The Mountains of California •
Cahuilla Mountain • Peninsular Ranges
• Riverside County

Cahuilla Mountain as seen from cary Road

Mighty Toro Peak as seen from along the trail

As the trail ascends, the flora becomes more varied and less scrubby

Old-growth trees higher up

This one got zapped!

Looking over toward the summit

The beautiful meadow at the saddle below Peak 5604

Now on the west-facing slopes, with more mixed forest and grass

Getting closer to the end

Approaching the top

Stick Scott at the top!

South view over Anza Valley toward Palomar Mountain

North view toward Peak 5604 ("Coahuila Benchmark")

Date: May 11, 2013 • Elevation: 5,635 feet • Prominence: 1,555 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes • Gain: 1,300 feet • Conditions: Sunny and dry


Cahuilla Mountain is a small, yet well-defined peak located in the nether-reaches of Southern california, not really close to anywhere. It's located along state route CA-371, northwest of the town of Anza Valley in southern Riverside County, about 15 miles north of the observatories on Palomar Mountain. The peak caught my attention as one of three somewhat prominent peaks clustered in this region, all listed on the Sierra Club's Hundred Peaks Section. I was in California for a short vacation to visit family, and to hike, of course.

My plan today was to make the long drive from Scottsdale, hike Cahuilla Mountain, then drive over and hike-and-drive nearby Thomas Mountain. The third peak of interest, Palm View Peak, would probably have to wait another day. I left home before 5 a.m. and drove west along Interstate-10 into Palm Desert, arriving around 9 in the morning in very warm weather. I spent about an hour here getting supplies and my Forest Service Adventure Passes. Once situated, I started the scenic drive up the Palms-to-Pines Highway, state route CA-74.

The Palms-to-Pines Highway is a classic scenic drive, starting here in Palm Desert, snaking up steep mountainsides, and eventually ending along the coast in southern Orange County. The first ten miles out of Palm Desert is up steep switchbacks, as the road wiggles through stark desert slopes, gaining about 2,000 feet and eventually coming onto an elevated valley, the big Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, the eastern appendages of the San Jacinto Mountains to the north. Already, I could sense some moderation to the temperature.

Soon, I came to the junction with CA-371. I went left (southwest) through Anza Valley. Cresting a ridge, I had my first views of Cahuilla Mountain. It sits by itself, a broadly-shaped peak with rocky extrusions and covered in thick scrub. From below it looked shadeless and dusty, but previous reports hinted at this being an unexpectedly pretty hike, and I hoped for the same. I followed Cary Road north to where it became Tripp Flats Road, then I followed dirt roads to a saddle situated between Cahuilla Mountain and its northern satellite, Little Cahuilla Mountain. One other vehicle was parked there, and it was close to 10:40 a.m. by the time I got myself dressed for the hike and the truck locked tight. After five hours of driving, I was eager to burn off some energy. The day was warm and very dry.

I started walking the trail through the manzanita scrub. The trail meanders a little while on the east-facing slopes, before eventually working toward the south-facing slopes, where I had fantastic views of the countryside. The gray profiles of the San Jacinto Mountains rose high, even sporting small snow patches. In front of the San Jacintos was the long Thomas Mountain massif. Looking more east, I could see the big hump of Toro Peak.

Little Cahuilla, Mount San Jacinto, and Thomas Mountain.

The trail contours with the slopes, gaining at a steady and moderate grade. I met up with a hiker coming back down. He had been bird watching. We had a short chat, and I asked if he'd seen any bears, noting the fresh scat on the trails. He had not, and as it turned out, I never saw any either, but I was mindful of them. I clapped or hooted whenever crossing a blind corner.

The scrub slowly gives away to larger trees, including sycamore, oak and pine. The scrubby plants were flowering, as were the grasses. The colors were exceptional, with pinks, purples and lavenders dotting the hillsides. Not surprisngly, the bees were out in abundance, but they never bothered me as long as I didn't stop to harass them. I kept a strong pace, and eventually came to a saddle directly south of "Coahuila Benchmark", a subsummit with elevation 5604 feet. The saddle was a beautiful meadow of grass and trees, and I took a break here to rest and admire the views.

The trail continues south, dipping down to the right of the ridge (facing south). It loses about 100 feet of elevation, but makes up for it with the lovely views. On this side of the crest, there are more grasses and leafy trees, and almost none of the scrubbier brush seen on the opposite slopes. I kept a fast pace, turning left at the only junction I came upon (a spring mounted on a metal pole points toward the branch of the trail toward the summit). The final leg of the hike was up a small valley, gaining steeply at the very end, before ending at a small rockpile amid mid-sized trees.

I took time to rest here, signing into the log and looking over the valleys below, and of the mountains beyond. The best view was south toward Palomar Mountain. The trees blocked some of the views in the other directions, but at points along the trail, I had some great views, including one of Peak 5604, which holds the "Coahuila" Benchmark, a misspelling of Cahuilla. The bees and other bugs did not compel me to stay long. I was hiking back down after 10 minutes.

The hike out went very fast. Not that I was trying to set speed records, but the quality of the trail and easy downhill slopes made it easy for me to keep up a good pace. The hike to my truck took me over an hour, and overall, my whole round-trip hike took just over two and a half hours. I was happy to have succeeded, and happy to have got the exercise after a long drive. Cahuilla Mountain did not disappoint me. The upper mountain is quite lovely, not at all obvious looking from below.

I drove into Anza Valley and stopped for some drinks at a gas station. I texted my wife and my parents, and since it was not yet 2 p.m., I still had plenty of time for my second adventure of the day, Thomas Mountain.

(c) 2013, 2019 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience. .