Exploring one of the tallest peaks in Southern California, tasting a local mountain brew, and camping under the pines just scratches the surface of things to do in Idyllwild.
Idyllwild is one of my all-time favorite California mountain towns and, because it’s not as known as some of the other major mountain towns, it retains an irresistible charm.
I’ve traveled to Idyllwild many times throughout my California residency and am even writing this guide from an Idyllwild campsite. I devised this ultimate list of things to do in Idyllwild, California to help you navigate my favorite mountain town. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 15 Best Things to Do in Idyllwild
- San Jacinto Peak
- Marion Mountain Campground
- Idyllwild Nature Center
- Indian Vista Scenic Overlook
- Middle Ridge Winery
- Tahquitz Peak Trail
- Bird-Watching in San Jacinto State Park
- Lake Fulmor
- Pure Bean Idy
- Downtown Idyllwild
- Rock Climbing
- Idyllwild Brewery
- Devil’s Slide Trail
- Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
- Idyllwild Art in the Park
- FAQs About What to Do in Idyllwild
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15 Best Things to Do in Idyllwild
San Jacinto Peak
Hike to the top of Idyllwild’s highest point with 360-degree views of the Inland Empire.
Put your fitness to the test with a 12-mile hike to one of the tallest peaks in Southern California. San Jacinto Peak soars an impressive 10,834 feet into the sky, taking hikers through a ponderosa pine trail with 4,500 feet of vertical elevation gain on the Marion Mountain Trail.
The San Jacinto Peak hike is one of the best things to do in Idyllwild but it’s not for beginners. It’s best suited for adventurous and experienced hikers and can be done in one day, but many hikers opt for an overnight adventure, camping at the 9,100-foot Little Round Valley Campground.
This hike is accessible in all four seasons but usually gets a few feet of snow from late fall to early spring. It’s advised to hike to San Jacinto Peak with the proper foot traction and poles or an ice axe during this time.
Marion Mountain Campground
Camp amongst the pines at this secluded campground within walking distance of downtown.
Camp among the pine trees for a true nature experience in Idyllwild. Marion Mountain Campground is one of the best camp spots near San Diego as it sits at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s the ideal place to camp if hiking to the summit is your main priority in Idyllwild.
The campground is open from late May through mid-November and has 25 first-come, first-serve campsites. Each site has its own picnic table and a fire ring with a grill, although there are often fire restrictions in place in Idyllwild.
This is also a great place to scout for brilliantly blue Steller’s Jays or fluffy mountain squirrels. Be sure to keep your opened food in bear boxes because California black bears and mountain lions frequent the area.
Idyllwild Nature Center
Learn about native Idyllwild flora and fauna and check out the nearby hiking trails.
The Idyllwild Nature Center is a museum that focuses on the local ecology and Native American culture of the area. The Idyllwild Nature Center serves as a sort of visitor center for San Jacinto State Park and has many informative exhibits and environmental education programs.
The Idyllwild Nature Center also hosts special events like Lemon Lily Restoration Day, Butterfly Daze, Trail of the Acorn Day, and Wildflower Day. Be sure to check out the hiking trails around the Idyllwild Nature Center as well for the best possible experience.
👉 Pro Tip: Dogs are allowed in the Idyllwild Nature Center and on its surrounding hiking trails but they must be kept on a leash at all times.
Indian Vista Scenic Overlook
Photograph the San Jacinto Mountains and the distant Salton Sea from one of the best viewpoints on Highway 243.
The Indian Vista Scenic Overlook is a viewpoint on the Pines Scenic Byway and is easy to miss. Keep your eye out for this overlook as you carve through Highway 243 on your way to Idyllwild.
Also, the Indian Vista Scenic Overlook a great place to look for local fowl like songbirds and red-tailed hawks. Other potential wildlife to look for are deer, bobcats, gray foxes, and coyotes. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars to spot the wildlife in hard-to-reach places.
The Indian Vista Scenic Overlook is open year-round and is an ideal spot to take a nap or cook some lunch in your motorhome. The Indian Vista Scenic Overlook is one of the coolest things to do in Idyllwild.
Middle Ridge Winery
Try local wines in an outdoor forest setting where you’ll also find art and live music.
Located on the main downtown drag, Middle Ridge Winery is Idyllwild’s premiere spot for wine connoisseurs to congregate. The cabin-style architecture of the winery is a big draw, as well as the outside patio. This is the best place to try a California wine flight outside of iconic Napa wineries.
Middle Ridge Winery is a premiere art gallery that hosts live music every weekend. You will find most Idyllwild locals hanging out at this poppin’ place most days of the week.
Dogs are allowed on the outside patio of the winery. Idyllwild residents love dogs so much that their town mayor is a loveable golden retriever. It’s safe to bet your dog is allowed in most places in town.
Tahquitz Peak Trail
Trek to a scenic lookout tower at 8,846 feet on one of the most popular hiking trails in California.
The Tahquitz Peak Trail Lookout is one of the most popular hiking trails in California. The 8.1-mile trail near Pine Cove is found just outside of Mount San Jacinto State Park and is easily accessible via the Devil’s Slide Trail.
The trail takes you to a lookout tower in the high country wilderness with incredible views of the Inland Empire and the Salton Sea to the southeast. It can be chilly atop the 8,846-foot tower, so be sure to bring your warm down jacket.
You must obtain a Wilderness Permit from the San Jacinto Ranger Station before you hike the trail, as well as an Adventure Pass for parking. These are only $5 and can be purchased at the ranger station.
Bird-Watching in San Jacinto State Park
Witness high-altitude mountain birds in their natural environment.
The San Jacinto Wildlife Area encompasses 19,000 acres of protected forest land. Acorn Woodpeckers and Mountain Chickadees are the most abundant birds in Mount San Jacinto State Park, one of the coolest California state parks.
The forest truly comes alive with the upbeat chirp of high-altitude mountain birds. White-headed Woodpeckers, quail, Steller’s Jay, and birds of prey like hawks, falcons, and the occasional brown eagle can all be found in Idyllwild.
After a full morning of spotting the best birds Mount San Jacinto State Park has to offer, take a break at one of the park’s picnic tables or visit the downtown area for some well-deserved coffee and a croissant.
Fish for rainbow trout or go for a walk around the lake’s perimeter.
Lake Fulmor is right off Highway 243. It’s on the left-hand side of the highway and is very easy to miss. This lesser-known Idyllwild spot is great for fishing, going for a summer swim, or taking an easy stroll around the Lake Fulmor perimeter.
There is a fully accessible pier at this forest oasis as well as picnic tables and a pit toilet. Lake Fulmor is a fun California lake and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon away from weekend Idyllwild crowds.
👉 Pro Tip: Lake Fulmor is currently closed for construction but is scheduled to open back up in July 2023. An Adventure Pass is needed to park at Lake Fulmor, available at the San Jacinto Ranger Station in town.
Pure Bean Idy
Get caffeinated with the best coffee and tea in town.
I visit this Pure Bean Idy every time I’m in town. It’s right across from the rustic theatre and La Casita Restaurant and brews the perfect cup of coffee. This lesser-known spot is affordable, has quality coffee, and gives high-end cafes in LA a run for their money.
The cozy interior of the cafe is spacious enough for big parties but I prefer to sit outside on the wood benches overlooking the bustling small town. One of the best parts about Pure Bean Idy, besides the killer lattes and cappuccinos, is that dogs are allowed inside.
Pure Bean Idy is the perfect hangout spot for remote workers, writers, students, and the like. There is also tea, smoothies, and lemonade available if you don’t like coffee. Don’t forget to pair your steaming cup of joe with a delicious baked good like the apricot pound cake or the spinach and cheese fritter.
Shop among an eclectic mix of vintage, thrift, and crystal stores.
Downtown Idyllwild sets this mountain town apart from the rest. The quirky shops, local art, and natural beautiful scenery of the surrounding San Jacinto Wilderness Area make downtown a mountain town dreamland.
You will find a friendly atmosphere in the antique and vintage stores in Downtown Idyllwild, as well as a local art gallery, the Idyllwild Inn, the winery, brewery, pizza restaurant, and eager Idy residents.
Most of the stores in Downtown Idyllwild resemble a cottage or a rustic mountain cabin, which makes this mountain hub one of the most romantic destinations in California. Don’t forget to stop by the charming Idyllwild Gardens plant nursery or Idyllwild Ice Cream & Jerky to complete your perfect afternoon in Idyllwild.
Scale giant granite boulders in the heart of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Idyllwild is a rock climbers’ paradise. The granite boulders are surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto Mountains and Jeffrey Pines, making it one of the most beautiful spots to rock climb in California.
Suicide Rock and Tahquitz Peak have sought-after rock climbing routes. There’s a wide variety of climbs in these areas and they typically receive ideal Southern California weather, depending on when you visit California. Be wary of freezing conditions in the wintertime, however.
These climbing spots are for experienced climbers only. You must bring your own gear for either bouldering, top rope, or sport climbing as there will be no one there to assist you. These hike-in spots are remotely nestled in the stunning San Jacinto Mountains.
Enjoy locally-made brews at this eco-friendly spot after a long day of hiking.
I try to stop by each small-town California brewery. This is usually where you can meet friendly locals and taste locally-brewed concoctions. The Idyllwild Brewpub is also the perfect place to stop for a rewarding beer after a challenging climb to San Jacinto Peak.
The Brewpub is incredibly eco-friendly and uses solar panels as well as pure mountain well water. A few locally available craft beers include the Idyllwild IPA, the Shoulda Been Red Irish Red, and the Blair Valley Brown Ale.
Consume your delicious hoppy brew with the fresh pine scent and brisk mountain air on the Idyllwild Brewpub’s covered and heated outdoor patio.
Devil’s Slide Trail
Explore Mount San Jacinto State Park’s rich forest environment on foot.
Idyllwild is a mountain recreation haven, and Devil’s Slide Trail is one of the most popular trails in Mount San Jacinto State Park. This 2.5-mile trail is a moderate activity suitable for the whole family.
The trail can also lead to the Tahquitz Peak Lookout but this hike is significantly longer. This popular hike starts from Humber Park in Mount San Jacinto State Park and leads to Saddle Junction, where it intersects the Pacific Crest Trail.
The best time to hike this trail is in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming and the creeks are defrosting. The trail may be covered in snow in the winter, so bring foot traction if you plan on hiking at this time.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Soar like a bird on a trip to a high point in the San Jacinto Mountains.
Technically not in Idyllwild, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is only a short ride out of town and is one of the best Palm Springs activities for the whole family. Fly as high as the birds on a mountainous gondola ride high into the San Jacinto Mountains.
You can also access San Jacinto Peak from the tramway. The hike is shorter and less steep than the Marion Mountain side but the earliest ride isn’t until 8 am, meaning you can’t have an early hike start.
Keep your eyes out for bighorn sheep scaling the jagged granite peaks as you ride up the oscillating tram. Stay for a while and try out the delicious cafe at the top before you head back down or head up to the summit.
Idyllwild Art in the Park
Familiarize yourself with local Idyllwild artists at this monthly art festival.
Enjoy a locally-made art fair once a month at the Idyllwild Art in the Park in Downtown Idyllwild. This special event is the perfect combination of art and nature and showcases an array of artistic mediums from ceramics to live music, jewelry, and woodworking.
Events like Art in the Park have given Idyllwild its slogan, “keep Idy wild,” or “keep Idy weird”. This is the best time to support local artists and get to know the Idyllwild community.
This event is similar to a farmers market or arts and crafts fair but in a gorgeous mountain setting. Many of the local artists showcase their work at the town gallery but others depend only on the Art in the Park event for sustenance. Support the weird Idy community with a trip to Art in the Park next time you’re in town.
FAQs About What to Do in Idyllwild
What is Idyllwild CA known for?
How do you spend weekends in Idyllwild?
Weekends are slowed down in Idyllwild. The easy pace of the town invites you to have a cup of coffee and admire the natural beauty of the town. There are also many hiking trails in the area that are a perfect way to spend the day before you head to the Idyllwild Brewery or Middle Ridge Winery at night.
Does Idyllwild have a downtown?
Downtown Idyllwild is one of the cutest and most hip downtowns of all California mountain towns. You will find vintage stores, record stores, small cafes, crystal and gem shops, pizza and Mexican food restaurants, and more.
Are there Sequoias in Idyllwild?
There are a few dispersed sequoias in Idyllwild that were planted by the Forest Service after a big fire. They are randomly scattered throughout Idyllwild, so you will need to know what to look for to spot a wooded giant. Pines and Incense Cedars are the most common trees in Idyllwild.
Now you’re ready to hit the mountain road and explore all of the great things to do in Idyllwild! If you plan on visiting Idyllwild as part of a bigger adventure, then check out these other great places to visit in California!
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