Spend any time in Idyllwild and you'll see why people love it. The pure air, scenic views, and seasonal weather make the mountain town the perfect getaway from chaotic city life. Getting outdoors is a priority for locals and visitors alike. Luckily, Idyllwild has several local hiking trails to choose from. On a recent trip to Idyllwild we decided to hike the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail, a scenic 5.2-mile out-and-back hike just north of Idyllwild's town center.
The trail head can be found at Humber Park, just off Fern Valley Road. To get to the trail head, drive north along N. Circle Drive (town center) and turn right at South Circle drive. Take the first left onto Fern Valley Road, twisting and turning until you reach Humber Park.
We were told to arrive early to secure parking, as the small lot fills quickly on weekend mornings. Sure enough, the lot was full by 10am when we arrived. We followed the lead of other hikers and parked alongside the road, making sure to get a far off the pavement as we could to allow cars to pass. After displaying our National Adventure Day Pass (available for $5 at the Idyllwild Visitor's Center) we set off to enjoy some crisp, mountain air.
Almost immediately we noticed how busy the trail was, leading us to conclude the trail is popular with locals as well as visitors. Hikers and runners of all ages were enjoying the trail. Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail, making it popular with nature-loving pet owners. The leisurely trail attracts hikers of all levels and boasts a moderately challenging elevation change of approximately 700 ft.
We started the slow, gentle decent into the forest. A small stream usually flows just after the trail head, but draught had clearly taken it's toll as the stream bed was nearly dry. We moved ahead, settling into a rhythmic pace along the well-worn dirt path that cuts through the hillside.
Native trees and shrubs edge the trail, giving much needed shade on sunny days. Wildflowers were also in bloom during our May visit, adding pops of color to the otherwise neutral palette. Lizards bathed in the sun's warm glow on rocks and fallen trees along the path, oblivious to our passing.
Being surrounded by the San Jacinto peaks was the best part of the entire hike. At many points along the trail the tree line broke, giving way to amazing views of the surrounding mountains. Two of the more prominent peaks are known as Suicide Rock and Tahquitz Rock . Both of the granite towers are popular with rock climbers. I was happy just to admire them from afar.
The trail lead through the forest along the edge of the hillside for 2.6 miles until finally reaching a rather anti-climatic end. We scratched our head, looked around for bathrooms (but found none) and turned around to head back up the trail.
Although the return hike was slightly more arduous, the amazing vistas made the effort worthwhile. And, as with most hikes, the return seemed much shorter even though we took a few more breaks going back. We passed familiar faces along the way as others returned to their start at the opposite trail head. Soon we were back at our car, slightly winded but full of vigor and pep.
Arrive early for parking
Bring a valid Day Pass available at the Visitor Center
Don't forget the sunscreen and water
Be sure to check out my other posts about visiting Idyllwild to find out more about what to do, where to stay and what to eat in the peaceful mountain town.
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