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It's a moderately tough hike up the 2.5-mile Devil’s Slide Trail in Humber Park to Saddle Junction, where it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. Views like this — of Suicide Rock and the landscape beyond — are the reward. Photo by Jerry Ondash
Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: After rough stretch, Idyllwild eager to welcome visitors

Tourists who want to get away from the madness of Southern California’s urban areas have been frequenting the San Jacinto Mountains town of Idyllwild since the invention of the automobile in the early 1900s. And yet …

“We call Idyllwild the best-kept, mountain-top secret of California,” says Nathan DePetris, co-owner of both the Quiet Creek Inn, nestled on the slopes of Strawberry Creek, and the nearby Strawberry Creek Inn.

“It’s amazing how we can be in the desert where we do all our business and mention Idyllwild and people will say, ‘Where’s that?’”

That “best-kept secret” can be both an asset and a handicap; it means maintaining a balance between preserving the ambiance of a quiet retreat and getting the word out so more visitors come.

It was this time a year ago that I wrote a feature about Idyllwild (population 2,510) and its tribulations of the previous three years. Residents’ patience was first tested in July 2018 when the Cranston Fire burned right up to the edge of town and caused the evacuation of 7,000 people.

The Quiet Creek Inn sits on seven forested acres that run along Strawberry Creek in Idyllwild. The property offers 10 duplex cabins, all with outside entrances and some with decks overlooking the creek. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Valentine’s Day of 2019 brought a deluge — 8 inches of rain in two days — that caused mudslides and road closures. This decimated business from Los Angeles visitors. And finally, in 2020 and the early part of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic closed restaurants, shops and nearly all lodging.

“COVID is something we are all going to remember,” says Marc Kassouf, the other co-owner of the inns, “but we want to look past the doom and gloom and be optimistic. I hope we can grow as a people. I know eventually things will shift.”

And so that brings us to the present and our recent visit to Idyllwild.

Our Carlsbad friends, Wanda and Jerry, suggested a few weeks ago that perhaps we should give Devil’s Slide Trail in Idyllwild’s Humber Park another go. We conquered it three years ago, just before the Cranston Fire. It’s a moderately steep, 2.5-mile trail that starts at 6,400 feet and levels out at 8,100 feet at Saddle Junction.

Spring is an ideal time to visit Idyllwild because the flowering trees are at their best. You’ll find these blooms on the grounds at the Quiet Creek Inn. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

To prepare for the hike, my husband and I trained for several weeks on the hills in Carlsbad’s Calavera Nature Preserve and in Vista’s Buena Vista Park.

We arrived in Idyllwild the night before our Devil’s Slide hike, checked into the Quiet Creek Inn, then enjoyed an excellent dinner at Café Aroma, which has generous patio seating and tasty gluten-free options.

The next morning, we hit the trailhead at 9 a.m. Earlier might have been better, but luckily, the trail was mostly shrouded in shade all the way to the top. There was more sun on the way down, but, heck, by then we were going down, so…

We had plans to head out again for dinner, but our seats in the shade of the towering pines and the flowering trees on the inn’s grounds seemed to have a hold on us. Fortunately, we all had enough leftovers from the previous night’s dinner to re-warm in the provided microwaves, and there was that bag of M&M Peanuts that needed tackling.

Visitors with more energy can take advantage of Idyllwild restaurants,  and/or a stroll through the laid-back village to shop and browse.

Kassouf says that visitors are starting to arrive.

“We are all going through difficult times together. We see a lot of frayed nerves. Some people come up here to work. There is a pent-up demand (for places like Idyllwild) … because people are trying to get away from that claustrophobic feeling they had when there wasn’t even access to parks.”

The town of Idyllwild and the inns and motels, as of this writing, adhere to the state’s mask requirements and the rules of capacity.

“When you do come to Idyllwild,” Kassouf adds, “bring an open mind and relaxed attitude and patience.”

For more photos and commentary, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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