My curiosity about Idyllwild was piqued when I saw a travel writer friend hike to the top of Mount Jacinto in a weekend jaunt from LA several years ago. Always intrigued by her snow-filled woodsy photos, this small mountain town just a few hours from LA came back on my radar during the pandemic.
We would have been in Europe this summer but instead, we found ourselves dreaming of unexpected adventures closer to home. Our first road trip during these uncertain times was spawned by my husband’s birthday. Even a hot Palm Springs getaway in the summertime felt exciting. Since Idyllwild is on the way to the desert, I booked a few days in a cabin at The Fireside Inn since not only was the price right, but the cabin called Squirrel’s Nest included a small deck to sit and admire the tall pine trees. Idyllwild makes an easy escape from Los Angeles.
Need a relaxing or romantic getaway? Want a breathe fresh air in the woods or get into nature with a new hike each day? Find your own pandemic pleasure in this charming mountain town.
Sleep in a Cabin
At around $140 (including tax) a night and probably a cheaper rate before the pandemic, The Fireside Inn cabin with charming woodsy-Esque decor was all we needed – a place to sleep and breathe in the fresh air. Think wood paneling, antlers, stone fireplace, vintage skis, old paintings, and Pendleton blankets.
We relished the little private deck to kick off our hiking shoes and have a cold beer after a day of hiking. The bare minimal bathroom might not be your thing, but high-quality bath products and the tall ponderosa pines all around make up for any luxe needs. A mini-fridge and microwave are included too.
The best part of The Fireside Inn is also the location since it is an easy walk into town. Instead of breakfast one morning we ended up with a pre-hike milkshake from Idyllwild Ice Cream & Jerky and freshly made doughnuts from a nearby local business – both hard to resist since homemade.
Other options at The Fireside Inn include a bare-bones 13 foot 1976 fiberglass travel trailer called The Camper.
Other properties friends recommend:
Get into Nature
Since there is no skiing, Idyllwild is not as well known as other California resort towns but it is a perfect escape to get into nature. Compared to a mini Yosemite, try one of these hikes below, but make sure to carry a small backpack with extra water and snacks, especially in the hot summer. And don’t go alone.
Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail – 2.6 miles one way on fairly flat level terrain. Dogs on leash are OK.
We walked on the dirt path up towards Humber Park and then turned around to go back towards our car parked on a narrow side road. The trail was highly trafficked on the weekend. The 675 feet of elevation change overlooks Idyllwild and is appropriate for hikers of all abilities. The trail passes peaceful streams, quiet forests, and sterling San Jacinto Mountains views of Tahquitz Rock and Strawberry Valley.
Did you know Ernie Maxwell was the cartoonist for The New Yorker and Esquire? The Ernie Maxwell Trail was named after him while he was alive. He was an advocate for the outdoors who wanted a horse trail from Idyllwild to Humber Park. He founded The Town Crier paper with his wife in 1946 right here in Idyllwild.
Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock – 3.3 miles one way
Rated a moderate hike, I would recommend this hike even more than the last due to its grand rock finale vista with views of the valley stretching west to Hemet and a stunning view of Tahquitz Peak to the east. From Suicide Rock hikers are awarded also with panoramic views of Idyllwild and the rugged, granite cliff of Tahquitz (Lily) Rock. The Deer Springs Trail continues to San Jacinto Peak, with a gain of 5200 ft. from the trailhead.
The first 2.3-mile section is to a junction where you take the cutoff trail to the right 1 mile to the top of Suicide Rock with panoramic views of Strawberry Valley and Idyllwild.
As you pass through the woods, admire numerous species of pine trees, pealing bright green and maroon-ish manzanita trees, grandiose smooth boulder rocks that look like massive mushrooms, hollowed-out old trees – some fallen, scattered pinecones bigger than my hand, and trees with groovy bark patterns.
On our return, a huge juicy rattler slithered up a path. Although we went midday in summer (not the smartest idea), early morning is a better idea for cooler temps. Even with water, my hands swelled up like sausages.
Before the pandemic, you could hike to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with a state park permit and take the tram down.
For more aggressive hikers, Deer Springs Trail to San Jacinto Peak is 9 miles one way.
Lake Hemet is 15 minutes from downtown Idyllwild which makes an ideal spot for boating, fishing, and camping with lake view cabins. Plus, recent additions include Soaring Pines Cafe and Splashing Eagle Waterpark. Learn more at http://www.lakehemetrecreation.com. Visit wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/fishing/ for license rates and free fishing days throughout California.
Mountain Bikers of all levels will find what they are looking for in the San Jacinto Mountains around Idyllwild with about 200 miles of dirt roads and more than 40 miles of trails open to bicyclists.
Explore the Town
Saturday was quite busy in this small town as the pandemic forced people to find new ways to “move” and explore. Sunday afternoon was a much quieter feel but many businesses closed early. Poke around vintage thrift stores, garden stores, and small boutiques. Admire the Idyllwild Town Monument and the Idyllwild Historical Society grounds.
The charm here lies in local businesses. No big chain stores, only local groceries, restaurants (many with outdoor seating), a local brewpub and pizzeria, and shops for souvenirs and tchotchkes.
Catch a sunset glow post-hike with some pizza and a Newcastle Brown Ale outside at Fratello’s Ristorante social distant style. Idyllwild Pizza Co is also down the road. Italian fine dining FERRO was LA expensive with patio seating. It was probably not the best place to order steamed clams and the wild boar lasagna was more like a heaping meat pie. My husband enjoyed the pan-roasted fish but be prepared to spend over $100 for two.
Middle Ridge Winery was a delightful surprise for exceptional wine at this no-pressure tasting room and art gallery but also wide-open space for outdoor seating in the back lot. It was fairly quiet on a Sunday afternoon. Their wine recommendations were outstanding with many grapes coming from Temecula. The vino we sampled was so wonderful we left we 3 bottles – a 2014 red blend called Devil’s Slide from Temecula Valley, a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Santa Ynez Valley, and a 2017 Pinot Gris from Blue’s Creek Vineyard in Temecula.
Before leaving we waited in a short line to order breakfast inside at The Town Baker where you can find an impressive breakfast burrito and homemade pastries – scones and muffins with coffee. We sat outside in their rustic expansive woodsy back area under the pines. It felt calm and peaceful to sit and be hugged by the trees after two days of vigorous hiking.