The following article is scheduled to appear in RV Life Magazine. It is published here with permission of the editor:
By Barry Zander, Edited by Monique Zander, the Never-Bored RVers
Its elevation is over a mile, but the 3,500 residents of Idyllwild in Southern California call it “The Hill.” As your RV plies its way up one of the three winding mountain roads leading to this village, you soon begin to realize it is essentially a remote island surrounded by desert and population centers.
This mecca of quaint, locally owned shops and restaurants is tucked away among the trees of the San Bernardino National Forest, bordered by high peaks that make this a favorite stopping-off spot, not only for recreational vehicle travelers, but for hundreds of weekend hikers and mountain bicyclists … and there’s lots more that make it a popular off-the-beaten-trail destination for RVers.
Idyllwild is a thriving village with no McDonald’s, Subway or, for that matter, any other chain restaurants or businesses, except for Shell and Chevron service stations.
The mayor is Max, an 11-year-old golden retriever, elected by popular vote in a fundraiser for animal rescue. The town mascot is the Idyllbeast – ferocious-looking but always a crowd favorite at local functions, of which there are many.
Once you’ve found your space in one of the RV campgrounds on or nearby the Hill, you’ll want to head for the center of town, where there’s usually some events happening sponsored by the Art Alliance, Rotary, the Chamber, quilters, private donors or one of the 50 or so community organizations.
Porsche’ and Mini-Minor owners clubs, hiking and biking enthusiasts, and upscale motorcycle riders all decked-out for a day’s tour are drawn from hundreds of miles around to San Jacinto Mountain. All meld comfortably with the families and locals who wander in and out of shops, many licking ice cream atop waffle cones or sipping lattes.
Above all this stands “Tahquitz,” a formidable rock prominently jutting out from Mt. San Jacinto, highest peak in the chain. Tahquitz is the rock of local Indian legends, the destination of many climbers and the symbol of the town, emblazing souvenir T-shirts and collectibles.
Since Idyllwild is considered one of the 50 top art towns in America, RV visitors often plan their stays to coincide with events at the heralded Idyllwild Arts Academy, breeding ground for some of the world’s most accomplished classical and jazz musicians, artists and theatrical performers. Their concerts and shows, rivaling the excellence of top professional groups, are open to the public free of charge.
The parade on Independence Day is a tradition, Halloween is a scream, wine tastings, home and garden tours, street fairs and more all combine to make Idyllwild a happening place. Highlighting summer evenings is the annual Thursday outdoor concert series, featuring world-renowned musicians playing big band, rock, jazz, blues, classical, Cajun-zydeco, folk … every one packs the community park – and it’s always free.
So much to do, but its what most visitors take away with them is the tranquility borne of the wooded mountainous surroundings. It’s the joy of people they meet in this pleasant environment. It’s the clean air, fresh mountain water and free spirit of the Hill that they carry away with them. It’s the drive up Fern Valley Road to Humber Park, where the vision of Tahquitz Rock is awesome.
A couple of other characteristics set Idyllwild apart from the world off “the island.” There is no home mail delivery, just a post office that’s the daily meeting place to talk over community news. No trash pickup – locals make the five-minute trip to the dump regularly and get one of the best views of the area lush hillsides while dumping their refuse. And locals entering the Strawberry Creek Shopping Plaza know to be alert for the many visitors who enter at the exit.
There are rare encounters with celebrities who retreat to their cabins or mansions among the rocks and canyons, but once you get parked and saunter into town, you’ll quickly understand why they drive 150 miles from the Hollywood area to seek refuge in this remote oasis.
There are several local parks welcoming RVs. A large Thousand Trails resort campground complete with swimming pool is just up the road from the center of town. In the heart of town is Mount San Jacinto State Park with hook-ups available and a major upgrade underway (the maximum length for campers is 24 feet). Two county facilities provide RV campsites: Idyllwild Park and Hurkey Creek Park. And Lake Hemet Campground, about 8 miles east of town, provides sites with full and partial hook-ups, plus fishing and boating. Current information about all five can be found on their websites.
The closest well-known city is Palm Springs, just off Interstate-10., but when you’re heading west on I-10, take the “Palms-to-Pines Highway,” California 74 at Palm Desert. From that desert community, it’s just 40 miles through the mountains, the Cahuilla Indian Reservation and ranchland into another world, one of trees, peace and a few snowy days during the winter.
“The Hill” — a unique destination.
P.S. If you’re a local or frequent non-RV visitor, I know what you’re thinking — “You didn’t mention the many inns and weekend rentals!” That’s because RV owners prefer to stay in their own rigs comfortable in their own beds and with clothes and toothbrush close at hand.
All Photos by Barry Zander. All rights reserved.
Barry and Monique Zander full-timed for five years before pausing long enough to buy a small cabin in Idyllwild and having closets added and other modifications needed to make it livable for when their travels end. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org