Riverside county is in Southern California directly east of Orange County. It has a large population of over 2 million people and is home to some fairly popular vacation destinations, such as Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, where I spent my last day in 2013.
The tallest mountain in Riverside county is Mount San Jacinto, standing at 10,834 feet (3,302 meters). One of the reasons the mountain is so noteworthy is that its elevation gain is rather dramatic: over 10,000 feet in just 7 miles. The difference in elevation between a mountain’s peak and the lowest contour line containing the mountain and none higher is a statistic called topographic prominence. Mount San Jacinto ranks sixth in the lower 48 states under this measurement.
There are a few different ways to reach the top, one including a ride up a tram which rises from 2,643 feet (805 meters) to 8,516 feet (2596 meters) in a quick smooth trip up to Mount San Jacinto State Park. From there you hike to the summit (about 12 miles or 17 kilometers roundtrip) which can be done as a day hike. For the hardcore, there is also the “cactus to clouds” trail which skips the tram and, according to Wikipedia, has the highest elevation gain of any trail in the US (which seems tenuous to me).
My partner Matt and I visited Mount San Jacinto State Park on New Years Day, patiently waiting over an hour in the Southern California sunshine for a spot on the tram. I have to admit the tram ride was rather fun, as it rotates so that no matter where you’re standing you get all possible views. I could see why so many people chose to spend their holiday the same way we did. After ascending, we wandered around the easy trails adjacent to the tram station, to check out the awesome views, take pictures, and enjoy the subalpine forest just minutes (via tram) from the parched desert. We will return for its summit when the weather is warmer and the days are longer. I am rather curious to see how I do hiking at a higher elevation.