OverviewSouth Peak lies along the Desert Divide in the San Jacinto Mountain Range, just off the PCT between Antsell Rock and Red Tahquitz. This peak assists in crescendo of elevation towards San Jacinto’s 10,804’ summit and lends views of the diverse ecosystems of opposing east and west canyons along the divide. The wilderness area surrounding South Peak contains an assortment of pines and brush as well as scattered granite boulders.
Named South Peak by the USFS as a place holder-it was only meant to temporarily be so named. This was not intended as a geographical reference to the position of this peak to other summits along the Desert Divide. The USFS, USGS and HPS formally sought in 1963 to have it named in honor of Jess M. Southwell, a beloved Ranger at the Lookout on Tahquitz Peak (1946-67). This was disallowed as counter to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names policy to never name peaks for living persons. The name may formally remain South Peak. Name "South" first appears on USFS San Bernardino National Forest map (1959) and was added to the HPS Peak List in 1967.
Getting ThereFrom I-15 northbound or south in Riverside County, you can exit in Temecula onto Winchester Road, Hwy 79N and head north to Hwy 74E and continue on through Hemet and up the slope on a pleasant winding mountain road, complete with competition “S-curves” to Mountain Center. For access to Pacific Crest Trail off Hwy 74 via Zen Mountain Center Trail, Spitler Peak Trail, or Fobes Trail, stay to your right upon reaching the Hwy 243/74 intersection in Mountain Center, and continue eastward on Hwy 74 towards Palm Springs.
Or you may exit I-15 in Temecula onto Hwy 79S and drive east toward Warner Springs for approx 20 miles, then turn left onto Hwy 371 for Anza. In another approximate 20 miles up a long slow grade to 4500’ through dry rocky terrain, passing the Temecula Olive Oil ranch and the Cahuilla casino, you will reach Hwy 74 bound for Palm Springs to the east and Mountain Center to the northwest.
Turn left at Hwy 74 toward Mountain Center, there is a nice restaurant, Paradise Café, on the right hand corner, the best burger place to eat for many many miles. For access to the Pacific Crest Trail off Hwy 74 via Fobes Trail, Spitler Peak Trail and Zen Mountain Center Trail, continue on Hwy 74.
The ApproachesFrom Zen Mountain Center Trail
Shortly after reaching Hwy 74 to Palm Springs, you’ll see a large sign for Hurkey Creek Canyon on the left, this is Apple Canyon Road. Turn left and follow for 3 miles to Pine Springs Ranch and stay to your right; this part of the road is newly paved as of Jan 2007. You will pass a secluded hotel/resort on the left side of the road, continue for another mile on the dirt road leading to Zen Mountain Center gate. Take caution as there are many people from the hotel walking on this road, even at sunrise and sunset. Park on the left in open lot. Please proceed as quietly as possible so as not to disturb those in the center. Walk through stucco gate into the center and continue on well-maintained path that leads past many meditation huts.
After approx a quarter mile, there will be a sign boldly stating “TRAIL” on your left at a vague fork. Step up and into the woods at this point. The trail will meander and switchback for approx 1.5 miles. The view of Apple Canyon is beautiful once you’ve gained some elevation and break out of the thick tree line. To your right is Apache Peak's sleek walls and on the left is Antsell Rock’s jumble to the summit. The trail is fairly steep but unimposing and easy to follow. Once reaching an obvious saddle in slender woodline, you will dump onto the PCT between Antsell Rock and impressive rock formation along ridgeline from Apache Peak. Note there is a tree with 3 slices of tape at eye level on the trunk, but it is not reflective tape so if exiting in the dark, be on the sharp look out for it.
Take the trail to your left and hike for approx 4 miles, heading north. The PCT will take you on a dizzying trip of north-south switchbacks up the saddle between Antsell Rock and a red granite pinnacle. At this vague junction there is a large blank wall of a boulder, turning left will put you on the Sam Fink Trail to Antsell Rock, turning right takes you on another spiraling trip to South Peak. The PCT zigs east and zags west three times before reaching the “duck” exit to summit. Continuing north on PCT will take you to the southern base of Red Tahquitz.
The northbound PCT is one of the more esthetic trails in the San Jacintos. Dramatic granite walls and steep drops off the trail toward Palm Springs greet the hiker ‘round nearly every bend. Wide open vistas invite frequent rest stops to take in the beauty of the view of Garner Valley in the west and canyons leading to the desert floor to the east. This route is approx 11 miles round trip of Class 1.
Via Spitler Peak Trail
Directions to this trail are exactly as those to Zen Mountain Center except you will not drive to the end of the road at the center. Spitler Peak Trail is on the right side of the road, marked by a park service sign. Following the trail through manzanita to pine and on many switchbacks tracing the base of Apache Peak and finally arriving at the PCT approx 3.5 miles later. Turn left at PCT and march on. This route is approx 14 miles of Class 1 round trip.
Via Fobes Trail
Regardless of which direction you came on Hwy 74, look for Fobes Ranch Road on the north side of highway. Drive 3.5 miles down Fobes Ranch Road (all dirt) and turn right, there is a sign pointing toward the PCT trailhead. Travel another mile or so to the trailhead and park in tiny turnouts for Fobes Trail. The road continues upward but a locked gate and private property block your access. Follow trail for approx 2 miles to junction of PCT and turn left; continue for another beautiful 6 miles or so, passing Spitler Peak, Apache Peak and Antsell Rock along the way. This route is approx 17 miles of Class 1 round trip.
Once on the PCT from any direction, when you are directly east from South Peak’s summit, look for ducks leading you west off the trail. There are many – ducks galore, only the Sam Fink Trail to Antsell Rock has more! The going is steep but easy to a minor scramble onto the summit block. Register is in a small orange can under many rocks and the pencil is just about flat.
When to ClimbHiking to South Peak from the south can be done anytime of year. Late winter months will yield frequent snow drifts and iced trail conditions, especially on eastern side of PCT with dangerous drops from the trail into canyons. Crampons and trekking poles are necessary. No water is available upon reaching the PCT from this direction.
Northern approach to South Peak is a long haul from Saddle Junction, approx 15 miles round trip from Humber Park, with much elevation gain and descent. Route finding may be difficult with fresh snow; crampons and trekking poles necessary. No water available after passing Tahquitz Creek from below Peak 8792.