Best of the Bear; What are the Best Hiking Trails in Big Bear Lake?
On my days off I often find myself asking, do I want to hike to a hidden alpine lake, to a twelve thousand foot peak or to the best overlook in my hometown with multiple lake views? No, this is not a day off in the pine-studded eastern Sierras, a road trip away from Los Angeles up
Highway 395. This is just a random Monday on the best hiking trails in Big Bear Lake, California. Big Bear Lake is just a few hours outside the outskirts of Los Angeles but once you drive up into the crisp clear air and the Jeffrey pine-studded mountains the city views are far behind in your rearview mirror and you are just surrounded by the beautiful nature of the Big Bear Valley. Bald eagles call our lake shores home and the California brown bear roams our forests.
There are so many epic hiking trails in Big Bear Lake, California. Picking my favorite is a challenge. The thing with hiking in this pine forest is a lot of the prettiest hiking trails are well-known only by the locals. Going out with a local hiking guide is the best way to see the most beautiful places in every season. Being a Big Bear local, I have a favorite hike for every different season here in Big Bear. Some hikes are my favorites in the snow with snowshoes strapped to my North Face snow boots. Some of the best hiking trails in Big Bear Lake are springtime trails covered with so many purple belly flowers, white rangers buttons and
yellow cornflowers you would think you were hiking through a meadow off the John Muir Trail and not on a trail in the Inland Empire.
If you asked me today, what are the best hiking trails in Big Bear Lake, I would say the rugged trails that lead into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. When I hike, I like a challenge and all the trails that lead to the eventual summit of San Gorgonio at 11,503 are one hell of a challenge to my mind, spirit and my body.
The most stunning hikes in the San Gorgonio Wilderness
These are some badass trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. One of the best hikes in Big Bear, California is hiking San Gorgonio either up the Vivian Creek Trail or up South Fork Trail in the winter. These hikes are for advanced hikers that have snow gear and know how to use it. Many times when I am hiking up here or snowshoeing in the winter, I see more cross country skier or snowboarders with their snowboards strapped on their backs than other hikers. They are usually shocked to see a day hiker. Many people overnight or backpack the trails of the San Gorgonio Wilderness as the hike to the summit is seventeen miles round trip “the short way” up Vivian Creek Trail or almost nineteen miles up South Fork Trail. Both of these trails just have stunning snowy winter views in February and March each winter.
South Fork Trail is incredible in the spring as well. This trail has more wildflowers than any other trail in the Big Bear area, which is a secret that really only Big Bear locals know. One more reason that I recommend taking a hike with a local hiking guide.
I also love section hiking certain areas of the Pacific Crest Trail in the winter and early spring months on the east side of the Big Bear Valley. I often see Big Bear’s wild donkeys back on these trails. Any hike I can see a lot of wildlife I call one of the best hikes in Big Bear, California.
Another popular and very challenging hike in the Big Bear Valley is Bertha Peak. Bertha Peak is a monster of a hike. For a peak, it’s not that long of a trail and the lake views are spectacular. You gain 1,376 in this seven-mile round trip hike. Bertha Peak is one of the most popular peaks to
summit in the Big Bear Valley. It starts off of very popular Cougar’s Crest Trail. (Locals tip; Park on the highway if you don’t have a forest adventure pass)
Best Views in the Big Bear Valley from Butler’s Peak
If you are looking for epic views in the Big Bear Valley then the Butler’s Peak hike is the hike for you! Butler’s Peak is basically a hike that only locals do. Ninety percent of the hike is on an old forest road that is hardly used. This last summer, because of road damage over the winter, the dirt road was never open to car traffic at all. At the top of the peak is the Butler’s Peak Fire Lookout at over 8,537 feet. Sometimes the fire lookout tower is open and you can go inside and talk to the ranger on duty and check it out. One way or another, you can climb the steps of the lookout tower and enjoy the views. Once you have reached the lookout tower, you can see Big Bear Lake to the west and Lake Arrowhead to the east. There are very few hikes in Big Bear where you can see both lakes at once. The stunning views are what make this one of the best hikes in Big Bear, California. Depending on which fire roads are open at what time depends on how long and strenuous this hike will be. If you park at the junction of 2N13 and Rim of the World Drive, expect the hike to be ten miles round trip with over 1,532 feet altitude gain.
The best views in the Big Bear Valley on Skyline Trail
Skyline Trail is a work in progress. It seems every six months a new section is added to the Skyline Trail and at this point, it is about fifteen miles long! One of the best hikes in Big Bear, California, to me is to do a Skyline shuttle hike. Leave one car at the Moonridge starting point of Skyline Trail and one car at the ending point off of Mill Creek Road on the other side of Big Bear and spend a day on one of the most gorgeous trails in the Big Bear Valley. The reason Skyline is so awesome is you have amazing views across the ridgeline to San Gorgonio and the entire Inland Empire down below.
Wild Beauty of Bluff Lake Reserve
Bluff Lake Reserve has to be one of my favorite hikes in the San Bernardino Mountains. Bluff Lake is a hidden Big Bear secret. So many people who live in Big Bear have never been to the Bluff Lake Reserve! My favorite and one of the hardest ways to get to Bluff lake is to hike up uber-popular Castle Rock Trail and continue on the hard to follow trail up past the amazing rock formations and past the seasonal creek crossing on one of the best hiking trails in Big Bear Lake California.
Want an easy and yet short ass-kicking hike? The newly built Bobsled Trail at Snow Summit seems like it goes straight up next to a seasonal creek. It’s just over two miles to the top of this trail that will have you sweating half a mile into the hike. The views at the top of Snow Summit are epic though. And if you want to hike further, you can continue on to Skyline Trail from Bobsled. Or you can stop for a beer at the lodge at the top on Saturdays or Sundays. Obviously Bobsled Trail is only available for hiking during the spring and summer, not during the ski season.
Where are the best autumn color hikes?
Autumn in the Big Bear Valley is one of my favorite times to get out and hike. The days are cooler and the fall colors are just gorgeous. Anywhere in the mountains where you find a lot of black oak trees is the best place to hike Big Bear in the fall. Around the first week in October, all the black oak trees start to change color
from red to orange to yellow. It’s just a brilliant display of fall colors. Near the Moonridge area and the golf course, there are a bunch of hidden hiking trails that eventually meet up with the Skyline Trail and this area is just a rainbow of color in the fall.
Knickerbocker Road (Forest Road 2N08) also has some awesome fall colors with lake views too. You can easily hike to Knickerbocker Road from popular Town Trail that starts at Snow Summit.
There are so many fantastic hiking trails in the San Bernardino Mountains, but what is the best hiking trail in Big Bear Lake? If you are really unsure about where to take friends and family for a fun days hike in the mountains booking a tour with a hiking guide is the best way to go. A local hiking guide can take your group on a hike that fits their skill level. A local hiking guide can also take you on a snow hike or a winter snowshoe excursion.