Toro Peak is the highest peak in the Santa Rosa Mountains in south-central Riverside County, southern California. Although sometimes overshadowed in fame and prominence by its bigger neighbor Mt San Jacinto, Toro stands far enough apart with enough prominence to make it a highly visible peak from many vantage points. The peak is easily viewed from vantage points in the Coachella Valley along Interstate-10 and the towns of Indio and Palm Desert, although the closer in to the foothills you get, the peak becomes hidden from view. The best view, in my opinion, is from the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the south, where one can view nearly all of Toro's magnificent 8,716 feet of height.
The peak lies on the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation, which is a checkerboard of mile-square sections interspersed with BLM and forest lands. A service road leads to the top, which makes hiking a simple affair (except if you're me). Most people will hike Toro for its status as one of California's most prominent mountains, not for its mountaineering challenges. However, views up high are tremendous!
Notice: on my first attempt, May 2007, I was stopped by a work crew just 40 feet below the summit. They weren't too happy to see me and one guy seemed to itch for a fight. On my second visit, May 2008, I played it safe and traveled cross-country past the gate to stay off the road and out of sight. The San Bernardino Forest people had posted a sign at the Y-junction prohibiting entry due to fire danger, and the gate farther up had a no trespassing sign (Indian lands). Use your judgment. The penalty can be severe.
Access is off of State Highway CA-74, about 25 miles from I-10 off the Monterey Exit via Palm Desert (18 miles from the intersections of CA 74/111 in downtown Palm Desert), or about 7-8 miles east of the junctions of CA-371/74, if coming up from San Diego or Hemet. Look for San Bernardino National Forest Road 7S02 marked by an obvious sign for Santa Rosa Mountain on the south side of the highway. The road is dirt and moderately bumpy, so high-clearance is mandatory and 4-wheel drive is strongly recommended. The road gains from desert chapparal mix up to pine forest with great views on occasion. There are sections where the road is very narrow so be careful and mindful of oncoming drivers. Ten miles (my odometer said 9.8) is the turnoff for Santa Rosa Mountain. Another mile or so leads to a broad flat called Toro Camp which is a good place to park. Another mile or so after that is a Y-junction. There is room to park here as well but it is tight. The road is gated a few hundred feet past the Y-junction.
This is the only contact information I found for the SRIR:
Anthony Largo, Chairperson
Santa Rosa Reservation
325 North Western Ave.
Hemet, CA 92343
(The website dates from ~1997, so keep that in mind)
California has many Indian Reservations that fan out across the land in maddening checkerboard fashion, in which public lands are alternated with private/indian lands, making access "officially" very difficult, even to the public insections. This is the case with the top parts of Toro Peak. Turn back if you feel it's not right. Good luck asking for official access. My experience is that (a) they won't know what you are talking about or (b) won't be in at all to answer your questions.
Along Santa Rosa Mountain Road, there are many pull-outs along the road for the first five miles off the paved highway. Higher up the options are more limited. Santa Rosa Spring and CG is an option at about mile 8, and Toro Flat mentioned above is also an option, with room for maybe 3-4 groups. Cheap hotels are in Indio. Much nicer digs are in Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta. For the SPer on the 7-figure salary, Indian Wells is the place to be seen.
The Pinyon Flat campground is along highway CA-74 about 3 miles east of the Santa Rosa Mountain Road intersection. Fees are reasonable ($8 in 2008).
Snow up high in winter will probably close the roads lower down. Summer would be fine, it might get hot, but at 8,700 feet the hottest days will still mean temps only in the 80-90s at most (low 30s C). Just take the road slow.
Gas and supplies should be obtained while still in Palm Desert, or if coming from the west, Hemet or the little towns along CA-371. This stretch of CA-74 is very scenic but does not have convenient fuel/food stops.
Road (2013): Apparently there is a new gate spanning the road off of highway 74. This means that you are in for a long walk to the top.