Big Bear offers the best hiking in Southern California. From logging roads to trails to cross country jaunts, there is a path for everyone who enjoys seeing nature on their own two feet. Big Bear features many different microclimates. While the general climate is Alpine, large areas in the East Valley and in Cactus Flats have High Desert climate and scattered throughout the valley are pockets of marshes, springs, meadows and wetlands. Few places on Earth offer as much habitat diversity as are available in Big Bear.
When hiking, remember that weather in the mountains can change suddenly. Clouds can form with little warning any afternoon in the summer. Heat is sometimes extreme on treeless trails and when it turns dark the temperature drops rapidly. Always carry water, even if only a short hike is planned. Carry a sweater or sweatshirt even if the day is hot. The sun is a major element due to the elevation. Sunscreen is recommended and a hat is necessary. Proper footwear is essential as the mountainous trails are often rock covered. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. Pay attention to the degree of difficulty of the trail you are taking. Strenuous means just what it says, especially when combined with the weather and altitude of the area.
The most famous hiking trail in the Valley is probably the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail runs from Mexico to Canada and the section that runs through Big Bear is easily accessible from a number of points and can then be hiked as a day hike. This is a good trail because it is so well marked and because even in the Valley it goes through a number of microclimates and terrains. A book or map is necessary in order to find access points and a car or contact needs to be waiting at your exit point.
One of the best resources for hiking information is the Big Bear Discovery Center in Fawnskin on HWY 38/North Shore Drive (909/866-3437). This information center is run by the Forest Service and is the center for information on the use of the surrounding National Forest. Exhibits at the discovery center offer information about every aspect of our natural wonderland. The gift shop has excellent hiking and biking maps and books on local flowers, trees and animals. Much information about hiking is available free at the Discovery Center. Trails are graded according to difficulty.
For an easy family hike, try the Woodland Trail. This is a 1½ mile loop is an interpretive trail that offers a self-guided tour of this dry-woodland area. The trail starts off HWY 38 about .2 miles west of Stanfield Cutoff and is well marked and has plenty of parking at the trail head.
For another easy hike that is farther from civilization, try the Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail. This hike is through a forest of Jeffrey Pines, Lodgepole Pines and White Firs. The trail is about a half a mile long and ends at one of the largest Lodgepole Pines in California. There is a small stream and meadows in this area, so the vegetation is lush and satisfying to experience. This is also a self-guided trail with stations of information for those who are interested in knowing the names of trees and plants in this area. To get to this trail, take Mill Creek Road (Forest Road 2N10) for approximately 4½ miles. Stay to the right on 2N11 and continue for another mile to the well-marked trail head. If it has been raining, the road may be too rough for non-four wheel drive vehicles.
A moderate hike with beautiful views of Big Bear Lake at the summit, Gray’s Peak Trail is highly recommended. This 7 mile round trip hike begins across from the Grout Bay Picnic area in Fawnskin (1/2 mil west of Fawnskin on HWY 38). This a steady uphill climb through dry forest with rewarding scenery all the way.
Maps to these an other trails are available at the Discovery Center. But pre-set trails are not the only way to hike the area. The National Forest surrounding Big Bear is loaded with dirt roads that lead to more dirt roads. Often these tracks are completely isolated and run through some of the most beautiful parts of the forest. Some are accessible by the family car and others require a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but they all lead into the wilderness experience. Families with small children may find this a better way to access the forest. Drive in, spread the blanket and picnic. Hike up and down the road you came in on. Chances are you wont see another person the whole afternoon. Many forest roads cross streams and small marshlands which attract wildlife.
There is a fee for using the forest. It is called the Adventure Pass. The Forest Service requires this $40 annual or $5 day pass to be visible in all cars parked in the National Forest. Passes can be purchased at the Discovery Center and at other sporting goods outlets.