Rising 5 miles away from San Gorgonio, one of Southern California's most popular peaks, San Bernardino Peak often gets overlooked. The trail to the summit is no less beautiful. Long, steep, and difficult, the summit tops out at 10,649 feet with 4,600 feet of elevation gain over its 8-mile course. Nobody said it would be easy, but it is still a very enjoyable summit.
The first challenge is getting the permit. It is best to reserve the permit in advance. You can get the permit ahead of time from the Mill Creek Ranger Station or via the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association. Some walk-in permits are available, too, should hikers prefer to wait until the day of.
To get to the trailhead, drive with caution down a quarter-mile of very bumpy dirt road. From the trailhead, the trail rises steeply for the first 1 or 2 miles, after which the trail levels in an area called Manzanita, where you have a 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks. From here, there is an optional short side trip to Columbine Spring, about a half-mile one way. The main trail continues to a small seasonal creek about a half-mile before Limber Pines, the next trail landmark.
Most casual backpackers who look to stay overnight can set up a camp around Limber Pines. The trail starts to steepen again toward Washington Monument and the summit ridge. Washington Monument was the east-west reference point from which all future surveys of Southern California were taken after Colonel Henry Washington and his survey party were directed to erect a monument atop San Bernardino Peak in 1852. Once you hit the ridge, the trail rolls before the last half-mile to the summit.
The summit area is pretty small, so it can get crowded over the weekend. There are still some shaded areas for a break before heading back down through the same way.