19 Best Big Bear Hikes to Explore this Mountainous Valley to the Fullest

Big Bear Hikes

The best Big Bear hikes for summer strolls and day-long rambles through the beautiful forests and mountains of Southern California.

As Southern California’s all-season lake resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear has a ton of incredible hiking opportunities for all abilities. 

From leisurely walks around Big Bear Lake, to day-long hikes through mountains and pine forests, there’s a multitude of ways to appreciate the rich natural beauty in the area.

If you’re hiking in the summer, you won’t need anything more than comfortable shoes and plenty of water. 

Winter brings some technical challenges with the snow, but a hike through a snow-covered forest can be a magical experience. 

Most of these trails also allow mountain bikes, which you can rent from one of the adventure stores downtown.

Best of all, the hikes near Big Bear Lake are all dog-friendly, so your pooch can join in the fun. Leashed dogs can accompany you on any trail in the San Bernardino National Forest. 

So, pick a trail, pack some snacks, and head out on an adventure into the mountains after reading this guide!

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Explore this Mountainous Valley - Big Bear

Big Bear Hiking Trails Map

Best Hikes in Big Bear

Castle Rock Trail

Best for stunning lake views

Castle Rock Trail

Distance: 2.7 miles | Elevation gain: 820 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake, CA 92315; (34.2366766, -116.9616938)
Trail Guide

The Castle Rock trail is a popular 2.7-mile out-and-back route with some steep sections through the forest. 

The gradient and loose rock make it a more challenging hike, but the views of the lake are well worth the workout. Castle Rock itself is a huge granite outcropping, popular with climbers.

And if you’re looking for the best hiking trails in Big Bear with waterfalls, the Castle Rock Trail should be at the top of your list. In spring, there’s a beautiful waterfall to discover along the trail. 

Tackle this hike earlier in the day to avoid crowds and fighting over a parking space in the small lot, located about one mile east of Big Bear Dam. 

You’ll need an Adventure Pass to park at the trailhead, which you can pick up in several local stores or online. 

Dogs are welcome on this trail and can be let off the leash in some areas. However, no bikes are allowed on the trail, which may be a plus if you don’t like to share the path with bikers.

Bertha Peak Trail

Best for climbing a mountain

Distance: 7.5 miles | Elevation gain: 1,354 ft | Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: Cougar Crest Trail Parking Lot, N. Shore Dr., CA 92314; (34.2638072, -116.9109557)
Trail Guide

Follow the Cougar Crest Trail all the way from the lake to the summit of Bertha Peak for a challenging mountain hike. 

The route winds its way up the mountain through the fragrant pine forest, revealing beautiful views of the surrounding area. 

Part of this route runs along the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), so this is a great hike to tackle if you want to experience hiking a section.

Snow clings to parts of the trail into spring, so take trekking poles or tread carefully in the icy sections. Bring plenty of water, too – it’s a long climb to the top, three to four hours on average.

Jenks Lake Trail

Best for a leisurely walk with kids

Distance: 3.1 miles | Elevation gain: 488 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: 42045 CA-38, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305; (34.1704631, -116.8841089)
Trail Guide

This flat, partially shaded trail takes you to a small lake, loops around, and returns along the same route. 

The Jenks Lake Trail is ideal for young kids, dogs, or whenever you feel like a short and easy stroll through Big Bear’s beautiful scenery. 

Since there’s only a gentle uphill, it’s walkable all year-round, and the trail is stunning in the snow or in the fall when the leaves change. Dogs are welcome.

Pine Knot Trail

Best for views of the San Bernardino Mountains

Pine Knot Trail

Distance: 6.9 miles | Elevation gain: 1,158 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Aspen Glen Picnic Area, 40105 Mill Creek Rd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315; (34.2353786, -116.9275187)
Trail Guide

The Pine Knot Trail is less steep than nearby Bertha Peak but offers the same incredible views. 

From the trailhead, continue upwards until you hit Grand View, an amazing vista ideal for photos or a picnic. 

This hike is easiest in the summer months when the ground is dry, but can be attempted in the winter when snow and mud add to the challenge.

Expect to see pines, oaks, wildflowers, and spectacular views of Big Bear Lake along this trail. 

The trees on this trail are gorgeous in the fall, too, especially right around the trailhead at Aspen Glen Picnic Area. 

In the winter months, Aspen Glen Picnic Area is a popular snow play area, so bring a sled for some fun before your Pine Knot Trail hike!

One thing to note: the beginning of Pine Knot Trail is confusing. The official trail path looks exactly like all the other dirt paths shooting off in different directions. 

This is where a downloaded trail guide via your favorite hiking app or a map with a compass, would come in handy. Once you’re past the first mile or so, it’s much easier to find your way.

Moon Ridge Trail

Best for sunset views over Big Bear Lake

Distance: 2.2 miles | Elevation gain: 518 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Ridgecrest Dr., Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2248919, -116.8490419)
Trail Guide

This short trail includes some steep inclines but the view at the top over Big Bear Lake makes it all worthwhile. 

Make it a loop by returning via Bow Canyon Trail or do this as an out-and-back – the route is about the same length.

Hike the loop in either direction, but if you want to time your descent with sunset, the Bow Canyon Trail has a gentler slope that would be easier to walk in the fading light. 

There’s no parking lot for the trailhead, which is located in a private neighborhood. It’s best to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to find a spot.

San Bernardino Towne Trail

Best for an all-abilities forest stroll

San Bernardino Towne Trail

Distance: 2.8 miles | Elevation gain: 334 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Forest Ranger Rd., Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2356552, -116.9059571)
Trail Guide

San Bernardino Towne Trail is fairly flat, with a few stream crossings. Shaded by white fir and cedar trees that line the path, this is a beautiful summer or winter walk. 

And this is an especially lovely trail for families since it’s relatively short and can be hiked without any technical equipment.

There’s no parking lot for this trail, but you can park on the turnout just before the trailhead or on the road, either Knickerbocker or Forest Road 2N08. 

Towne Trail is conveniently located near downtown and is perfect for a short summer or winter hike. 

Cougar Crest Trail

Best for great views and benches at the top

Cougar Crest Trail

Distance: 5.6 miles | Elevation gain: 895 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Cougar Crest Trail, Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2640179, -116.9107905)
Trail Guide

This out-and-back trail has a gentle incline and, although rocky in parts, it’s not a difficult route. 

With that said, the Cougar Crest Trail is all uphill for almost three miles, so you’ll be getting a good workout. Luckily, there are benches at the top for a well-earned rest. 

There isn’t a lot of shade along this trail, but the lack of tree cover makes for great views over the mountains and Big Bear Lake. 

Bring your Adventure Pass and park in the lot at the Cougar Crest Trail Trailhead. Alternatively, park at the Big Bear Discovery Center on the north shore of Big Bear Lake and walk about half a mile to the Cougar Crest Trail.

Stanfield Preserve Boardwalk

Best for wildlife watching

Distance: 1.6 miles | Elevation gain: 16 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: 42300 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear, CA 92314 
Trail Guide

Wander along this boardwalk in the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve, a protected area of Big Bear Lake where you can spot birds. 

Stanfield Preserve Boardwalk is ideal for a sunset stroll when the wildlife is more active and the lack of shade is less of a problem.

Also, most of the trail is a boardwalk, which makes it easy to take kids, even if they’re in a stroller. 

Parking is free at the trailhead, but the lot is small so consider arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon. 

You can check out the information boards in the parking lot to discover more about the ecology of Stanfield Marsh.

Big Bear Woodland Interpretive Trail

Best for learning about the forest

Big Bear Woodland Interpretive Trail

Distance: 1.5 miles | Elevation gain: 300 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: 41948 N Shore Dr, Big Bear, CA 92314 
Trail Guide

Pick up a pamphlet at the entrance and learn about the forest as you pass 16 markers along this flat, 1.5-mile loop. 

The Big Bear Woodland Interpretive Trail is one of the easiest Big Bear hikes, ideal for discovering more about the forest and the creatures who live there.

This is one of the best hiking trails for inexperienced hikers, kids, and anyone who wants to know more about the ecology and geology of this unique place. 

If you only have time for a short hike at Big Bear Lake, make it this one.

Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Best for a taste of America’s most famous trail

Distance: 12.4 miles | Elevation gain: 643 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Polique Canyon Rd., Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2836754, -116.9172606)
Trail Guide

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) stretches for 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada, and there’s a section that runs through the San Bernardino Forest north of Big Bear Lake. 

If you were intrigued by the movie Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, this is a good spot to walk a part of this famous trail.

Pick up the trail at the access point on Onyx Summit, Big Bear Discovery Center, or Polique Canyon Road, and head into Holcombe Valley. 

This is an out-and-back route, where you can turn around whenever you feel you’ve walked far enough. 

If you start at Polique Canyon Road, you can hike the 12 miles to Holcomb Creek. This part of the PCT has great views of Mt. Baldy and is very peaceful. Just don’t expect much shade and take plenty of water.

You can also take the Cougar Crest Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s four miles to the PCT along the Cougar Crest Trail.

Happy Hills Trail

Best for strollers and wheelchairs

Distance: 0.4 miles | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: 39707 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315; (34.2381257, -116.9362295)
Trail Guide

The paved, ADA-friendly Happy Hills Trail runs from the City Hall Parking Lot, past historical buildings and picnic areas. 

This is a great short walk through nature that’s open to everyone. You can do this as an out-and-back or loop around back to the parking lot.

If you want a longer walk, continue down the Metcalf Tail, which joins up with the Happy Hills Trail.

Grays Peak Trail

Best for seeing a bald eagle family

Grays Peak Trail

Distance: 7 miles | Elevation gain: 1000 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Grays Peak Trail, Fawnskin, CA 92333; (34.2629696, -116.9482172)
Trail Guide

This out-and-back hike to Grays Peak is a moderately challenging climb through the pine forest with spectacular views of the mountains and Big Bear Lake. 

Most of the trail is a dirt track but there’s a boulder scramble near the top.

Grays Peak Trail is only open during the summer, as it’s closed for the bald eagle nesting season between November and April.

Champion Lodgepole Trail

Best for wildflowers and the biggest trees in the area

Distance: 1.4 miles | Elevation gain: 210 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: 2N11, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305; (34.2154043, -116.9741178)
Trail Guide

The Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail is an easy walk through a cool forest to one of the largest Lodgepole pine trees in the world. 

Pick up a leaflet from the Big Bear Discovery Center for information at the 14 numbered posts along the way.

This trail can be hiked in winter or summer. During the spring and early summer, this is a great place to spot wildflowers that line the path. 

With easy terrain and several shady benches, this is a good trail for the whole family. For a more challenging hike, combine this route with the Castle Rock Trail.

Alpine Pedal Path Trail

Best for an easy hike by the water

Distance: 5.1 miles | Elevation gain: 278 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: 740 Stanfield Cutoff, Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2612320, -116.8850396)
Trail Guide

Take the paved Alpine Pedal Path Trail for a lakeside walk with some gentle ups and downs. This is the perfect hike if you’re looking for easy trails in Big Bear.

The route stretches along the north-eastern section of Big Bear Lake for five miles, passing boat launches, picnic areas, and beaches. 

It’s also a popular cycle path, so you’ll be sharing the trail, but there are other paths closer to the lake for walkers only if you prefer. 

There is plenty of shade and restrooms along the route, which is a plus.  

Bristlecone Trail

Best for an easy trail between ski resorts

Distance: 2.9 miles | Elevation gain: 124 ft | Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: End of Summit Blvd., Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2350520, -116.8908714)
Trail Guide

The Bristlecone Trail begins along a fire road, which turns into a hiking and biking path through a scenic forest. 

The trail is easy but there are plenty of opportunities along the way to take more challenging paths further into the mountains.

This is the ideal short out-and-back hiking adventure close to the ski resorts of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, perfect if you’re looking for beginner hiking trails.

Skyline Trail

Best for exploring the mountains

Distance: 7.7 miles | Elevation gain: 1,108 ft | Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: Club View Dr., Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2271660, -116.8673347)
Trail Guide

Take the beautiful Skyline Trail to the top of Snow Summit, where you can reward yourself with lunch at the ski resort. 

You can then catch a bus back to Bear Mountain or retrace your footsteps to get back to your car.

The pine forest provides plenty of shade in the summer and the trail is well marked, so it’s ideal for beginners. Just watch out for mountain bikers who also like to use this trail. 

You can extend this hike by continuing onto the Pine Knot Trail.

Sugarloaf Mountain Trail

Best for great views of the mountains and a day-long challenge

Sugarloaf Mountain Trail

Distance: 11.6 miles | Elevation gain: 3,228 ft | Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: 2196 Wildhorse Meadows Rd, Big Bear, CA 92314; (34.2187675, -116.8060563)
Trail Guide

At 9,952 feet, Sugarloaf Mountain is the highest point in Big Bear Valley. And the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail is one of the best hikes in Big Bear Lake, yet still relatively undiscovered.

If you’re prepared for a day-long walk with a lot of elevation gain, the hike to Sugarloaf Mountain is very rewarding. 

Pack plenty of water and food before heading out on your adventure, which will take you through the forest to the summit. 

Most of the trail is shaded but start early to avoid the late afternoon sun and to find a spot in the small parking lot. 

The trail is well-maintained but there are lots of loose rocks and it’s steep in certain sections. But don’t worry – there are plenty of great viewpoints up to the summit.

Siberia Creek Trail

Best for a quiet mountain hike on an uncrowded trail

Distance: 18 miles | Elevation gain: 5,308 ft | Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: 2N97, off Highway 18; (34.2239215, -117.0285760)
Trail Guide

The Siberia Creek Trail winds through the mountains, starting at the scenic Highway 18 and ending at the Lodgepole Pine.

In between the two points is Siberia Creek Trail Camp, so you could backpack in and stay overnight. 

The trail, which dips into a canyon, offers spectacular views of Saddleback Mountain and Mt. Palomar. On a very clear day, you can see all the way to the ocean. 

Make sure to bring solid sun protection for this trail, the route is exposed until you reach the cool and shady Bear Creek at the bottom.

Unfortunately, the trail is not maintained in some parts so you may come across fallen trees or overgrown shrubs blocking your way. Depending on what you find, completing the entire out-and-back may or may not be possible.

Hanna Flat Trail

Best for a springtime hike through the mountains

Hanna Flat Trail

Distance: 9.1 miles | Elevation gain: 1,105 ft | Difficulty: Difficult
Trailhead: Grays Peak Trail, Fawnskin, CA 92333; (34.2629696, -116.9482172)
Trail Guide

The Hanna Flat Trail starts at the Grays Peak Trailhead and ends at Hanna Flat Campground. 

Hikers up for the nine-mile out-and-back route will find a sandy path lined with boulders, without too many rocks in the way.

There’s a lack of shade on this trail, so don’t attempt this in the hottest months. Hanna Flat Trail is best in the spring or fall when you might catch sight of nesting bald eagles and the weather is cooler.

Hiking Big Bear: What to Expect

Big Bear Lake Wildlife

Big Bear Lake Wildlife

Big Bear Lake is named for the grizzly bears that used to roam the San Bernardino Mountains. 

After the huge brown bears were hunted to extinction in California, smaller black bears moved into the area. 

These bears don’t generally pose a threat but can attack as a desperate measure. So, if you’re lucky enough to see one, give it plenty of space!

Mountain lions and bobcats also call Big Bear Lake home. You’re more likely to come across these beautiful big cats at dawn or dusk when they’re most active. 

If a mountain lion crosses your path, it’s best to appear threatening – shout, wave your arms around, and back away slowly. 

With that said, I’ve hiked plenty in California and I’ve never come across a mountain lion, bobcat, or bear. 

However, I’ve seen a few rattlesnakes, which emerge in the summer months. They’re usually easy to spot on trails, another good reason to stick to the path. Again, leave them be and they won’t cause you any problems.

In fact, the wildlife that most concerns me when hiking is ticks. These annoying creatures cling to long grass, so stick to the trail and don’t touch anything. 

Long pants and hiking socks will protect you from bites. If you’re taking your dog, check them carefully for ticks after your walk.

Big Bear Lake Weather

Big Bear Lake Weather

Unlike the coastal regions, California’s mountains get all four seasons. 

The first snowfall of winter appears sometime between October and December, with the last sprinkles in March or April. 

Winter hikes are fun, but beware of icy patches. Bring technical equipment like poles and spiked shoes if you want to go mountain hiking in the snow.

Summer temperatures rise to 80 F in July, perfect for enjoying the lake. June, July, and August are dry months, although a surprise rainstorm is possible. 

If you’re hiking in the summer, take plenty of water and consider how exposed your hike will be. The heat poses far more danger than the wildlife. 

Don’t discount the shoulder seasons of spring and fall in Big Bear Lake either – the cool temperatures are ideal for hiking and there are fewer crowds. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with wildflowers in the spring and gorgeous leaf color in the fall.

Enjoy the Other Things to do in Big Bear Lake

Enjoy the Other Things to do in Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake is a vibrant mountain town with plenty to do aside from hiking. Check out the Big Bear Alpine Zoo to see regional wildlife, rent a bicycle, or try a ropes course. 

In summer, rent a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or motorboat for an afternoon on Big Bear Lake. In winter, go skiing, snowboarding, or tubing on the slopes.

At night, go for a meal downtown or at the ski resorts of Snow Summit and Big Bear Mountain. Head to local’s favorite, Murray’s Saloon for an evening of karaoke or late-night bowling at The Bowling Barn.

Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Big Bear.

Taking your Dog to Big Bear Lake

Taking your Dog to Big Bear Lake

The National Forest Service allows dogs in the wilderness areas around Big Bear Lake, provided they are on a leash no more than six feet long. 

This means that dog-friendly hikes in Big Bear are easy to find. Dogs just aren’t permitted in the San Jacinto Wilderness area.

Some sections of Big Bear trails may even allow you to have your dog off-leash, provided they are well-trained. Boathouse Dog Beach is another great spot to let your dog run around off-leash. 

Don’t forget poop bags and plenty of water for your pet. Rattlesnakes and ticks can pose threats to your dog, so keep them on the trail and away from grass and shrubs.

Overall, Big Bear Lake is very dog-friendly, with dozens of restaurants with outdoor patios where you can sit with your pet. 

Tips for Hiking in Big Bear

Tips for Hiking in Big Bear
  • When parking at trailheads around Big Bear Lake, you’ll need to display an Adventure Pass. These passes cost $5 per day and can be picked up at Big Bear Visitor Center, Big Bear Discovery Center, or at REI. If you have an annual national park pass (America the Beautiful Pass) you can use this instead.
  • Be safe on Big Bear Lake trails. Stick to the trail to avoid damaging the landscape and running into rattlesnakes. Take a trail buddy or tell someone where you’re going. It’s also helpful to put a note on your dashboard of which trail you’re taking. Bring at least one liter of water for two hours of hiking.
  • If you’re walking Big Bear Lake hiking trails in the winter, take the right gear and head for one of the north shore trails, where the snow melts sooner.

What to Pack for Hiking in Big Bear

What to Pack for Hiking in Big Bear

Looking for other California hikes? Check out our guides to the Trans-Catalina Trail, best Bay Area hikes, Catalina Island hiking, Berkeley Fire Trails, best hikes in Laguna Beach, best hikes in Orange County, best Malibu hikes, best Santa Cruz hikes, best Torrey Pines hikes, best Big Basin hikes, best hikes in San Francisco, best San Jose hikes, and best Joshua Tree hikes.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Sarah McDonald

Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.


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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.

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