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Lily Rock as seen from Devil’s Slide Trail in the San Jacinto Wilderness near Idyllwild. Some say it was named for Lily Eastman, whose father was the first director of the Southern California Colony Association, which eventually became Riverside. Lily and her father both came to the area to recover from tuberculosis, but she died. Others call this outcropping Tahquitz Rock. Photo by E'Louise Ondash
Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: Highs and lows of Devil’s Slide hike

We are descending Devil’s Slide Trail in Humber State Park near Idyllwild. It has been a tough 2.5 miles up, and it’s a tougher 2.5 miles down. My toes and hips are feeling it and my mood is not especially cheery. I’m concentrating on placing my feet in the right places so I don’t trip over the next rock. Glad I’m on my way down because the temperature is rising and the trail soon will have little shade. I am glad to have accomplished this challenging hike but am looking forward to taking off my hiking boots and a stop at the Dairy Queen.

And then we meet her — a young, slight Asian woman who is either an over-the-top-bubbly person or — well, high. Dressed in a pastel T-shirt and black leggings that have to be hot, she greets us with the enthusiasm of someone who doesn’t know the trail ahead.

“Hi, hi, how are you?” she emotes in a mood about four times higher than ours. “Did you go to peak?”

One hiker on Devil’s Slide Trail decided to spread the love. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

No, we tell her. We ended our hike at Saddle Junction.

“Oooooh,” she gushes. “No peak! No peak! You don’t need to go to peak. It’s OK. Saddle OK!”

OK, it’s nice that she approves. So we agree that Saddle Junction (8,000 feet), a flat, open area dotted with towering cedars and giant boulders, is a good stopping point. It’s not the top of the trail, but still a logical end-point for many day hikers on Devil’s Slide. Hikers who reach the Saddle with more energy and time than we have a choice of continuing to San Jacinto Peak (10,834 feet); Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout (8,646 feet); or the Palm Springs Tramway (8,516 feet), which can take hikers down to just outside Palm Springs.

We chat a bit further with Ms. Bubbly, then say our goodbyes.

“I love you guys,” she calls as we continue down the trail. “I love you!”

As we descend, we discover four hearts created with pebbles alongside the trail, and a set of three interlocking hearts drawn in the dirt. Has to be Ms. Bubbly, we decide. Apparently she’s serious about spreading the love.

Seems like a fitting end to a perfect day on Devil’s Slide Trail, where you can count on seeing expansively beautiful scenes of the San Jacinto Mountains and meeting hikers from all points on the globe. That’s because part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) — the 2,659-mile path that extend from the Mexican border to the Canadian border — crosses this area.

The granite outcrop that is Suicide Rock as seen from Devil’s Slide Trail near Idyllwild. The summit is just over 7,500 feet. As with most natural formations with “suicide” in the title, legend has it that a young Native American woman and her lover leaped to their death from here rather than be separated. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

For example, while munching on snacks and re-hydrating, we met a long, lean Swede and a friend who were through-hikers. This means they hope to do the entire PCT in one try. We asked when they plan to arrive at the northern endpoint.

“I have to finish before Oct. 22,” the Swede said. “That’s when my visa expires.”

We remarked that he and his friend looked refreshed and well.

“We had a shower last night — the first in a week,” he reflected, “and so far, we’re only 10 percent of the way.”

That certainly put our five-mile roundtrip in perspective.

Devil’s Slide Trail is the most popular trail in the area. The trailhead is near the quaint town of Idyllwild, about a two-hour drive northeast of North County. You need a free trail permit obtained from the in-town ranger station and a $5 pass to park at Humber Park. Start early and bring ample water, sunscreen, a hat and plenty of determination. Time for a round trip hike to Saddle Junction: four hours, more or less.

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