Winter RVing in Southern California is a tricky thing. Southern California is close to South Carolina in latitude, so it doesn’t sit as far south as Florida, and as a result doesn’t get as warm. Add in the Pacific Ocean, which pulls cold water from the arctic down the California coast, and the many 10,000+ foot mountains –  and it’s easy to see how you can get stuck in snow if you’re not careful.

That’s how we found ourselves snow camping at 7,200 feet, a few thousand feet above the charming mountain community of Idyllwild California this April.  Always check the altitude of your destination! 🙂

Descanso to Idyllwild

Descanso, CA to Idyllwild, CA
Descanso, CA to Idyllwild, CA

We made the (mostly) correct decision to drive the back way from Descanso, CA to Idyllwild. This involves driving on tight, windy mountain roads for essentially the entire drive – but on the plus side it’s 50 miles shorter. Plus it saved significant elevation drop and gains, as the alternate route would have taken us from 4,000 feet to sea level then back to 7,200 feet.

We know of many RVers who avoid mountain roads entirely, and I can understand why. Class-C RV brakes (standard, non air brakes) like ours are not confidence-inspiring. Stopping distances on level terrain are already more than double a traditional car, and the steepness of mountains roads makes it that much more difficult to stop.

We’ve found that a combination of taking our time, engine braking on downhills (ok for gas – not so much for diesel), and disconnecting the car and driving separately in really steep areas works out well for the most part.

Note that for RVing purposes, the Google map time estimates are not very useful. An RV is significantly slower on a mountain road than a car – if you’ve ever gotten behind an RV you probably know what I’m talking about. As a result, I’ve found that highway times are usually 10 to 15 percent longer in an RV, and mountain driving can take anywhere from 25% longer to double the time. It’s always better to be safe, so give yourself plenty of time if you plan to navigate twisty mountain roads in your RV.

Idyllwild RV Resort

We arrived at Thousand Trails Idyllwild (aka Idyllwild RV Resort) to be greeted with a chipper,”You arrived just before the snow storm!” So we wisely topped off the propane just inside the gate and went looking for a campsite.

In the summer I’m sure that the Idyllwild campgrounds are warm and full of bustling people. In April, not so much. We had our choice of campsites, so found one with full hookups (W/E/S) in the most beautiful and remote part of the park we could find. Perfect.

And then it snowed, and snowed, and it snowed some more.

Fortunately we had plenty of food, as we always stock up before we drive, and we had no-where we had to go. Add in our propane and full hookups, and we were ready for some extended cold.

We don’t mind the cold (much) – but when temps drop below 40 degrees our heat pump stops working and we’re forced to rely on the propane to stay warm. Yes, many people use space heaters to get around this, but RV wiring isn’t designed for continuous space heater usage, and the possibility of a fire isn’t worth saving money on propane in my opinion. We had to bring the hose inside a few nights, but at least our pipes didn’t freeze.

Fortunately, the snow didn’t last long – just a few days and it was temperate again.

The Campground Itself

I don’t often talk about Thousand Trails or campground memberships, and I need to, since they’re a great way to save money as a full-time RVer. I’ll save that for another post, but it’s worth noting that the Idyllwild Campground is something special.

The RV sites are mostly well spaced out, although if you want full hookups in the lower section, your going to be stacked like cordwood. In the upper area, the full-hookup sites have more room, although they’re still not as spacious as the Water/Electric sites. If you have big tanks, or if it’s a short stay, stick to W/E for maximum space and privacy.

Tent Camping

There’s even several extensive Tent camping loops, so that Tent campers can enjoy the mountain scenery without the sight and sounds of RVs.

We found the facilities to be excellent, although naturally the hot tub and pools were still closed for the season. We recommend a visit. Just keep in mind that the drive up is a bit sketchy in an RV no matter which way you go – from Banning in the north, Palm Springs in the east, Hemet in the West, or the way we came from the south.

Idyllwild Hiking

The town of Idyllwild sits at 5,200 feet on Mount San Jacinto – the 10,800 foot tall mountain that towers over Palm Springs – and naturally the entire mountain is covered in hiking, equestrian, and 4×4 Jeep Trails.

The Pacific Crest Trail also passes near Idyllwild and it’s connected to the town by the Devil’s slide trail. Most of the hiking is fairly steep and technical, so bring extra water and wear good boots if you plan to hike very far.

View toward Hemet
View toward Hemet, CA

Unfortunately I managed to hurt my foot while scrambling down a loose hillside. It wasn’t bad, but it limited my ability to walk and hike for a few days, so we mostly stuck to the network of trails in and around our campground.

This ultimately worked out well as there were many trails to explore. Most of the Thousand Trails campgrounds are massive – many hundreds of acres – and the Idyllwild campground is no exception. It’s huge! It also sits at 7,200 feet, so quite a ways above Idyllwild, which means the views of the valley below and the mountain peaks above are stunning!

Our Favorite Eats & Drinks in Idyllwild

Due to the snow and our busy schedule, we didn’t spend much time in the town of Idyllwild itself. Idyllwild is a charming town full of shops, restaurants, and galleries and it’s definitely worth a visit – but as SoCal residents, we’ve been there in the past so didn’t explore this time as much as we would have liked to.

That said, we did find a great place to eat and drink and hang out that we highly recommend. It’s a fairly new restaurant called Idyology.

Idyology is a different kind of restaurant concept, that includes a bar area, several dining areas, a beautiful outdoor patio, live music, a huge fireplace, and even an area to game and shoot pool.

You seat yourself in the restaurant, and both the bar and restaurant are counter service, so you go to the bar to grab a couple drinks, then go to the counter to order food. When your food is ready they do deliver it – so I still left a decent tip.

The food is mostly organic and locally sourced. Even more impressive, the food is all reasonably priced, and most meals cost $15 or less. If you’re in Idyllwild we recommend stopping for a bite – you won’t regret it.

Update on Lexi

Our little gray furball is doing great and she’s getting big. We made the decision early to keep her contained, as we don’t want her to kill any of the Stellar’s Jays or bushy-tailed Squirrels we enjoy watching while we drink our coffee in the morning. And trust me, she would try!

Even more important (to us), is we don’t want Lexi to become part of the food chain. The San Jacinto mountains are full of predators – packs of coyotes, mountains lions, bob cats, eagles, and even large hawks will all eat a cat, and Lexi has shown during her escapes that she’s will to travel far away from the RV. She also knows when she’s free, and refuses to be caught until she’s ready. Not an ideal situation on travel days!

So at least for now, she’s an indoor kitty – which doesn’t mean we don’t let her outside. I’m working on leash training her, but for now she sits outside with us daily in her kennel. It protects her and makes her feel safe, while giving her more exposure to the sights, sounds, and most importantly smells that she craves.

Lexi in her Kennel
Lexi in her Kennel on top of the car. She prefers to look down from a perch.

This all works really well when there are a few birds, squirrels, or dog walkers nearby. If there’s too much going on she panics and meows, and we let her in. If there’s not enough going on she gets impatient and meows and we let her in. Long story short – Lexi is a cat and she acts like a cat. 🙂

New RV Gear

It took 4 years of daily use – both morning coffee and evening beers – but finally our Gravity Chairs gave up the ghost. The shock cord stretched and snapped, and the mesh of the chairs stretched out and started to tear.

Admittedly, we originally bought two of the cheapest gravity chairs we could find (less than $100 for both), and we I wrote about our original chairs in this article.

As we use our chairs extensively, and as we like comfortable chairs, we headed to camping world and bought two of the ‘better’ padded chairs.

New Chairs
Our New Chairs

So far vs the mesh chairs, I find the padded chairs to be more comfortable (I certainly hope they are!) and warmer as there’s little to no airflow. They also feel more supportive, and the lockouts work better than our last set of chairs.

We’ll use them for a while and let you know what we think, but so far we love them!

From Idyllwild to Utah

I started this post in CA, but am finishing it in Red Rock country, Utah near Zion NP. You can see current photos on our Facebook page, or stay tuned for our next travel post.

Until then, happy trekking!


Hi, I'm Rich - Perpetual traveler, photographer, writer, and web designer. Thanks for reading, and happy trekking!