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A Guide to the Best Mountain Destinations in Southern California

Southern California is home to some of the most beautiful mountain destinations in the US. From the San Bernardino Mountains to the San Gabriel Mountains and the Sierra Nevada range, the area has a wide variety of mountains for any outdoor enthusiast. Whether you’re a beginner hiker or a seasoned climber, there’s a mountain in Southern California for you to explore. This guide will give you an overview of the best mountain destinations in Southern California, so you can plan your next outdoor adventure.

1. San Bernardino Mountains

The San Bernardino Mountains are located in the southern part of the state, and they are the highest mountain range in Southern California. The range consists of two major peaks, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto, which reach elevations of 11,503 feet and 10,834 feet respectively. The range offers a wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities, as well as spectacular views of the surrounding area. The San Bernardino Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hiking trails in the San Bernardino Mountains is the Vivian Creek Trail, a 9.7-mile out-and-back trail that starts at the Vivian Creek Trailhead. The trail winds its way through the mountains and offers stunning views of the surrounding area. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty, but it is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about seven to eight hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The San Bernardino Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

2. San Gabriel Mountains

The San Gabriel Mountains are a mountain range located in the northern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including Mt. Baldy, which reaches an elevation of 10,068 feet. The range is known for its spectacular views of the Los Angeles Basin, as well as its wide variety of hiking trails. The San Gabriel Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts and Mt. Waterman.

One of the most popular hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains is the Mt. Baldy Trail. This 4.2-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Manker Flats Trailhead and winds its way through the mountains to the summit of Mt. Baldy. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about three to four hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The San Gabriel Mountains are also home to Big Bear Lake, a large lake that is popular for fishing, boating, and swimming. The lake is surrounded by a number of small towns, including Big Bear City, which is a great place to stay if you’re looking for a quiet mountain getaway. There are also several ski resorts located near the lake, including Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.

3. Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierra Nevada Mountains are located in the eastern part of the state and are the highest mountain range in California. The range includes a number of peaks, including Mt. Whitney, which reaches an elevation of 14,505 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The Sierra Nevada Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

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One of the most popular hikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is the Mt. Whitney Trail. This 11-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Whitney Portal Trailhead and winds its way to the summit of Mt. Whitney. The trail is considered to be difficult in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about seven to eight hours, so it’s a great option for an overnight backpacking trip.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mammoth Mountain and Squaw Valley. These resorts offer a wide variety of winter activities, including downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

4. Angeles National Forest

The Angeles National Forest is a 650,000-acre forest located in the San Gabriel Mountains. The forest is home to a variety of hiking trails, including the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through the forest for over 2,650 miles. The forest is also home to several campgrounds, making it a great destination for camping and backpacking. The Angeles National Forest is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the Angeles National Forest is the Mt. Waterman Trail. This 6-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Mt. Waterman Trailhead and winds its way through the forest to the summit of Mt. Waterman. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about four to five hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The Angeles National Forest is also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Waterman and Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

5. San Jacinto Mountains

The San Jacinto Mountains are a mountain range located in the southern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including San Jacinto Peak, which reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The San Jacinto Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the San Jacinto Mountains is the Cactus to Clouds Trail. This 10.2-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and winds its way to the summit of San Jacinto Peak. The trail is considered to be difficult in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about eight to ten hours, so it’s a great option for an overnight backpacking trip.

The San Jacinto Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

6. Santa Monica Mountains

The Santa Monica Mountains are a mountain range located in the western part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including Sandstone Peak, which reaches an elevation of 3,111 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, as well as its wide variety of hiking trails. The Santa Monica Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains is the Sandstone Peak Trail. This 3.2-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Trippet Ranch Trailhead and winds its way to the summit of Sandstone Peak. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about two to three hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The Santa Monica Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Waterman and Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

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7. Cuyamaca Mountains

The Cuyamaca Mountains are a mountain range located in the eastern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including Cuyamaca Peak, which reaches an elevation of 6,512 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The Cuyamaca Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the Cuyamaca Mountains is the Cuyamaca Peak Trail. This 6.5-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Paso Picacho Campground and winds its way to the summit of Cuyamaca Peak. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about four to five hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The Cuyamaca Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Waterman and Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

8. Santa Catalina Mountains

The Santa Catalina Mountains are a mountain range located in the southern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including Mt. Lemmon, which reaches an elevation of 9,159 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The Santa Catalina Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the Santa Catalina Mountains is the Mt. Lemmon Trail. This 10.5-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Catalina Highway Trailhead and winds its way to the summit of Mt. Lemmon. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about seven to eight hours, so it’s a great option for an overnight backpacking trip.

The Santa Catalina Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley and Mt. Bigelow Ski Area. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

9. San Ysidro Mountains

The San Ysidro Mountains are a mountain range located in the northern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including San Ysidro Peak, which reaches an elevation of 5,520 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The San Ysidro Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the San Ysidro Mountains is the San Ysidro Trail. This 5.3-mile out-and-back trail starts at the San Ysidro Trailhead and winds its way to the summit of San Ysidro Peak. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about three to four hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The San Ysidro Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

10. Santa Ana Mountains

The Santa Ana Mountains are a mountain range located in the southern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including Modjeska Peak, which reaches an elevation of 5,496 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The Santa Ana Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

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One of the most popular hikes in the Santa Ana Mountains is the Santiago Peak Trail. This 6.2-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Holy Jim Trailhead and winds its way to the summit of Santiago Peak. The trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about four to five hours, so it’s a great option for a day hike.

The Santa Ana Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Waterman and Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

11. Santa Cruz Mountains

The Santa Cruz Mountains are a mountain range located in the northern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including Loma Prieta Peak, which reaches an elevation of 3,786 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The Santa Cruz Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the Santa Cruz Mountains is the Skyline to the Sea Trail. This 25.5-mile out-and-back trail starts at the Castle Rock State Park Trailhead and winds its way through the mountains to the coast. The trail is considered to be difficult in difficulty and is not recommended for beginners. The trail can be completed in about two to three days, so it’s a great option for an overnight backpacking trip.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are also home to several ski resorts, including Mt. Herman and Mt. Tamalpais Ski Area. These resorts offer downhill skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, as well as a variety of other winter activities. The resorts are open throughout the winter and make for a great day trip for outdoor enthusiasts.

12. San Rafael Mountains

The San Rafael Mountains are a mountain range located in the northern part of the state. The range includes a number of peaks, including San Rafael Peak, which reaches an elevation of 7,827 feet. The range is known for its stunning views of the surrounding area, as well as its wide variety of hiking and backpacking opportunities. The San Rafael Mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep.

One of the most popular hikes in the San Rafael Mountains is the Sisar Canyon Trail. This 8.5-mile out