11 Best Big Bear Hiking Trails

Just 2 hours from downtown Los Angeles, Big Bear offers an ideal escape from the city to explore its finest hiking trails. Discover the best trails in Big Bear with this informative guide!

Jolanda Lapegna Avatar
Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest lies the picturesque alpine gem that is Big Bear Lake.

Boasting an average of 300 days of sunshine every year, BB is a year-round getaway jam-packed with outdoor activities to enjoy. Beginners and experienced hikers alike can tackle one of the challenging mountain peaks or take a stroll down any of the scenic, family-friendly trails. Fishing, mountain biking, skiing, and snowshoeing are also all waiting for you at BB!

The iconic Pacific Crest Trail passes through here, too, meaning you can sample a piece of this famous thru-hike without all the months of planning and preparation, not to mention the mileage!

If you’re ready to enjoy sweeping mountain views, a postcard-worthy lake, and gorgeous hiking trails for every skill level, read on and learn about our favorite 11 local hikes and find the perfect Big Bear hiking trail for your next visit.

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RELATED READING: Check out our other guides for more great hiking trips in California.

Which are the best Big Bear Hikes?

We’ve compiled our list of 11 favorite Big Bear Trails below.

  1. Castle Rock Trail
  2. Bristlecone Trail
  3. Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak
  4. Hanna Flat Trail
  5. Grays Peak Trail
  6. John Bull Loop Trail
  7. The Skyline Trail
  8. Sugarloaf Mountain, Sugarloaf National Recreation Trail
  9. Pine Knot Trail
  10. Butler Peak Trail
  11. Pacific Crest Trail
Castle Rock Trail
The Castle Rock Trail serves up sumptuous views of the lake.

1. Castle Rock Trail

The stunning Castle Rock Trail offers views of Big Bear Lake peeking through the pine forest. Despite its short length, this hike presents a formidable challenge with its steep elevation gain and rugged terrain. Be prepared for a demanding uphill climb that persists until you reach the one-mile point.

The Castle Rock Trail is heavily trafficked, so expect to share the path with lots of company. Don’t let that deter you, though, as Castle Rock is one of the most impressive rock formations in the park and definitely worth a visit! 

Those looking for an extra challenge can extend their hike down the Champion Lodgepole Trail, a charming hike to the ​​Bluff Lake Nature Reserve and its stately, towering pines. 

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 2.4 miles (750ft)
  • Rating: Moderate 
Bristlecone Trail
The Bristlecone Trail is a mellow, family-friendly loop through an atmospheric forest.

2. Bristlecone Trail

For a family-friendly outing, the Bristlecone Trail fits the bill! Open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, this easily accessible path caters to all skill levels. This picturesque round-trip is teeming with California wildlife and is especially popular among birdwatchers. Keep your eyes peeled, as you might have the chance to spot a Bald Eagle!

Fun fact: this hike is actually teeming with its namesake, Bristlecone Pines, and Jeffrey Pine. Bristlecones are a remarkable pine species known for their longevity – some specimens have survived for over 4000 years! Keep an eye out for them on the way now that you’ve got some cool tree facts to impress your friends with. 

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1.8
  • Rating: Easy
Cougar Crest Trail
The Cougar Crest Trail is a slightly strenuous hike through old-growth forest to a popular peak offering to-die-for panoramic views.

3. Cougar Crest Trail To Bertha Peak

The Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak is a popular route that provides stunning views of Big Bear Lake. This popular trail takes you through majestic old-growth forests along a steep and rocky dirt path, offering scenic vistas above the lake’s north shore and Serrano Campground.

The Cougar Crest Trail begins at the Discovery Center, and winds through towering pine trees before reaching the summit. Get ready for a challenging ascent as the Cougar Crest Trail ends with some steep elevation gain along the last mile leading to the summit of Big Bertha!

While the sweeping views from the summit of Big Bertha are impressive, the Big Bear Discovery Center at the trailhead parking lot is also worth checking out. It’s the largest visitor center in Big Bear Valley and it offers everything from wildlife exhibits to outdoor concerts and theater productions. 

From here you’ll also have access to the Woodland Interpretive Trail, which begins under half a mile east down the alpine pedal path.

  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 8 miles (1,300ft)
  • Rating: Moderate
Looking across Big Bear Lake to Fawnskin
The Hanna Flat Trail is one of the best hikes in the area, if not California as whole. Nearby Fawnskin sits on the edge of Big Bear Lake, around 2.6 miles away from Hanna Flat campground

4. Hanna Flat Trail

Nearby Fawnskin sits on the edge of Big Bear Lake, around 2.6 miles away from Hanna Flat campground

The hike from Hanna Flat is a hidden gem only the locals (and us) seem to know about. While it doesn’t offer the same spectacular views as some of the other hikes on our list, you’ll enjoy a variety of Southern California’s natural beauty such as beautiful alpine meadows of seasonal wildflowers, low shrubland, and gorgeous alpine forests. 

You can start this hike from either direction, but we recommend starting from the trailhead at the Hanna Flat Campground. That way, you can choose whether you want to extend your trip for another two miles down the Grays Peak Trail for views of both this peak and Delamar Mountain. 

The Hanna Campground is right in the middle of Bald Eagle nesting grounds, so the trailhead is inaccessible from November until April. 

  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 9.5 miles (1,100ft)
  • Rating: Moderate

RELATED READING: Check out our guide to the best campsites in Big Bear.

Greys Peak Trail
Bag a peak and soak up those superlative views of the lake on the Grays Peak Trail!

5. Grays Peak Trail

Grays Peak Trail is situated on the northern side of Big Bear and provides hikers with spectacular views of the lake below. This hike is relatively easy, making it an ideal choice for beginners who want to challenge themselves while enjoying the beauty of the area.

The trail is 3.5 miles to the summit and back again, traveling along a single-track path and sometimes a local access forest road. 

To access the parking lot and trailhead, you’ll need either a day pass or a California Adventure Pass. Thankfully, both can be purchased nearby at the Big Bear Visitor Center. 

  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 7 miles (1,200ft)
  • Rating: Moderate
John Bull Loop Trail 
The John Bull Loop is a great option for those keen to take on a stiffer challenge and hike through an area rich in historical intrigue.

6. John Bull Loop Trail

The John Bull Loop presents an opportunity to tackle one of Big Bear’s most challenging and rewarding trails. This hike takes you through the historic Holcomb Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, an area steeped in California gold rush history.

This is a strenuous hike through the unspoiled BB Wilderness, although most of the difficulties come from it’s length rather than the elevation. It goes without saying that hiking boots and proper gear are a must, as well as some basic navigation skills. Need to brush up on these? Check out our guide on how to use a map and compass.

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 11 miles (900ft)
  • Rating: Challenging
Skyline Trail
The Skyline trail is fifteen miles of awesome singletrack along the top of the valley’s southern rim.

7. The Skyline Trail

No list would be complete without the Skyline Trail, one of the most scenic treks in all of Big Bear! Imagine yourself having a picnic at Grand View Point, a 1,500ft-high lookout featuring gorgeous views of Big Bear Lake and the San Gorgonio Mountain Range in the distance!

The hike in its entirety is quite long at 15 miles, but there are lots of junctions that allow you to hop on or off the path to shorten it. You’ll be following along a single track that traverses the mountains above Big Bear Lake, with panoramic views the entire way. 

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 15 miles (1,500ft)
  • Rating: Challenging
Sugarloaf Mountain
The trail to Sugarloaf Mountain is a stiff but rewarding hike to the top of the highest peak in the area.

8. Sugarloaf Mountain, Sugarloaf National Recreation Trail

Reaching the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain is an exceptionally rewarding experience. As the tallest peak near Big Bear Lake, with an elevation of almost 10,000 feet, it offers breathtaking vistas.

Those looking for a paved path will be sorely disappointed. This round-trip features a long and grueling climb along a rugged and rocky dirt path. At least you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the San Bernardino peaks in the distance! 

The summit of Sugarloaf is actually forested and partially obscured, meaning you don’t get the same stellar views offered by some of the other local peaks. Nevertheless, you’ll still take in some lovely views of the Big Bear Valley below and feel good about conquering the tallest peak in BB! 

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 10 miles (3,200ft)
  • Rating: Challenging
Pine Knot Trail
The Pine Knot trail delivers the kind of epic views normally only enjoyed after putting in much more elevation gain. 

9. Pine Knot Trail

The Pine Knot Trail is one of the most scenic designated trails in Big Bear and a favorite amongst the locals thanks to its stunning views of Big Bear Lake and San Gorgonio Mountain. This hike starts at the Aspen Glen Picnic Area, just off Mill Creek Road and guides you through rugged alpine wilderness typical of this corner of Southern California. 

While the trek is long and features plenty of elevation gain, the path itself is well-maintained and easy to navigate. If you’re on foot expect to share the path with mountain bikers!

At the end of the Pine Knot hiking trail, add another half mile to your journey to reach the outstanding Grand View Point and take in the stellar views of Big Bear Lake from above.

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 7 miles (1,000ft)
  • Rating: Moderate 
Butler Peak Trail
The Butler Peak Trail is worthwhile if you’re keen to escape the crowds.

10. Butler Peak Trail

The Butler Peak Trail presents another opportunity to conquer a Big Bear peak. This hidden gem is among the less frequented trails around the lake, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a tranquil and remote natural experience.

While the hike is only rated as moderate, it’s quite a challenging 14-mile trek to a lookout tower with picturesque views of Big Bear Lake below. If you make it all the way to the lookout tower, make sure to check out the Osborne FireFinder. This historic piece of equipment has been used for almost a century to pinpoint fire locations. 

  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Distance: 14 miles (1,800ft)
  • Rating: Moderate
Pacific Crest Trail
The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the most highly esteemed and coveted trails on the planet.

11. Pacific Crest Trail

The final Big Bear trail on our list is undeniably the most renowned. The Pacific Crest Trail is an iconic, once-in-a-lifetime journey spanning 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. About 40 miles of this celebrated hike traverse Big Bear Lake and the encompassing San Bernardino National Forest.

There is no trailhead or starting point to this one, as you can intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail directly from the end of the Cougar Cougar Crest Trail. You’ll begin at the northern ridge of Bertha Peak and wind your way down to Holcomb Creek. It’s nigh-on impossible to complete this in one day, but there are lots of entrance and exit points to help you break up the journey. 

To say the experience is spectacular doesn’t do it justice. You’ll enjoy some of the best views in BB including the town of BB itself, the accompanying lake, and the San Bernardino Mountains. 

  • Type: Point-to-point
  • Distance: 39 miles
  • Rating: Moderate

What are the Best Hikes in Big Bear: The Verdict

We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the 11 best hikes in Big Bear, CA. With Big Bear being so close to major cities like Los Angeles and San Bernardino, there’s really no excuse not to add it to your weekend hiking checklist. So, what are you waiting for?! 

Be sure to drop us a line below and tell us all about your own favorite hikes in Big Bear. If you have any questions about these hiking trails, feel free to ask. There’s nothing we love more than helping people plan their next outdoor adventure! 

Last update on 2024-06-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Jolanda Lapegna Avatar

Jolanda is a full-time writer and life-long outdoor enthusiast. Growing up on a small island off the Eastern Canadian coast, she spent most of her childhood hiking, swimming and fishing in the Atlantic ocean.

After a short stint in the corporate world, Jolanda quit her day job to write full-time and check out what lies beyond the Canadian shores. Ever since, she’s been hiking, biking and kayaking her way across 11 European countries and counting.

Jolanda currently lives in the beautiful, Tuscan countryside. When she isn’t hanging out in the woods or at the beach, you’ll catch her foraging for mushrooms and truffles with her truffle-dog, Red.

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