Travelog VIII || Tahquitz Peak Backpacking
Tahquitz Peak via Devils Slide Trail
Distance (round-trip): 8.6 miles
Elevation: 8,846 feet
“Why am I doing this?” I asked myself as I strapped on a 25 pound pack full of expensive camping gears onto my back, so that I could spend a night on a mountain with potential bears and a slight chance of rain. This was my first backpacking and camping trip, as well as Cooper's. I really didn't have high expectation of myself and kept wondering why I am put myself in this situation. We've done camping before but that was straight out of a car and not carrying many pounds of equipment up the mountain. But I do love a challenge as it was a good opportunity to test my endurance, as well as Cooper's.
Prior to packing up the camping gears and heading up to the mountain, we had to get an overnight permit to camp. This would go for majority of campgrounds in California where you would need to attain a permit for camping or pay for a campsite. If you are planning on backpacking and camping out in the wilderness, make sure that you acquire a permit online (check with the California Department of Parks and Recreation) and speak to a Ranger for any inquiry. Even if a place doesn't require a permit for camping, always call to check. You can also do this to make sure that the wilderness you're entering is also dog-friendly. For Tahquitz Peak, we got the San Jacinto Wilderness Overnight permit for the Chinquapin Flats and dogs are allowed here.
What we Packed
This was my first time backpacking so I brought the minimal essentials for camping.
- 3 Liters of Water:
- Hiking Boots:
- Sleeping bag
- Portable LED Light
- Good-to-Go Camp Meals
- Bear Resistant Food Canister
- Therm-a-rest Camping Mattress
- Life Straw
- 8x6 Tarp (tent footprint)
- Unscented Baby Wipes
- Rain Jacket
- Wool Socks (and extra pair)
- Camera: Sony Alpha a7r ii
- Lens: Sony FE f/2 28mm
Our backpacking adventure began at the Humbar Park Trailhead where we parked the car and began strapping on our heavy pack full of necessary camping equipment. The backpacking crew consisted of 7 humans and 6 dogs (5 shiba inu and 1 corgi). We took the Devils Slide Trail toward Tahquitz Peak but our main destination for the day was the campground, Chinquapin Flats (2 miles from Tahquitz Peak). The Tahquitz Peak via Devils Slide Trail is a 8.6 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located in the San Jacinto Wilderness near Idyllwild.
During the trek, the sun was beaming down on us while we were ascending with our heavy packs. At this point, I was already sweating and we all had to take short breaks. The trail consisted of many switchback up the eastern wall of Strawberry Canyon and it made for a hearty climb but the grade wasn't too excruciating. Cooper was upholding himself very well during this trek despite having such short legs. He and the shiba pack got plenty of water during breaks. They were all eager to see what lies beyond the trail. We saw plenty of hikers and dogs making their way up and down. As the humans were huffing and puffing, the dogs were climbing the trail with ease.
After 1 mile into the ascent, the weather suddenly changed to being windy and foggy. Much of the Anza Valley, Temecula, and Palomar Mountain Range were slowly being shadowed by the incoming fog. Most of the trail was dominated by sugar pines with a mix of chaparral and oak woodland. At some point, it became a bit rocky with large boulders sitting on the side of the mountain edge. It was 2 miles and too many switchbacks to count into the ascent that we finally reached the five-way Saddle Junction. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) actually passes through this area! We went in the opposite direction of the PCT towards the Chinquapin Flats, which is also the general direction to go up Tahquitz Peak.
Tip: Make sure you have an National Adventure Pass so that you can park in standard amenity recreation fee sites in the four southern California national forests. The sites included the the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests. If you are anywhere outside of southern California, check with the rangers prior if you need any additional pass.
After 3 hours of trekking, it was time to find the best campground spot to pitch our tents. Ideally, we wanted to find a spot where the ground is flat and the wind is blocked by the trees. At this point, the weather remained windy and foggy with a slight chance of rain. It was crucial that we find a good camping area. With the help of one of our friend who is a camping expert, we were able to find a the best area to drop our heavy packs. Setting up camp needed to be about 200 feet from the main trail as per the rules.
With a sigh of relief, I was happy to strip my back of the 25 pound pack of expensive camping gears. I chose my tent setup to be underneath the trees, which later I had to move because I was constantly being rained on by the trees as they were holding water from the fog. The tent setup was quick and easy! I unpacked everything from my backpack and as I did, Cooper immediately went inside the tent and made himself at home on top of my sleeping bag.
As the backpacking crew all finished setting up their tents and unpacking their equipment, we gathered around by a large fallen tree and ate our late lunch together. While it was still daylight, we decided to explore more of the surrounding area and see if there was a trail we can shortly hike. Before we left our campground to explore, we made sure to pack up our scented things and food into our bear bins. This is a best practice even if there aren't lot of bears in the wilderness. We left our bear bins about 200 feet away from our campsite and it's ideal to leave it in an area where there's down wind.
We walked back to the five-way Saddle Junction and chose to just hike a small portion of the PCT. The PCT was windy, foggy, and wet but overall, it felt refreshing. We only did about 1 mile of the PCT but it was a good chance for the humans to take some photos of their pups. The foggy PCT was full of sugar pines, white fir, and Jeffrey pines that made the woods look all the more mysterious. We definitely took our sweet time and luckily most of the pups were cooperating.
We headed back to the campground shortly after the PCT and were ready to get our camp grub on! All the pups got situated in their respective area as their humans prepared food. One of our friend had instant milk and matcha tea that warmed the soul right up. I never thought I needed a JetBoil until this trip. Campfires are prohibited here so having a portable stovetop will make things a whole lot better. I was amazed at how efficient and quick it was able to boiled water.
At this point in the trip, Cooper finally slowed down and was ready to call it a night. He had a fetch session at our campground with random sticks and was the happiest of pups right after. Around this time, I decided that I should move my tent which was constantly being rained down on by the trees. It was time to do the tent shuffle and get better situated for the night.
Once Cooper and I got into warmer clothes and our bear bins put away safely, we cozied up into our sleeping bag and started snoozing.
I would be lying if I said I had the best sleep out here in the wilderness but I didn't. Cooper refused to budge from inside my kids' sized sleeping bag so we basically curled up together for the whole night. He essentially knocked out for the whole night. It wasn't pleasant for me as it felt cramped and my body was aching from sleeping in uncomfortable positions. I woke up three times because of the blustery wind and occasional rain shower, as well as how uncomfortable my body felt. I learned that I'll need a more comfortable sleeping pad on top of my therm-a-rest and that Cooper needs his own sleeping bag (there goes my future paycheck).
6AM was our wake up time and we all started getting ready for our hike to Tahquitz Peak. Despite a windy and foggy night, we all woke up to woodpecker pecking and clear skies. The morning air was brisk and made drinking a warm cup of black coffee all the better. Once we were all rejuvenated and packed our bear bins, we started our ascent up to Tahquitz Peak for a beautiful vantage point.
Trekking up to Tahquitz Peak was much better without having a heavy pack weighing us down. 2 miles without a heavy pack makes a huge difference. I had on a day pack that consisted of water, camera, trail snacks, dog treats and Earth Rated poop bags. The climb towards the summit took us through fewer switchbacks with lodgepole and limber pines along the way. With such clear skies and a beautiful morning, we were able to see Strawberry Valley below and the crest of the Desert Divide. As we climbed higher up the San Jacinto Mountain, we came across the South Ridge Trail junction. We took a quick water break and then continued our ascent. Only 1 more mile to go! Keeping right, we passed through more rocky terrains and found ourselves on the mountain's north face. We were able to see the prominent landmark of Lily Rock. There were a few patches of ice along the way, all the pups had to walk along it just to make sure it wasn't snow.
As we made it closer to Tahquitz Peak, the lookout tower was within sight. Once completing the last few set of stairs up to the top, we were welcomed by the views from the summit. Words can't describe how amazing it felt to make it to the top after working so hard to get this mountainous panorama. The wide panorama of Tahquitz Peak allowed us to see the Salton Sea, Garner Valley, the Santa Anas, Temecula, Peaks of Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains, and Palm Desert. You can mostly see the Desert Divide from Tahquitz peak.
After basking in the views, which felt like forever but it was only for less than 2 hours, we made the descent back to camp. It was 10:30AM when we made it back to camp and began breaking down the tents. Repacking the backpack was a dread and Cooper didn't want to leave our tent. I let him enjoy some last few moments in there before proceeding to take everything down.
We scanned the campground one last time to make sure that nothing was left behind. Once we got our backpacking crew group shot, the 25 pound pack of expensive camping gears was strapped back on. The weather was warm and the air was crisp, it was time to head home and back to reality with an aching body but a rejuvenated spirit.