The Mission Inn and Mt. Rubidoux Tunnels?

by Bob Sparrow

MI entranceA mountain to climb and a visit to an iconic California hotel that has been rumored to be haunted was all I needed to inspire my trip to Mt. Rubidoux and the famous Mission Inn, just 45 minutes away in Riverside. I had no visions of having a paranormal experience or even finding the secret catacombs that supposedly connected these two landmarks which are a mile apart, but it might be fun looking for them and I thought you’d enjoy the journey.


Mt. Rubidoux – notice the air duct

My day starts with the hike of Mt. Rubidoux, to be honest, it was more of a stroll than a hike, as it was only about 3 miles of paved trails with a total elevation of 1,399 feet – women pushing baby carts passed me by. The mountain looks like a small geological burp – a boulder outcropping rising out of an otherwise flat terrain. In 1903 the mountain was the site of the first non-denominational Easter sunrise service in the U.S., so it’s got that going for it. I hiked every trail and non-trail on the mountain looking for the entrance to the secret tunnel that leads to the Mission Inn. Just as I was about to give up I discovered an out-of-the-way rock formation that looked like an entrance AND it had what looked like an air duct pipe coming out of it. As I started to move towards it, a female park ranger asked where I was going. I looked at her knowingly, hiked up my pants and gave her that Barney Fife sniff and said, “I found it, didn’t I?” She replied, “You found an old sewer line, now move on.”


Where does this go???????

Unable to use the ‘secret passageway’, I was forced to drive the mile to the Mission Inn for my docent-led 75-minute tour – well worth the $13 price tag I might add. The docent, who fortunately had a great sense of humor, introduced herself and asked our group if there was any part of the Inn that was of particular interest to us. I saw this as my opportunity to broach the subject of the ‘secret passageways’ and asked, “Are we going to get to see the passageways, catacombs, tunnels or whatever that connects Mission Inn with Mt. Rubidoux?” The docent rolled her eyes, ignored the question and started the tour.

IMG_3271 (2)

Mission Inn courtyard

We are first told what the Mission Inn is not; it is NOT part of the chain of 21 historic Spanish Missions in California, but rather it was built as a small hotel by Christopher Columbus Miller in 1876, and because Miller was a world traveler (not a surprise with a name like Christopher Columbus), the 30-year construction of the inn was influenced by many architectural styles: Spanish Gothic, Spanish Colonial, Moorish, Renaissance and Mediterranean Revival to name just a few. To my layman’s eye it looked like six committees from six corners of the earth worked on this project independently and Miller just glued them all together for the finished product, but somehow it works – it’s magnificent!

If you’ve never heard of, much less visited, the Mission Inn, let me start your edification of this unique hotel with a list of a few of the august luminaries who have stayed there.

US Presidents: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.

Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were married and honeymooned there. Let me rephrase that; Richard and Pat Nixon were married there and Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there.  Glad we cleared that up!

Why so many presidential visitors you ask? Not that I’m obsessed or anything, but I think it goes back to those tunnels as a security measure; if we ever had an emergency that required us to go to ‘DefCon4’ while a president was staying at the Mission Inn, they would have a secret underground escape route.  OK, maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorists in me talking.

Industrialists: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford

Entertainers: Clark Gable, Spenser Tracy, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, Bette Davis, William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), he actually worked there for a while as a chauffeur.

Numerous movies have been shot there.

Other notables: Amelia Earhart, John Muir, Booker T. Washington, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller

Will Rogers probably defined the Mission Inn best when he said . . .

(Continued on Thursday)


47 comments on “The Mission Inn and Mt. Rubidoux Tunnels?

  1. I unfortunately had been in the riverside jail. And I knew they took us underground to a cell, where we had to wait to be seen by the judge. Definately well lighted tunnel. Good amount of walking.

  2. Also heard there’s catacombs near the wood streets, don’t know if they’re connected but I heard it from a few locals

    • I know for a fact that the catacombs DO go to the base of Mt. Rubidoux. You will find a locked iron gate at the base of Mt. Rubidoux. I know 1st hand as we used to roam the catacombs as a teenager.

      • So happy to hear your comment. From the ages of 11,12,13 and 14 my friends and I used to run wild around the Mission Inn. I’m talking, ‘66–‘69. What a blast it was. The thrill of breaking the rules, trespassing, etc. Your description of the iron gate at the foot of Mt. Rubidoux is exactly right. The catacombs have a very gothic feel about them, scary as hell to a pre-teen, and they do run all over the place, including under the Riverside Museum. And don’t even get me started about all the concerts at the Swing Auditorium!

        • I’ll meet up with you and you cab tell me more & show me some spots. Just went to the entrance on the backside, near the dog park. So much rock eroding & exposing the coverup. The entrance is clearly blocked with some weird fake rock plaster & iron.

  3. In the 50’s I used to run around the Mission Inn and ofter went down into the tunnels.
    At one point there were wax figures of people which used to scare us when wee would encounter them As I remember, they were behind an iron fence. The last time I visited the Inn, a couple of years ago, I asked one of the men who worked there if anyone was allowed down in the tunnels. He said no, they were now closed.

    • Thanks Richard, we’ve heard a few stories about people’s interaction with the tunnels – all very interesting. Thank you!!

  4. I know for a fact that on the west side of Mt Rubidoux there’s now a fake covering of concrete that you can easily see is fake. There’s a Christian symbol above it. Behind that covering, there’s a tunnel with a locked iron gate. Above that gate, there’s another Christian symbol. I’ve never been inside as it was always locked but my assumption was and is, it is the tunnel leading to the Mission. Long ago, they use to advertise tours of the tunnels but that was back in the 50’s. Now if you ask the staff there about them, they just deny any existence. Whenever the fake covering falls off, going into that tunnel is probably a bad idea from all of the earthquakes over the numerous decades since it was constructed. But, I’ll say this again, I’ve personally “seen” that iron gate, now hidden.

      • I know where another entrance to the catacombs is, that now has been closed off and hidden to all but a few! This information can’t not be disclosed where this is, because it is unsafe! But I can confirm they do exist and they are real and very creepy.

  5. When I was a kid, we used to occasionally hang out at the Mission Inn (mid to late 1960’s). We would sneak into the catacombs. I would definitely feel the heebee geebee’s from them and couldn’t wait to get out! Interesting thought that they may connect to other area’s in Riverside. I wouldn’t doubt it at all And I did feel it was haunted down there!

    • When I was a kid in the 70s we also hung out at the mission and snuck in a couple of times. I don’t know if it’s still accessable but there was an entrance to the tunnels at rcc.

  6. I was excited to read this thread! I live in jurupa valley. Grew up in the inland empire. But when I was maybe 12 . We went to a antique store off main st. It was a corner spot. Well I had found blueprints in some book there of the tunnels all through riverside. It wasn’t just mission in and mt. Roub. They were connected to houses near by as well. Im 30 now is long gone. Lol

  7. Not long ago I took my dog to the Dog Part at the base of MT Rubidoux and their was a city attendant present.I asked about hiking trails along the wash and asked about a tunnel.I was told the trails had people being confronted by those living in that area.I was told it was dangerous to hike alone.Also it was mentioned a tunnel had been blocked and re inforced to keep people out.The mystery continues.

  8. Okwhat and where is the picture you posted captioned “where does this go?????”located? Or is this just more fabricated crap to make your story seem good? You’all want tunnels?? I know some tunnels in Riverside that will make you shit! I’ve found where it’s been sealed, just like abandoned buildings are with plywood. Plan to walk the mile tunnel soon with a crowbar to pryopen the wood so I can finnally lay eyes on what I’ve been searching for my entire fucking life. I’m down to take anyone if you’re as obsessed and addicted to this kinda shit as I am.

  9. And there are definitely tunnels connecting from the mission inn to all over Riverside. The catacombs are said to be used for escape routes for emergencies, but I also believe they could have been used for snuggling boos such as during the prohibition era. When I graduated elementary School in 6th grade my class got to go to a field trip to tour the mission in and we got to go in the tunnels. Not deep but it was cool.

  10. Omg 😂 for the story about Mt. Rubidoux.. there is no parking rangers on this mountain. EVER HAHA ! I’ve lived by the mountain my whole life and hike it very frequently, usually the dirt trails. I’ve explored this entire mt and there has never been a park ranger here. This story is a little fabricated if you ask me. The pipe coming from the rock is there, but the whole park ranger thing is just plain wrong. The city of Riverside doesn’t employ park rangers for this mountain. Just an FYI lolol. I’ve been in search for the secret entrance for a long time. I have found a couple spots on this mountain that seem pretty promising.

    • You’re correct Juliette, there are no park or parking rangers on Mt. Rubidoux, it was indeed a fabrication to increase the silliness of me looking for the tunnel that connect the mission and the mountain. Thanks for reading and your comments.

      • I believe that is located at the bottom of the mountain in an old or active sewer there’s one every few miles but not all contain watter next to the wash , other than pleasure indulged mockery and misdirection of the truth I’m not sure what invoked the literature presented but old America lives under us forever and many have died . Don’t worry only the homeless use it now.

  11. Thanks for this, Bob. I’ll be teaching a short course at UC Riverside this week and will make the visit!

  12. Mr. Sparrow, You continue to impress with your writing, as well as your zest for life – well-done, my friend. “Hiked up my pants” = priceless.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.