South Fork to Dollar Lake Trail

HARD 19 reviews
#1 of 7 trails in

South Fork to Dollar Lake Trail is a 11.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Banning, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

11.5 miles
2837 feet
Out & Back

dogs on leash





horseback riding

mountain biking

nature trips

trail running







The trail is a moderate uphill climb. Much of the hike is along a stream. There are a few rocks, but the trail is well maintained. Keep a lookout for birds, chipmunks, and lizards. You must get a permit from the Mill Creek Ranger Station for this hike.

4 days ago

1 29.18 | group of 4, me and 3 other buddies, one who is not an avid hiker (he died 3/4s of the way, but we got him to push and he lived & absolutely loved the trek down!). we started around 6:45a. phenomenal! lots of snow, knee deep in parts. icy in parts as well. overall, not bad and temperatures were perfect, about 40 all day. we got back to the start about 12 hours later right before sunset. we stopped for 2 hours at dollar lake for lunch and to absorb the majesty. we have all been to dollar multiple times prior, but never with snow. completely different hike than when dry / no snow! poles are a must! have fun!

2 months ago

Only 4 stars now since the fire but still beautiful. Hopefully this area will come back quickly. Hiked to dollar saddle yesterday under intermittent snow flurries, made the hike just that more enjoyable.

2 months ago

Did this hike in September, but continued to Dollar Saddle. Beautiful hike with a reasonable grade.

5 months ago

Hiked to Dollar Lake this morning with overcast skies! Beautiful day for a hike. Most of the trail is well maintained except for the short segment hiking down to Dollar Lake. A lot of fallen trees blocking the trail. I gave up and just looked down. Looked dry to me. Several stream were still flowing along the way. Beautiful scenery. Good day hike

6 months ago

August 19, 2017 Led a group of hikers to San Gorgonio Peak via the South Fork Trail. (See my previous post below for information about the hike and getting a permit)

Still plenty of water at the 4.1 mile mark where the trail splits. Taking a left will take you to Dry Lake, Mineshaft, the historic plane wreck and then loops around San Gorgonio and approaches the peak from the southwest. Continuing straight on the right, will get you to Dollar Lake Saddle and then on to the peak via the San Bernardino Divide Trail heading south and east. I carried 5 liters of water and a filter. I still had a liter left after the 20 mile hike. I did filter water with 4 miles to go for one of my hikers though. All in all, great hike and a great day. I strongly recommend advanced planning for this hike. It is not for beginners or anyone who is not in physically good condition (hiking condition). I saw a lot of people on the trail who were physically hurting or weren't sure where to go. Seems to me that kinda takes the fun out of the climb, but that's just me!

6 months ago

Hiked the South Fork Trail to Dollar Lake on Saturday, August 5th. It was about a 12 mile out and back with about 2,700 feet in elevation gain. This area was devastated by the Lake Fires a few years ago. The views on this hike are still pretty awesome, even though in most areas you are looking at a sea of dead trees. Life is coming back though and some trees did survive. Poopout Hill, at 2.2 miles in, offers an excellent view of San Gorgonio. I would recommend hitting Poopout on your way down the mountain. It is only a few hundred feet off the South Fork Trail. There are stone benches up there and the ever present San Gorgonio Wilderness sign marks the hill and the beginning of the wilderness area. Makes for a great photo op with San Gorgonio in the background.

Permitting for this trail is done through the same method you would use for Vivian Creek or Angelus Oaks. So, plan in advance! The trailhead is pretty easy to find. Once you get onto CA-38 E/Mill Creek Road you will drive about 20 miles to Jenks Lake Rd W. You’ll go right on Jenks Lake Road and drive in about 2.5 miles. On the right hand side of the road you will see a “South Fork Parking” sign, with an arrow pointing to your left. This sign is right at the left turn into the parking lot, so pay attention or you may pass it. This is a pretty large parking lot and adventure passes are required to be displayed.

The trailhead is at the south end of the lot near the bathrooms. Once you get on the trail you will immediately cross Jenks Lake Road. The first 1.2 miles takes you to Horse Meadows and has an elevation gain of about 620 feet. Most of that in the first half mile. The trail has been cleaned up pretty well over the last few years. My hats off to all those volunteers that spend countless hours cleaning up and removing fallen trees from blocking the trail. There is some life coming back, but most of that is low lying brush and grass. Horse meadows is considered a historic site. It was preserved very well during the fires by the first responders and other volunteers.

Right as you leave Horse Meadows you will cross an east/west dirt road. If you go left (or east) you will end up on a 2 mile loop that goes to Poopout Hill and then back down to the South Fork Trail. Or, if you continue on the South Fork Trail for 1 mile, you will end up at the same spot as the loop and only a few hundred feet from the top of Poopout Hill. Either way the elevation gain is about 350 feet. As I mentioned earlier, great place to stop on your way down.

The next part of the trail is a 1.3 mile stretch that takes you to the Lost Creek Trail which turns up north. This stretch of the trail is still pretty flat, with only about 220 feet in elevation gain. If you turn left on the Lost Creek Trail, you will quickly cross the South Fork Santa Ana River. A good source for water filtering. If you continue about a mile in on the Lost Creek Trail you will hit Grinnell Ridge Camp.

Instead of turning on the Lost Creek Trail, continue south on the South Fork Trail for another .3 miles and you will come to a fork. This is about 3.8 miles into the hike. On your left heading southeast is the Dry Lake Trail. A favorite destination for overnighters and the longer route to San Gorgonio Peak. On your right heading southwest is the Dollar Lake Trail which takes you 2.4 miles up to Dollar Lake Saddle and the San Bernardino Divide Trail. This is the steepest part of the hike with an elevation gain of 1,770 feet. This also takes you to San Gorgonio Peak via the San Bernardino Divide Trail and it is about 5 miles shorter than the Dry Lake Route. We are taking the San Bernardino Divide Trail on the August 19th.

For this hike, I didn’t hike to the Saddle. Instead at about 1.7 miles up I took the trail on the left to Dollar Lake Camp and had lunch, then headed back. I decided not to take the half mile decent to Dollar Lake. This portion of the trail had not been worked on, so there were lots of trees and debris blocking the trail. Everywhere you looked there was a sea of dead trees.

This hike was a recon hike for me. We will be coming back to the South Fork Trail on the 19th of Aug and hike up to the Dollar Lake Trail (3.8 miles), then to Dollar Lake Saddle (2.4 miles). Once at the Saddle, we will continue southeast on the San Bernardino Divide Trail for (3.5 miles) to San Gorgonio Peak. We should only need to filter water at the fork for the Dollar Lake Trail and Dry Lake Trail. Topping off on the way up and on the way down.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I hiked to the top, passing Dollar lake and its attached ice flow in the 1950s and 1960s, usually spending the night either at Dollar Lake or Slushy Meadows on the return. From what I am now reading the lake is no longer? Dried up? So I assume the the glacier-like adjacent ice is also gone? In that era there was a boulder adjacent to the lake with an overhang which provided some shelter from moisture. AT Slushy Meadows there was a hollowed out tree which provided "emergency" shelter from an unexpected down;pour. Be sure the rangers know of your plans...and check out with them.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Well Dollar Lake is completely dried up, as are most of the creeks. We found one spring that was still running and there was a creek at the bottom of a very steep drop. Otherwise there is no water source. Besides that the hike was beautiful! Lovely view of de surrounding mountains as you are hiking up, and a lot of changing leaves in early fall! Perfect temperature this time of year and was overall a great hike. There was three people in the group and four dogs. Everyone did great but make sure to bring water since there is hardly any water sources. We clocked the distance at 14 miles round trip. Got there at 10 am and got back to the truck at 5:30 pm but we stopped a lot and weren't in a rush. Just don't forget you need a permit and an adventure pass. No Rangers today but you never know!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

I decided to hike this after spending the day hiking with a meet up group yesterday. I felt a bit tired and had spent the night in Big Bear. This was a close hike on the way home. The weather was hot but beautiful. There is always a ranger there to check for permits. I hiked as far as Dollar Saddle. There were a couple fof hikers going to the summit of San G. I was soooo tempted. It was late though. And I worried that I didn't have a water filter. I decided to add Dry Lake Viewpoint which is about 1.2 mi past Dollar Saddle. It is also known as Charleton Peak. 10840.I turned back about 2mi from the peak.WHen I got back to the car. I only had one cup of water left. Guess that was a good decision for this day. Next time…to the peak!!!

Monday, July 08, 2013

I dont know why it says Banning here when the trailhead is actually San Bernardino near Big Bear. A very picturesque hike that passes along a large stream. It is worth it to stop and enjoy the cool water.
Have fun.

Monday, August 06, 2012

7am start - Summit around 3:30pm, back to parking lot at 7:20pm. This is a long trail with very easy elevation gain. Tons of rocks on trails, have good ankle support. Altitude sickness set in above 10k with major headache and nausea at summit. Its over 5 miles hike down to get below 10k again. Wished I would have acclimated longer at 10k feet before my ascent as I came up from sea level.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Got a 5:30 AM start. Had the trail to myself on the way up. The first half of the hike was much easier than the second half. The trail peaks at 9500 feet and then dips back down to the lake and 9200 feet. If you have it in you, four miles beyond the lake is the highest point, San Gorgonio Peak, in Southern California. Snow around 9000', but no snow on the well used trail up to 9500'. On my descent, I passed a lot of people, I didn't count, but I would guess 100. It was a Saturday. There was one downed trail that had to be climbed over. 13 miles total, 2600' net elevation gain. Beautiful views.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This trail is beautiful. You won't believe you're still in Southern California.

Be sure to get an Adventure Pass from the Forest Service;

Here is a map an description of the trail;

This is considered remote hiking. Be sure to carry plenty of food and water.

3 months ago

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday, July 07, 2013