Trail Name: Poopout Hill via Jenks Lake/South Fork
Forest Service Designation: 1E04
Total Distance: 3.8 miles one way
Overview: scenic trail that takes you past Jenks Lake to the edge of the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area
Activities: Hiking and Horses. Bikes and motorized vehicles not permitted on South Fork Trail.
Trail Type: Graded road for the first half, then alternating between graded dirt road and single track.
Description: The Jenks Lake Trail starts right at Highway 38 and travels uphill through several switchbacks at an easy grade to Jenks Lake. Walk around the northern edge of the lake until you come to bathrooms at the eastern end of the lake. The trail continues eastward on a road leading away from the lake parallel to an irrigation ditch. The trail diverges from the road to the left just before a gate and cuts through a clearing before running parallel to W. Jenks Lake Road up to the South Fork Trail parking lot. Cross W. Jenks Lake Road at the marked crosswalk near the restrooms. The trail continues up at a much steeper grade to Poopout Hill, offering many scenic vistas of Sugarloaf and San Gorgonio peaks. This final trail section passes by Horse Meadows and some old Forest Service cabins left over from CCC trail development.
Possible Loops / Variations: Park at Jenks Lake or the South Fork Trailhead and start there, skipping the first ¾ of a mile and gaining better parking for the more scenic parts of the trail. If you do this, make sure you have an Adventure Pass.
Trailhead and Parking: Park in the Barton Flats visitor center off Highway 38 across the highway from Camp Arbolado. From the visitor center, hike back east until you hit the beginning of the trail.
In April 2013, my friend Connor and I hiked the Jenks Lake/South Fork Trails to Poopout Hill in the San Bernardino National Forest. This is an excellent hike with an alpine lake halfway and great views of surrounding mountains. Because Poopout Hill, the end of the hike, lies at the very edge of the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area, no wilderness permit is required.
Our wilderness experience began before we even arrived: we spotted a coyote just off the road near the trailhead! After passing the trailhead from both directions due to only one small sign marking it and lack of prior knowledge that the trail begins across from Camp Arbolado (much larger signs), we stopped and parked at the Barton Flats visitor center.
The trail was easy to find (it’s right next to the road), and though it branched multiple times, there were arrows or signs pointing us in the right direction. The first part of the trail is actually an unmaintained dirt road with moderate to complete forest cover. It is graded like a road, an easy switchbacking climb uphill.
We saw only one other group in this area; solitude is easily found. As the sounds of cars on the highway behind us faded away, we came to an overlook with a great view west; later, when we returned, clouds had moved into the valley, giving us a fantastic impression that we were much higher than we actually were.
After about ¾ mile, we rounded the top of a ridge and the pier of Jenks Lake, a brilliant azure lake tucked away in the mountains, lay before us. Jenks Lake is a man-made lake popular with fisherman and for general leisure and recreation. It is stocked with a number of different trout species and sports picnic tables all along the north shore.
We were fortunate enough to see one of the lake’s resident bald eagles as well as a number of local lizards and butterflies. There is a trail around the whole lake and an information board about the history of the area off the trail at the southwest corner.
The Jenks Lake Trail continues along the north side of the lake (to the left of the pier when coming to the lake) and winds around it, leaving it via the road on the southeast side. There is no sign for which way to go around the lake; be sure to follow the north side or find the paved exit road if taking the south side.
Getting from Jenks Lake to the South Fork Trailhead can be slightly confusing; there aren’t any signs marking where to go. Follow the paved road east-south-east away from Jenks Lake. This road runs parallel to a small ditch for a few hundred feet, the same mile-long ditch hand-dug by “Cap” Jenks over 100 years ago to form Jenks Lake. Just before you reach a gate about a tenth of a mile from the lake, you’ll see a small clearing on your left. Cross the clearing and continue east to the South Fork Trailhead parking lot. The trailhead is on the other side of the parking lot.
Though short, the trail from the clearing to the parking lot is difficult to follow, so in case of any trouble, head back to the gate, continue up the road from the lake to Jenks Lake Road, and walk east along the road until you reach the parking lot and the South Fork Trailhead. There are bathrooms at the parking lot and plenty of signs depicting information and rules for the trail. The trail begins just across the road.
The South Fork Trail is more strenuous than the Jenks Lake Trail, but the navigation becomes much easier. There’s only one trail. We followed the trail as it switchbacked up the mountainside, crossing a small stream and coming to a number of great views of Sugarloaf and the mountains surrounding San Gorgonio, the highest peak in southern California.
After about a mile of mildly strenuous uphill climbing, we reached Horse Meadows, a beautiful historic site with two small cabins complemented by wildflowers and a small grove of Coulter Pines, trees with the largest cones in the world. We stopped here at one of the two picnic tables adjacent to the trail.
After our short break, we continued on. The trail crosses two roads just past the picnic tables, but signs clearly mark where to go. We wound up the hill, passing a giant Coulter Pine cone along the way, and found our forest cover replaced with a clear blue sky, the pines replaced by thorny shrubs. Though the sun beat down strongly, this part of the trail was undoubtedly the most picturesque: views of Sugarloaf and the entire ridge emerged as we went ever higher.
After just a few minutes of frequent breaks to enjoy the view and take pictures, the ecosystem changed again. Ferns and willows sprang up along little rills by the trail, providing shade. A few minutes later we reached the San Gorgonio Wilderness Boundary, which marked our last turnoff.
We took a left, following the signs to Poopout Hill, and soon came to benches, information boards on the history of the area, and incredible views of San Gorgonio. After a quick break, we headed down the same way we had come up.
This hike, the Jenks Lake and South Fork Trails to Poopout Hill, is a mildly strenuous but fantastic hike that will reward your efforts with great views of Sugarloaf, San Gorgonio, and nearby snowy peaks. The weather is almost always sunny (bring snowshoes from November through March), and frequent water along the trail, as well as bathroom facilities and a picturesque alpine lake halfway through, make this hike one of the best in the San Bernardino National Forest.