We had plans to go to Joshua Tree this weekend, but that bane of my existence – the first come, first served campground (which I plan to write a post about when I’m in an especially bad mood) – reared its ugly, nonsensical head and put the kibosh on them.
Plan B became Mount San Jacinto State Park, a collection of campgrounds along Mount San Jacinto, the peak rising above Palm Springs.
The entire week before the trip, I went around telling everyone where we were going and pronouncing it like someone who has never once been exposed to the Spanish language. “Oh, yeah, we’re going to Mount San JAH-sinto State Park!”
So worldly, that’s me. Fortunately, some kind store clerk corrected us before I could make an even bigger boob of myself. But I also had to hand over my Official Californian card on the spot. Mangling Spanish? Big violation.
I’m not sure why Darren’s card hadn’t been confiscated earlier, since he also doesn’t get artichokes dipped in mayonnaise!
The drive there
The drive there is something I’d rather not relive. Except, I had no choice since we wound up reliving it on the way back down anyway.
It was smooth-ish sailing as we made our way up the hell that is the 57, then over to the slightly less hellish 60, and then to the road that would lead us to camp: The 243. At first, it was awesome. After about three minutes on the 243, we were high above the Morongo Valley winding our way up.
That’s when the fog became thick. Really thick. Like, tule fog thick. No exaggeration: I could not see more than maybe two feet in front of my car. Windy mountain road plus almost zero visibility? There was a lot of whimpering. But we made it. Darren says this will make me a better driver. I was happy just being an average driver. That drive shaved years off my life.
On the way back down, visibility was slightly better – I could see perhaps three whole feet in front of my car.
The Idyllwild Campground is on your right off the 243, just before the tiny town of Idyllwild. If you’re driving around in Idyllwild and thinking about how cute it is, you’ve already gone too far. But don’t feel bad – the sign leading into the park is lit by one single lightbulb, so you’re probably going to miss it.
Not helping is the fact that there’s also a big green sign labeled “Mt. San Jacinto State Park –>” after the entrance.
Overall, this campground is really cute and very nice. There are showers, nice bathrooms with flush toilets, sinks with hot water and water spigots.
My favorite part about the sites? They each have a little cabinet with shelves to organize your stuff! It’s clearly not a bear box, since a bear could just swat the lock right off. Maybe the park was just designed by someone who likes keeping things neat and organized, like us. An Organization Fairy, if you will.
You can also walk to the shops in Idyllwild from the campground; that’s how close it is. That made it handy when we just wanted to run a quick errand, and then get back to the fire and the business of staying warm.
There was one thing we didn’t love. Our campsite – No. 21 – had a lovely view of three private back yards, a snowplow storage facility and a day-use picnic area. It was like we were in a camping zoo. Watch campers in their natural habitat from the comfort of your yard or picnic table!
So much for feeling secluded…
The solution to that issue is just avoiding any campsites on the perimeter of the campground. Outer campgrounds are just too exposed to the outside world, including the 243, which can be busy during the day. The sites in the middle are much nicer, quieter and more private.
The other bummer is that while there are water spigots, they shut the water off for winter. Boo! We managed to get some water from the bathrooms, though.
About that mist. But for a brief full moon on Friday night, we were surrounded by this persistent, thick mist that left a layer of moisture on everything. Even Nabby was totally miserable and stayed in the tent most of the time.
When we woke up after our first night, the mist hung there. While cooking breakfast, drinking coffee, getting gas, eating lunch. Mist, mist, mist. Always with the mist, just misting the hell out of everything. It was cold, dreary, wet and getting worse.
Sometime mid-afternoon, Darren said, “What do you say we go home tonight?”
We plowed through the six bundles of wood we had just bought (actually, that part was pretty nice because it was the warmest we had been in 24 hours), loaded up the car and got outta Dodge If you’ll recall, cutting your losses when you’re not feeling it is one of our camping rules, and is perfectly okay). When we got home, we ordered pizza and high fived.
We only wish an otherwise amazing camping season hadn’t ended on such a misty, cold note.
- Campground season: Year-round (but in the winter? You crazy! This was as cold as we could stand).
- Water: Yes, but only in the summer months.
- Showers: Yes, token operated (the token machines are inside the showers).
- Firewood: Available at the Village Market for $7 a bundle; it’s a mix of woods.
- Amenities: The Village Market has food, a deli, firewood, water, ice and essentials; I really don’t recommend the deli; the last time we were there, it took 30 minutes to get a very bland sandwich that was more stale bread than anything else.
- Toilets: Flush, plus each bathroom has its own sink and mirror.
- Dog friendly: Yes – the kind host is even a self-proclaimed dog lover.
- Best sites: Anywhere in the interior.
- Site details: All sites have a fire ring, picnic table and storage cabinet; shade is decent in most sites.
- Parking: Parking is on unpaved dirt.
- Tips: Not all of the bathrooms seem to have hot water flowing, but check first. Do this by turning on the faucet three times and letting the water run. If it hasn’t started to warm up a little by then, try another bathroom.
- Avoid the outer loop campsites and get more private, quiet ones on the inside.