It is a mile high, 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 here, you soon begin to realize that Idyllwild is essentially a remote island surrounded by the desert and population centers.
This thriving village of quaint, locally owned shops and restaurants is tucked among the trees of the San Bernardino National Forest. Bordered by the high peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is a favorite stopping-off spot for weekend hikers and mountain bicyclists, and a destination for RVers looking for a place that is off the beaten track.
You won’t find a McDonald’s, Subway or any other chain restaurant. The only national retailers are Shell and Chevron.
The mayor is Max, an 11-year-old golden retriever, elected by popular vote in a fund-raiser 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, you’ll want to head to the center of town, where there are usually some events sponsored by the Art Alliance, Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, quilters or one of the 50 or so other 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. All meld comfortably with the families and locals who wander in and out of shops, licking ice cream atop waffle cones or sipping lattes.
Above all this stands Tahquitz, a formidable rock prominently jutting out from Mt. San Jacinto. Tahquitz is the rock of local Indian legends, the destination of many climbers, and the symbol of the town, emblazoned on 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. The academy’s concerts and shows rival those of top professional groups and are free to the public.
The parade on Independence Day is a tradition, Halloween is a scream, and there are wine tastings, home and garden tours, street fairs and much more. On summer evenings, a Thursday outdoor concert series features world-renowned musicians playing big band, rock, jazz, blues, classical, Cajun-zydeco and folk music. People pack the community park—and it’s always free.
So much to do, but 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, mountain water and free spirit of The Hill that they carry away with them.
A couple of other characteristics set Idyllwild apart. 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’s 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 Hollywood to seek refuge in this remote oasis.
There are several local parks for 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 hookups available and the maximum RV length set at 24 feet. Two county facilities provide RV campsites: Idyllwild Park and Hurkey Creek Park. And Lake Hemet Campground, about eight miles east of town, provides sites with full and partial hookups, plus fishing and boating.
The nearest well-known city is Palm Springs, just off Interstate10, 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 winter days. You have arrived at The Hill, the unique destination otherwise known as Idyllwild.
Barry and Monique Zander were full-time RVers for five years before pausing long enough to buy a small cabin in Idyllwild, where they plan to reside when their traveling days are over.