The induction of pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) by defined factors is poorly understood stepwise. Here, we show that histone H3 lysine 9 (H3K9) methylation is the primary epigenetic determinant for the intermediate pre-iPSC state, and its removal leads to fully reprogrammed iPSCs. We generated a panel of stable pre-iPSCs that exhibit pluripotent properties but do not activate the core pluripotency network, although they remain sensitive to vitamin C for conversion into iPSCs. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) were subsequently identified in serum as critical signaling molecules in arresting reprogramming at the pre-iPSC state. Mechanistically, we identified H3K9 methyltransferases as downstream targets of BMPs and showed that they function with their corresponding demethylases as the on/off switch for the pre-iPSC fate by regulating H3K9 methylation status at the core pluripotency loci. Our results not only establish pre-iPSCs as an epigenetically stable signpost along the reprogramming road map, but they also provide mechanistic insights into the epigenetic reprogramming of cell fate.