By Julie Pendray
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Fall can be perfect for hiking in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. At this time of year, hikers get a reprieve from the intensity of the sun at high altitude and the dry atmosphere created by the desert. Before snow and ice can make trails less accessible or inviting for casual hikers, it’s a wonderful time to enjoy autumn color, running water, clear blue skies and perfect temperatures.
Suicide Rock is a popular destination for visitors to the forested village of Idyllwild, a mile-high tourist destination on the western side of the mountains.
Hikers to this outcrop are rewarded with a view of Idyllwild in the pine-studded Strawberry Valley as well as the massive Lily Rock, where modern rock climbing ratings were initiated decades ago. Behind Lily Rock is Tahquitz Peak.
Legend goes that the granite dome derives its name from a Native American princess and her lover, who plunged to their death rather than being forced to separate. Skeptics, however, believe the story derived from Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular novel “Ramona” and was used to drum up interest in the area in the late 1800s.
Take Deer Springs Trail to the Rock. You’ll access the trail head off Highway 243, about a mile north of town. Look for a few vehicles parked in an unpaved area on the east side of the road, just north of Strawberry Creek Bunkhouse.
Allow 4 to 5 hours to hike up approximately 2,000 feet and back, starting at 5,620 feet and summiting at 7,528.
Hikers can also access Suicide Rock from the other end of Deer Springs Trail off Pacific Crest Trail at Strawberry Junction, at about 8,000 feet.
The trail can be beautiful at any time of year, with possible sightings of summer lupines, ferns, penstemon and columbine and winter’s snow covered boulders, manzanita, cedars and pines. Autumn offers gloriously golden oak leaves, with soothing sounds of water gurgling over rocks in Marion Creek. The serenity of silence at the highest part of the trail is part of the appeal, broken only by birdsong or a woodpecker tapping, bliss to urban ears. There’s an open plateau at the top where hikers can sit on rocks or fallen tree trunks and savor a well-earned bite to eat.
Before you go, visit the rangers stations for the state park and national forest. Both of these are on the northern limits of Idyllwild on Highway 243. They provide maps and trail guides, plus information about restrictions and permits, which can vary. You’ll need a free Wilderness permit from the state park. The park does not allow dogs on the trail. Don’t rely on any water source on the trail because conditions can change.
Hikers should carry plenty of water and some snacks. Watch out for rattlesnakes. There are no bathrooms on the trail; human waste needs to be well buried and all trash has to be packed out.
Some people are sensitive to altitude changes, which could be a factor if you’ve come from sea level on the same day and are not used to hiking often.If you feel light headed, take very slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Hydrate well.
Mountain weather can be tricky to predict. Check the latest forecast from a weather station closest to those elevations before you take off, and always take a jacket. Snow can fall along the trail from November through May.
Enjoy this autumn photo gallery. Click on the first image to enlarge it, then click on the right arrow each time to go through the gallery.