Historic Mount Rubidoux–The Most Popular Hike in Riverside
- Best Season: Autumn Spring Winter
- Check Trail Conditions: (951) 826-2000
- Distance: 4 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 500 Feet
- Route Type: Loop
- Trail Type: Mostly paved, some dirt trail.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Parking: Free at Bonaminio Park or Carlson Dog Park
- Locality: Riverside City Parks System
- Nearest City: Riverside, CA
- Kid-Friendly: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: Yes
I don’t need any official statistics to say with certainty that the walk to the top of Mount Rubidoux is by far the most popular trail in the City of Riverside. Featuring many historically significant landmarks, 365 degree views of the Inland Empire, and a smooth, paved road all the way to the top, it is a daily fitness routine for many, and is frequented by over a thousand residents and tourists alike every day.
Located right on the Santa Ana River, just off the 60 Freeway, it’s signature cross and flag are landmarks visible from miles in every direction. The area at the top is a favorite location for contemplation, picnics, the oldest outdoor Easter sunrise service in the United States (first held in 1909), and the city’s annual 4th of July fireworks display (often followed by the traditional ceremonial accidental burning of Mount Rubidoux). It was also the site of a recent battle over the future of the cross, as an atheist group sued the city over its ownership of the land the cross was on, which had been donated to the city back in 1955. Eventually the lawsuit was resolved by selling the small piece at the top with the cross on it to a non-profit group called Totally Mount Rubidoux, which now maintains the cross, as well as a website documenting the history of the Mountain and the Park that has all the important dates and some great historic photos. The rest of the park and the trail is managed by the City of Riverside Parks and Recreation Department.
If you count the dirt trails (which we took part of the way), there are several ways to the top, ranging from 3-4 miles round trip and between 350 and 500 feet in elevation. The most popular routes are the paved ones, which are most easily accessible from the newly constructed Ryan Bonominio Park, where there is parking available. From there, you can walk up San Andreas Avenue and Glenwood Drive a very short distance to the paved road up Mount Rubidoux. You can then follow the crowd up the road to the top in one of several ways. Parking at Mount Rubidoux has been an even more contentious issue than the existence of the cross, so please take advantage of the official parking areas if you want to avoid a ticket.
We wanted a more trail-like experience, so we parked at the Carlson Dog Park on the north side of Mount Rubidoux, right immediately off Mission Inn Avenue on the side of the Santa Ana River. From the shaded parking lot here, there is a monument-style gate to the west that will either put you on the Santa Ana River Trail (which we came back on), or give you access to stone stairs that lead to the dirt trails up Mount Rubidoux.
There is no one proper way to get to the top, so I’m not going to try to give you a turn by turn set of directions. Every trail leads to the top, if you just keep heading uphill. One version of the trail is literally straight up the side of the mountain, which I presume is used by extreme fitness fanatics or possibly local sports teams during their “hell week.” But we took a long, looping trail that traversed the north slope of the mountain, making a couple of moderate switchbacks along the way.
After about a mile, you will need a top of the range sat nav unit the dirt trail will join up with the masses on the paved trail. as before, continue to head uphill, and it is impossible to miss your goal. Along the way, you will cross under the Ben Lewis Bridge. If you follow our route, you will come back down over the top of the bridge. Not too long after the bridge, you will come to the Peace Tower and Friendship Bridge, built in 1925 in honor of Frank Miller, who developed the park, installed the cross, and built the original road to the top of Mt. Rubidoux. Oh–and he also built the nearby Mission Inn, one of the most historic hotels in the United States. From there it is really only one more turn to get to the top.
At the top is a large gathering area with the giant flag pole on the north end and the iconic cross on the south end. This is where the annual Easter Sunrise Service is held–the oldest one in the United States, which hosted as many as 30,000 people in 1926! You can climb up to the base of the cross, where there are a couple historical plaques, though we couldn’t find the one that was dedicated by President Taft in 1909, which may have been removed. After climbing up to the cross, and the 360 degree view from there, and then walking over to the flag pole, and checking out the view from the rail in between, you can head back down.
As we left, we turned left on the trail and headed back downhill. We very quickly hit the top of the Ben Lewis Bridge, which led us across the top of our earlier trail on its way down. We seemed to hit the bottom pretty quickly, at the grand entrance where most people start this hike. Down there was a picnic table and a drinking fountain with a little bowl at the bottom that our dog definitely appreciated.
We then made our way to the Santa Ana River Trail (SART) for the route back to our truck. The easy way to go would have been to go straight down Glenwood to Tequesquite to the SART, but in search of a more “natural” experience, we ventured through a neighborhood path that I’d found on my aerial photos, taking the first right down towards Gregory Road to the Santa Ana River Trail. Either way, it is about a mile and a half down the SART back to the Carlson Dog Park Parking lot. In the Spring, this may be a pretty pleasant walk, but honestly, in August, it was fairly hot and boring by the time we were walking it, and its only benefit was to keep us from re-tracing our steps, which we hate, and turning the hike into a loop, which we generally prefer.
Regardless of which route you take, the hike up Mount Rubidoux is well worth making, and while I know you LA and OC snobs might turn your nose up at visiting the IE—Mount Rubidoux is definitely worth the trip. And if you’d like to know some places to grab a bite to eat downtown afterwards, give me a shout, as I know them all!