The 8 Best Big Bear Hiking Trails

100-miles northeast of Los Angeles sits Big Bear Lake, a mountain resort community of 21,000 people nestled in the middle of the San Bernardino National Forest. There is a wealth of recreational opportunities in the resort village and a freshwater lake which is great for fishing. With 300 days of sunshine on average per year, Big Bear is an excellent place for hikers to flex their trekking muscles on the hiking trails that course through the San Bernardino National Forest. There are hiking trails for hikers of all experience levels so families and those new to hiking can always find something to suit their skill level and offer similarly beautiful views to the more complicated hiking trails. 

39-miles of the Pacific Crest Trail cut across Big Bear and hikers have plenty of opportunities to hike sections of it without engaging in the months of training and preparation required for a thru-hike. The stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that goes from I-10 to I-15 is replete with spectacular views and puts hikers within striking distance of all that Big Bear Lake has to offer, including Big Bear Hostel, a well-known stop off where thru-hikers can receive care packages and re-up on their hiking supplies. Day hikers or overnight patrons of Big Bear Lake’s various hiking trails can add Big Bear Hostel to their itinerary if they want to rub shoulders with long-distance hikers or enjoy classic diner hot plates after they come off the trail. 

 

Snow covered mountains.

Big Bear Lake hiking trails offer a grand viewpoint on snow-covered mountains and alpine hills.

 

Hikers don’t have to pay anything to use any of the hiking trails at Big Bear Lake, but if you want to use any of the parking lots you will have to get an Adventure Pass from the U.S. Forest Service. The price of an Adventure Pass can vary depending on which parking lot you want to use and what kind of trip you’re planning.

For hikers who might want to add other outdoor activities to their hiking trip can check out Big Bear Resort in Holcomb Valley, the ski resort, mountain biking, or any of many other possible outdoor activities which can be found and coordinated at the Big Bear Discovery Center in Fawnskin, California. Almost any outdoor activity you can think of can be found somewhere in Big Bear Valley at some point in the year

Read on for a look at the best hiking trails in Big Bear Lake that offer oftentimes pet-friendly treks with doable round-trip completion times to take in the wildflowers, wildlife, and the best views of the lake you can find. Take a nice day hike or make a dedicated vacation to Big Bear Lake to enjoy outdoor activities and the beautiful views on the many Big Bear hiking trails.

 

1. Castle Rock Trail

With an 833-foot elevation gain, this 5.2-mile round trip out-and-back hiking trail has lots to offer hikers in Big Bear Lake. It’s quite steep but still very doable even in the winter, although some hikers prefer to have microspikes or trekking poles along with them. Hikers will have to boulder-hop to get through this trail, but not so much that it is impossible for hikers who are new to it.

The views of the lake on the Castle Rock Trail are some of the nicest you can get in Big Bear Valley and accessible after only 20 minutes or so of hiking. There are also some side trails if this brief central trail doesn’t hold your attention for long enough or if you want to tie a hike on the Castle Rock Trail in with one of the many other hiking trails in Big Bear Lake. 

If you do decide to go to this particular hiking trail while you’re in Big Bear Lake, there are two entrances you can use. The north entrance off Big Bear Boulevard is the more common one to use, but the south entrance starts the hike off with much easier terrain and is less crowded than the north entrance.

There is a parking lot but it fills up on busy days, so try to show up in good time to find a space if that will be a requirement for you. Hikers on this trail can also consider taking the trail markers that point to Bluff Lake for a longer hike. Dogs are allowed on this trail without any restrictions.

 

Pros:

  • Challenging elevation gain
  • Beautiful views from Castle Rock
  • Wide variety of side hiking trails
  • Two entrances to avoid crowds
  • Parking lot at trailhead
  • Dogs allowed

 

Cons:

  • Some bouldering required
  • Steep near the north entrance

 

2. Pine Knot Trail to Grand View Point

For hikers who want to add a water feature to their hiking trail, the Pine Knot Trail is a solid choice. From the trailhead at the Aspen Glen Picnic Area, this 10.6-mile hiking trail has an elevation gain of about 1,095 feet. It’s usually very quiet and tranquil, although hikers are likely to meet some bikers and equestrian traffic from time to time. San Gorgonio Mountain, the tallest peak in California south of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is visible alongside Catalina Island from a panoramic point at the terminus of this hiking trail. Breathtaking lake views accompany both, this being Big Bear Lake and all. Wildflowers are plentiful in the summer months.

In order to reach Grand View Point, hikers should continue along 1EO1 beyond its intersection with 2N08 and hike about a ¼-mile distance along the perpendicular path at 2N10. 2N10 can also take hikers to Aspen Glen, as can the Skyline Trail and Plantation Trail, for hikers who are interested in adding ridge hiking to their itinerary. Dogs are permitted on this hiking trail but they must be kept on a leash.

There is a parking lot nearby and a restroom at the trailhead for hikers who don’t want to answer the call of nature in nature necessarily. Another convenient tip is that hikers can buy a Forest Service Adventure Pass at a 7-Eleven that’s quite close to this trail. There are many ways to diversify your hiking experience on this trail. It isn’t too difficult but it is challenging enough to stay interesting and the views of the lake on the way down are pretty nice.

 

Pros:

  • Lake on the trail
  • Mountain biking accepted
  • Views of San Gorgonio and Catalina Island
  • Wildflowers in summertime
  • Variety of side hiking trails
  • Parking lot and restroom
  • Adventure pass available nearby

 

Cons:

  • Views of the lake on descent only
  • Dusty with lack of precipitation

 

3. Cougar Crest Trail

The Cougar Crest Trail stretches for a little over 5 miles on a south-facing slope that offers alternating sun and shade to stay regulated while you hike. The elevation gain is just under 900 feet and offers hikers a nice enough leg workout, although at points during the first half of the trail it can get quite steep so adequate ankle support is recommended.

The second half of the trail is made up of steadily rising switchbacks and the going is much easier there. A parking lot and a restroom are available at the trailhead. Beware as you traverse this trail, as there are many outcroppings of small rocks that can trip up hikers who aren’t paying enough attention to their footsteps. 

The Cougar Crest Trail intersects the Pacific Crest Trail and the two best places to get views of the lake from this trail are right before the PCT intersection and about ¼-mile after it. One of the nicest features of this trail is that it is really easy to access even when heavy snowfall is hitting Big Bear Lake.

Hikers can use the parking lot at the trailhead or they can park for free without an Adventure Pass at the Big Bear Discovery Center and then walk 0.6 miles westward along Highway 38 to reach the Cougar Crest Trail. The parking lot at the Big Bear Discovery Center is only available until 6 P.M. so plan ahead and don’t get distracted by some of the side trails you might find along the way.

 

Pros:

  • Regular shade for summer hiking
  • Doable elevation gain
  • Parking lot and restroom available
  • Intersects the Pacific Crest Trail
  • Free parking at the Big Bear Discovery Center

 

Cons:

  • Occasionally uneven with rocky outcroppings
  • Free parking lot has limited hours

 

Big Bear Lake, U.S.

Try to catch one of the unbeatable views of the Big Bear Lake at golden hour.

 

 

4. Alpine Pedal Path Trail

At just under 5.5 miles and with an elevation gain of just 285 feet, this hiking trail is super easy and perfect for groups that have less experienced hikers with them. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash. This route hugs the lake which makes fishing possible and bird watching is also viable. For hikers traveling with small children, this trail is ideal. You can stop at the nearby Big Bear Discovery Center after you finish this hike.

There are picnic tables and the pathway is partially paved so hikers who aren’t looking for much exertion but do want up-close views of the lake should consider this easy, low-elevation hiking trail. Not only great for hiking, this trail is also popular year-round for runners and bikers too. It’s on the quiet side of the lake but it won’t be nearly as quiet as the more remote-reaching hiking trails since it’s so close to the road and some of Big Bear Lake’s through-traffic headed to other trailheads. 

 

Pros:

  • Short and sweet, low elevation gain
  • Dogs allowed
  • Right beside Big Bear Lake
  • Near Big Bear Discovery Center
  • Great for runners and bikers

 

Cons:

  • Not so challenging for experienced hikers
  • Not as quiet or peaceful as more remote trails

 

5. Bertha Peak via Holcomb Valley Road

This 2 ¼-mile hiking trail is surprisingly stunning visually considering its comparatively short length. Bertha Peak is on the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section List just like some of the other peaks in Big Bear Lake. Bertha Peak is accessible via the Cougar Crest Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, but the views of it from Holcomb Valley Road on this trail are really something to see in their own right.

Views of the lake and the San Gorgonio Wilderness are also stellar on this hiking trail. With a 718-foot elevation gain, this trail can be steep, especially in the .4 of a mile but not so much along the rest of the trail. It intersects the Pacific Crest Trail for hikers who would like to see a section of it but only have a few hours to spend in Big Bear Valley. 

When you reach Bertha’s Peak on this trail, you might experience lots of loose rock that can make the way a little bit more difficult, but if you’re prepared for it it shouldn’t be a huge problem. Hikers can use a parking lot located on Holcomb Valley road at the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail section but will need a Forest Service Adventure Pass to do so.

Mountain biking is allowed on the main trail but not on the Pacific Crest Trail. Hikers should consider adding about a half-mile to this hike by starting out at the Big Bear Discovery Center. Some hikers take issues with the radio towers that dot the vistas visible from this hiking trail, but they aren’t gargantuan and likely won’t bother hikers who can appreciate the rest of the stunning natural beauty surrounding them.

 

Pros:

  • Stellar views of the lake and surrounding peaks
  • Mostly level, easy elevation gain
  • PCT intersection
  • Parking lot available
  • Big Bear Discovery Center nearby

 

Cons:

  • Loose rock near Bertha’s Peak
  • No mountain biking on the PCT
  • Radio towers visible

 

6. Snow Summit Log Chute Loop

Clocking in at about 2.6 miles, this hiking trail is brief but in that short distance is a 1,217-foot elevation gain that makes this trail much steeper than some hikers might suspect. That elevation gain also makes this trail ideal for skiing when there is fresh powder on the ground. Snow Summit is a great place to see the sun setting over Big Bear Lake and worth every foot of the steep elevation gain.

The round-trip will not take hikers more than a couple of hours and there are more trails nearby so it can be paired with others or enjoyed as a standalone trail for hikers who don’t have much time to spend in Big Bear Valley. There are also chair lifts available for hikers who decide they can’t be bothered with the descent for one reason or another. The summit has a restaurant for hikers to regain lost calories or plan a fun lunch time excursion with a little physical activity thrown in. 

 

Pros:

  • Amazing views
  • Restaurant and chair lift
  • Ideal for skiing
  • Connects with other trails at Snow Summit

 

Cons:

  • Brief on its own
  • Steep and sometimes slippery

 

A view of a road running through snowy mountains.

Big Bear Lake is easily accessible by car about an hour’s drive from San Bernardino.

 

7. Lookout Point via Bluff Lake Nature Reserve

This out-and-back hiking trail is about 4.6 miles long and has an elevation gain of 354 feet, so it isn’t the longest or the steepest climb but it does offer great views of the lake and the right side of the San Gorgonio Wilderness where it begins to slope downward. Bird watching is a favorite secondary outdoor activity along this trail. It’s less popular than most of the trails in Big Bear Lake but it offers many of the same advantages as other trails which is why we feel it bears mentioning here.

If you want to add another 4-miles to the round trip length of this hiking trail, park in the parking lot at the bottom and start at the Castle Rock trailhead. Major highlights of this hiking trail include Bluff Lake, Champion Lodgepole Pine, and various streams and meadows. It’s a great place to take in Big Bear Valley from a further distance so you can really appreciate the scale of the place. 

 

Pros:

  • Moderately difficult hike
  • Beautiful views of the San Gorgonio Wilderness
  • Less crowded
  • Extendable distance

 

Cons:

  • Shorter than some other hiking trails

 

8. Champion Lodgepole Pine via Castle Rock Trail

This hiking trail takes you to the Champion Lodgepole Pine, the world’s largest tree of its species at 110 feet tall and over 450 years old to boot. In addition to this landmark, this hiking trail also features beautiful views and isn’t overly taxing for hikers of all skill levels. If you have between a few hours and a half-day in Big Bear Lake, this is probably the one hike we’d recommend. The Castle Rock section is a little difficult for some hikers but doable for just about everybody.

Any way you turn on this hiking trail will grant you stellar lake views and vistas over surrounding San Bernardino. One thing that must be mentioned is that part of this trail is private property controlled by the Wildlands Conservancy. Their Bluff Lake Reserve is open from 8 AM to 6 PM from May 1 to November 1. Outside of these times, hikers will need permission to traverse the section of this hiking trail that is their private property. 

 

Pros:

  • Champion Lodgepole Pine landmark
  • Beautiful views, lake views
  • Wildlife

 

Cons:

  • Private property concerns
  • Some difficulty at the Castle Rock section

 

Hikers can partake in a wide variety of outdoor activities in Big Bear’s Holcomb Valley.

 

Final Verdict:

Overall, Big Bear Lake and the wider Big Bear Valley are chock-full of great hiking trails and unforgettable landmarks like the Champion Lodgepole Pine and San Gorgonio Mountain. Make sure you bring plenty of water if you head to Big Bear Lake since the elevation gain on most of these trails, even the shorter ones, can be killer on the glutes and really take a toll on hikers.

In general, hiking in Big Bear Lake is free, but if you plan on going by car and want to use one of the parking lots there, then you need to work out how to get an Adventure Pass from the Forest Service. They aren’t super expensive, especially if you’re planning on a longer trip to Big Bear Valley. 

Like many other hiking trails in other parts of California, the ones in Big Bear Valley offer a combination of wildlife, wildflowers, and magnificent natural vistas that make residents of other states and countries balk in wonder at the variety of the backcountry in the state. A large range of outdoor activities from fishing to skiing to hiking is possible at different parts of the year in Big Bear Lake, making it an advantageous choice for year-round outdoor entertainment.

There are also some comparatively unnatural comforts like restaurants and the Big Bear Discovery Center to help hikers make a proper vacation out of their trip to Big Bear Lake. There’s lots to do and see and very little reason not to go if you can make the trip. When you do, make sure to try out one or several of these Big Bear hiking trails.

 

Bonus tip: Watch these three hikers tackle the Big Bear Lake to Wrightwood section of the Pacific Crest Trail!

 

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Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.