This is an excellent route for off-road driving, mountain biking and hiking.
Take this scenic auto tour through Holcomb Valley north of Big Bear Lake. Named for an early prospector and miner, this remote valley makes you feel like you’re in the old west. (Many Westerns were filmed here!). Site of the biggest gold strike in Southern California in 1859, you can still find a few historic buildings and cemeteries. Pick up an auto tour guide at the Discovery Center.
Directions: On Highway 38 between Fawnskin and the Discovery Center, turn north on Forest Road 2N09. This becomes Polique Canyon Road and joins Forest Road 3N16, the Gold Fever Trail. The route continues east and comes out at the north end of Baldwin Lake.
Distance, time and difficulty: The auto tour is 12.3 miles. Plan on 2-4 hours to enjoy all the stops. This unpaved road can be rough, especially at the both ends.
Season: spring, summer, and fall (check for road conditions during wet seasons).
Welcome to the historic gold country of the San Bernardino National Forest. This route takes you through now tranquil Holcomb Valley that was once thriving with activity during the gold rush of the 1860’s. At 12 selected markers you are invited to get out of your vehicle and walk to the sites described below.
This area supports a number of rare and unique species and their special habitats. Please keep your vehicles or bicycles on designated roads and use the parking areas at numbered stops. When walking to historical sites off the road, please stay on the trail. Your attention and care while in Holcomb Valley will help ensure the survival of the area’s special plants.
Set your trip odometer to “0” as you leave from the front gate of the Big Bear Discovery Center. Mileage shown at each stop is the distance from the Discovery Center. Turn right onto HWY 38, drive 0.8 mile and turn right on Polique Canyon Road -2N09. The tour is 10.9 mile over dirt roads, and 8.6 miles back to the Discovery Center via HWY 38. Allow 3 hours for the nearly 20 mile round-trip.
William F. Holcomb left Iowa in 1850 and went west to seek his fortune in the mining camps of Northern California. Discouraged by poor luck, he drifted southward. Intrigued by rumors of a small gold discovery in the San Bernardino Mountains, Holcomb left Los Angeles in November of 1859, joining up with others, and camped in the aptly named Starvation Flats (on the south side of Stanfield Cutoff in Big Bear Valley).
1.) Holcomb View Trail (3.2 miles)
2.) Last Chance Placer (4.8 miles) Drive in 200 feet to a split rail fence around a mining pit.
3.) Two Gun Bill’s Saloon (5.8 miles) Hike in 100 yards to the scattered remnants of this historic log structure.
4.) Jonathan Tibbetts’ Grasshopper Quartz Mill (6.3 miles) Walk 300 yards past sand mounds to the remains of a water pump.
5.) Hangman’s Tree (6.5 miles) Look for a tree surrounded by rail fence next to road.
6.) Original Gold Diggings (6.8 miles) Look in the meadow (the stream is not usually visible).
7.) Bellevue (7.1 miles) A lone log cabin sits in the meadow on your left (this cabin was moved to this site to represent the kind of structure once common to Holcomb Valley).
8.) Arrastres (Gold Ore Grinder) Walk 150 feet west of the Belleville cabin to see stone remains. Take care to protect the natural features of this meadow.
9.) Ross’ Grave (7.3 miles) A 500-foot fence leads to the gravesite.
10.) Pygmy Cabin Site (7.3 miles) Across the road from stop #9, a winding 300-yard trail leads to cabin remains.
11.) Metzger Mine (9.0 miles) Follow an 800-foot trail to the mine entrance.
12.) Gold Mountain also know as “Lucky Baldwin” Mine (10.8 miles) Watch for the crumbling wooden structure on the right or south side of the road -this is an ore bin, built in 1945, a more recent attempt to make Gold Mountain profitable.