Backroads of SoCal
We started our route of the national park of the west tour from our hometown of San Diego. San Diego is a great place to live, but it’s a loooong way from San Diego to anywhere else. Out of San Diego, we headed northeast toward the great parks that cover the western US. As we endeavored to stay off the highways as much as is possible and practical (they are loud, full of traffic, not very scenic and a bit scary for Rebecca), we began our trip by taking the back roads of San Diego and Riverside Counties to the artsy and eclectic town of Idyllwild, at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. On the way there we went through some beautiful back country that we often ride on weekends. Towns like Ramona, Julian, the mountain community of Palomar Mountain, and the high desert of Anza and the Garner Valley were all beautiful places to cruise through in the stunning sunny and warm weather SoCal is known for. We often take these roads on the way to the Coachella Valley to visit Palm Springs and Palm Desert in the winter, but at Anza we headed in a new direction, north through Mountain Center and up the twisty turny road to Idyllwild.
Entering Idyllwild feels like going to summer camp. Up at over 6,000 feet in elevation, it’s got tall pines and aromatic cedar trees. It’s a mile above and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Southern California cities and beaches. It’s a rustic, eclectic place with a very artsy feel and community; in fact it was voted one of the 100 best art towns in America. There are lots of great little cafes and shops, a hardware store, grocery store, and even a USFS Ranger Station that serves the mountain and the people wanting to explore it. Tons of activities can keep the kids busy all day and night. Several bakeries in town create goodies for breakfast and dessert which you can take with you as you enjoy outdoor theater and events, or you can dine at several great restaurants. You won’t find a Starbucks or McDonalds in this town, all the stores are locally owned, no room for the chains. In winter, the restaurants have cozy fireplaces and there’s a good taste of winter with some decent snowfalls that can add up. We’ve spent New Years here in a cabin and it’s a lot of fun.
With dozens of great hikes through the national forest, state park, and state wilderness areas, hikes to suit every level or hiker from beginner to world trekker can be found here. You can even hike up to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto (over 10,000 feet), over to the Palm Springs Tram on the other side of the mountain (8,000 feet) and down to Palm Springs (sea level) all in one day. Or, if you really want to challenge yourself, you can tackle the Cactus to Clouds hike that is over 20 miles long with an elevation gain of over 10,000 feet, one of the hardest hikes in the country. In addition to hiking, you can also camp, fish, or go mountain biking or rock climbing. It’s a great place if you love the outdoors.