Idyllic Idyllwild: a weekend in the woods

In the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is a contrast to busier mountain towns up the road like Big Bear.
  • In the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is a contrast to busier mountain towns up the road like Big Bear.

"Keep close to Nature’s heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." ~ John Muir

San Jacinto Peak (pictured in the background) is an easy tram ride up from Palm Springs on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

San Jacinto Peak (pictured in the background) is an easy tram ride up from Palm Springs on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Ah, now I understand why my friends escape to the mountains on a whim! A weekend in Idyllwild does the body and soul some mighty good. With the pine trees, fresh air, and towering peaks, you might think for a second that you're in Colorado or Montana. Thankfully, Idyllwild is only a 2.5-hour scenic drive from San Diego or Los Angeles.

As you head through Mountain Center and San Jacinto, take advantage of the turnouts to snap photos of panoramic views. Pay attention to road signs once you pass Mountain Center: Idyllwild is only about ten blocks wide/tall, and I almost missed the tiny, quaint town. Once you're there, it's a magical patch of wilderness that will help you "keep close to Nature's heart."

Emerald Cabin interior.

Emerald Cabin interior.

Where to stay and eat

Booking a room at one of the local lodges will get you within walking distance of the town's center. However, if you're looking for a place with character, privately owned cabins are your best bet. My friends and I stayed at the Emerald Cabin. Jennifer was a wonderful host, and her cozy abode the perfect retreat. I couldn't stop taking photos of the beautifully decorated interior, exposed beams, and natural furnishings.

If you're in need of basic supplies and groceries, the Idyllwild Village Market is just down the street. Several fine restaurants surround the town's plaza.

I recommend breakfast at Cafe Aroma (Editor's note: temporarily closed), lunch at Gastrognome, and dinner with drinks at Idyology. For those looking for vegetarian/vegan/gluten free options, Plant Food Supper Club is a great spot for breakfast and lunch.

Among the pines in Idyllwild.

Among the pines in Idyllwild.

What to do

Idyllwild is a draw for hikers, bikers, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. San Jacinto Peak offers abundant hiking and climbing opportunities in the spring, summer and fall. The area becomes a snowy wonderland in the winter. If time allows, I highly suggest taking a ride up to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and exploring the trails. The summer months can be quite hot; cool off by taking a swim at Lake Hemet. Boating and fishing are also popular here.

For those looking for a slower pace, Idyllwild's art scene doesn't disappoint. The Art Alliance of Idyllwild regularly hosts classes, seminars, and art walks. Every August, hundreds of people flock to the town for Jazz in the Pines.

The small-town charm and hospitality make Idyllwild worth the trip. And the surrounding mountains offer lots to do and see, with something there for everyone. Add this gem to your weekend adventure list!

Idyllwild, CA

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A rule of thumb is that the top of the aerial tramway (Mountain Station) is about 30 degrees cooler than at the bottom. So dress accordingly. And while you can hike to San Jacinto Peak from Idyllwild, it is not recommended unless you are an experienced hiker. Best just to take the tramway, as it's fun trip up and down, and very safe. If you are not familiar with Palm Springs, it's an excellent idea to stop by the Visitor Center, 2901 N. Palm Canyon Dr., at Tramview Road. It's housed in a former modernistic gas station.

Can we get a few additions to these bi-monthly articles from various news sources telling visitors to come up to our small mountain town? 1. People need to travel up and down the mountain due to work, emergencies and various other "non-vacational/non-sightseeing" reasons of more importance. Turnouts and signs exist for the very few ways in and out. While my best advice would be to not come up here if a visitor has a fear or uncertainty of driving up mountain roads, those of us that live up here would appreciate visitors using the very numerous and clearly marked turnouts when they feel the need to drive 20 mph under what the vehicles behind them are driving. Not only for common decency, but safety for all as well. Second, our forest is not a good place to drop trash. It is actually a very bad place for it, because we actually have developed the necessary technological levels to possess (and in abundance at that) trash cans. Finally, our driveways are not parking spots. I understand that parking is limited within our very small and, ideally quiet in between articles, town. I would fault poor planning on the town's end for limited parking, but being approximately 100 miles from multiple extremely crowded cities with frequent articles enticing their residents to visit seems to be a larger culprit. Regardless of the true cause of our limited space, the town is not built to hold 10% of every surrounding city at any given time. Joshua Tree was not either, however they are desert and simply destroyed more of the available semi-flat earth to build more parking. I assume the same is in our future, however until we make a concrete mountain our driveways and small roads need to be clear. With that said, many of us own large chains and even larger trucks that can at least solve that problem and often do. Also, we hear Big Bear is really nice.

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