especially moving from Colorado to San Diego to get out of the snow for the winter. But to anyone living in sunny southern California, I guess the cold mountains are a nice reprieve from the sandy beach.


While originally I wasn't excited, once I got to the town it filled me with familiar feelings. Idyllwild looked just like a ski town in Colorado, like Steamboat Springs or Breckenridge. This town really is a California version of Colorado, and somehow this got me excited to dive in and see all that it had to offer (it might have helped that it was 65 and sunny in January).


Here I'd like to give you a taste of my weekend in this town, and some tips on hikes and what to prepare for.


 

Where to stay


A motel near Idyllwild California

We stayed in a town next to Idyllwild called Hemet, while Hemet isn't as beautiful as Idyllwild, it is a lot cheaper. The actual hotel we stayed at is called the Vagabond Inn and let's just say it is aptly named. While the room was actually acceptable, the area and other tenants were less than desirable.

The mountain range heading into Idyllwild California

Plus, staying in Hemet means you have to drive 30 plus minutes up a winding mountain road into Idyllwild each day to get to all of the glorious hikes.


My suggestion (if you have the money) is to stay in Idyllwild, by either renting a cabin or staying in one of the hotels. These options are significantly more expensive though, so be prepared for $100 plus a night.



The last option is to camp! I went in the winter and all I own is a tent, so this wasn't really an option for me at the time, but I would love to go back and check it out. Idyllwild has tons of camping options, one of which is situated right on Lake Hemet.



 


 

The Town of Idyllwild


A few buildings in the town center of Idyllwild California


The actual town area of Idyllwild is so quaint, and homey. With ice cream parlors, jerky shops, and vintage boutiques all made to look like log cabins, I felt like I was back in Colorado.



The best suggestion I can give to you about food is to grab breakfast at Mama's Egg House. They have an incredible menu full of fantastic Mexican-styled omelets, we got the salsa verde pork, and loved it! It was literally the best breakfast I've ever had.


 


 

General Idyllwild Hiking Tips


Angeles National Forest adventure pass

Get an Adventure Pass

- You will need an adventure pass for most of the major trails including suicide rock and devil's slide trail

- You can pick one up at almost any general store or gas station around town for $5 a day

- I highly suggest buying an annual pass if you live in Southern California, they're only $30 and let you park in San Bernardino, Angeles, Los Padres, and Cleveland state forests all year

- you can also use this pass at the famous Bridge to Nowhere hike outside of LA





Fill out a wilderness permit at the Mount San Jacinto ranger station in Idyllwild

- There is a table outside of the ranger station to fill them out (open 24/7)

- They are completely free

- Fill out a regular trail permit for any trail you plan on taking that day

- Fill out the separate Devil's Slide permit for that trail only

- Keep your copy of the permit on your person while you're hiking, place the other copy in the hole in the table where you filled it out

A dog hiking on a mountain top in Idyllwild California

If you bring your dog with you (which I did) make sure they are allowed on the trail

- Dogs are not allowed on the deer springs trail to suicide rock

- They are allowed on the Devil's Slide Trail and the nature center area

- Just be aware that they are not allowed on state forest land in general


 



To Saddle Junction: 6.9 miles, 1,840 ft elevation gain, 3 hours


The Tahquitz mountain at the end of Devil's Slide Trail in Idyllwild

The devil's slide trail is a beautiful path leading up to Tahquitz Peak, home to a supposedly pretty cool fire lookout. Unfortunately, going in January means you need microspikes to get to the lookout so we stopped at the top of devil's slide (Saddle Junction), then went back down the mountain. But any length of this trail is totally worth it, the views are great and the switchbacks make the elevation gain easy to handle.



A few more things to know about this trail:


Make sure you are parked in the correct area

- If you can park in the main lot make sure to hang your adventure pass from the review mirror

- Do NOT park on the side of the road leading up to the trailhead (there are signs that say no stopping, they will tow your ass)

- You can park on the side of Forest Dr, the road just before going up to the trail if the lot is full or blocked off


Try to use the restroom before you go

- As of writing this, they are not regularly cleaning the trailhead bathrooms and they look and smell like death


Man hiking down a snowy trail in Southern California

Be prepared for ice and snow

- Microspikes (a minimalist form of crampons) is a good call for hiking in winter

- The trail can have large stretches of ice and a very steep drop to one side (you do not want to slip)

The Devil's Slide Trail in Idyllwild California

The trail is very thin

- It may be difficult to pass other people or go around slippery areas

- Plus that steep drop to one side means you will want to be extra careful (is that why they call it Devil's Slide?)


Get there early!

- This trail reaches a hiker capacity (hence the wilderness permits)

- When we tried to go the first day around 12 there was already a cop at the entrance to the trail parking turning everyone away



 


 

The Idyllwild Nature Center


The entrance sign for the Idyllwild Nature Center

When we were turned away at the devil's slide trail the first day, we decided to head over to the Idyllwild Nature Center. What I originally thought was going to be a disappointing change of plans, ended up being way better than I thought.



The nature center actually has tons of trails going around it at varying difficulty levels. Plus, we were allowed to bring the dog, so that was a great bonus. You will have to pay a fee to enter, adults are $4 each, kids are $3 each and dogs are $1 each, which you can pay at the center.



My best suggestion is to grab a map and take some of the perimeter trail to start and then head to the summit trail as the sun is going down. The top of this trail makes a great sunset viewpoint. Plus, this trail isn't as busy being one of the more difficult ones around the center.


 

Tahquitz mountain through a few pine trees

Those are some of my best insights from my time in Idyllwild. I would absolutely go back and try more hikes out there (and grab some breakfast from Mama's Egg House, because duh). I hope you go out and explore this amazing little mountain town, and all the wilderness it has to offer. Just remember to be prepared, and grab your passes!


If you're looking for more outdoor things to do in this area of SoCal you can also check out Palm Springs or even the famous Salton Sea! Both are under a 2-hour drive from Idyllwild.


As always feel free to comment below, email me, or DM me on Instagram with any questions related to Idyllwild, more hiking suggestions in the area, or anything hiking or camping-related. I can't wait to hear from you!


Until next time,

Happy Trails!




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Hey there! My name is Hannah Smentkowski, I'm the photographer, writer, hiker, camper, and craft beer drinker of this blog!

 

Here, I share my travel, camping, and hiking tips to help anxious explorers get outdoors with confidence!

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