You will find some of the best hiking trails in the Big Bear Lake area in Trinity National Forest. California is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the USA. Favorably called the Golden State thanks to the gold rush of the early days, it seems there is more to it than gold for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. There are many hiking trails in California. They rate in difficulty from easy to very challenging.
To trek on the hiking trails in Trinity, you will need to gear up in a good pair of hiking boots or shoes, carry a backpack if you are going for overnight hiking and camping. Note that for camping, you will have to get a wilderness permit from the authorities, mostly at the Scott River Ranger Station, Coffee Creek Fire Station or Big Bar Ranger Station.
What to expect on the best hiking trails
Most of the trails to Big Bear Lake have a difficulty rating of easy and easy-to-moderate. There are a few trails with difficulty rating of challenging. These you can keep for later when you need a bigger challenge.
The surroundings are very beautiful. The lake is in a valley. To get there, you will hike through some of the most beautiful meadows, forest growth and eventually, go down mountains to access the lake. At the lake, you can relax, have a picnic lunch and even enjoy a swim.
You will go through forest growth of Huckleberry Oak, chaparral bushes, knobcone pines, black oak, Jeffrey Pines, Lodgepole Pines, Ponderosa Pines, Incense Cedars and Western Junipers. In addition, you will also get wonderful wildflower views, Bracken Ferns and you can even drink from some of the streams that have the clearest running water. If you would like to fish, you will have to inquire from the ranger stations whether you need a permit for that.
What to bring with you
A hat, a light jacket if you are hiking in summer, a small pack with all the necessities like snack bars, water or a portable water filter, a flashlight, sunglasses, GPS (not a must), and finally, you must wear a nice pair of hiking shoes.
Carry some food too, and if you intend to camp, carry a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad if you like and any other thing that you may need for the night.
Danger of getting lost? All the hiking trails that we will discuss here lead to the Big Bear Lake. However, if you wonder off trail, you may get lost. Therefore it is best to stay on the trail all the time.
Castle Rock Trail
To access the Castle Rock Trail, you will have to park at the small parking area that is located about 1.3 miles from the Big Bear Dam and off Highway 18. You can also park at the trailhead that is just off the Forest Service Road 2N10 which can be found when you drive from Bear Valley Bikes on Highway 18, for about 4.3 miles.
The difficulty rating for the 1-mile (single trip) Castle Rock Trail is moderate. First, there will be a small descent of a forested gully going to the east, onto some stone steps and a waterfall if you are hiking in early summer. You should then get to a saddle and from there, you can see the Castle Rock in the east. Go around the rock on the northern side where you will find indentations that you can take to the top.
The elevation gain is 700 feet which is not too bad. You will need to get an adventure pass from the Discovery Center or from any of the Ranger Stations if you leave your car in the parking area.
Carry snacks and water especially in late summer when there may be no water on the trail.
Siberia Creek Trail
This is another one of the best hiking trails in the Big Bear Lake area. To get to the trail, you will have to take Forest Road 2N11. To get to the 2N11, just drive down the 2N10 until you get to a roundabout car park where you will access the Lodgepole Pine Trail. It leads to the Siberia Creek. You will see the sign of the Siberia Creek Trail. Follow it, keeping the meadow to your right. You will have to go through a gorge and then follow the trail through the slopes of Lookout Mountain. You will get to a saddle then follow the ridge westward, it will be steep until you get to a junction where this trail meets with the Seven Pines Trail. You can then take the right turn and then walk for a mile to the Siberia Creek Trail campsite. Take the same way back.
The length of the Siberia Creek Trail is 12 miles to and fro, and it has some easy spots and some, especially in the gorge can be very challenging/strenuous. The elevation gain is 2500 feet, which means you will have quite an uphill climb when going back.
For this tough hike, you may even need to bring your trekking poles.
Cougar Crest Trail
This is the third of the best hiking trails in the Big Bear Lake area. It is not as long as the Siberia Creek Trail but it is long all the same, at 4 miles round trip. It will lead you to the Pacific Crest Trail, and then you can turn back.
This trail is to the south of the Lookout Mountain. The air is dryer here and the going will be easy and hard at intervals. For example, you will start with a gentle climb for most of the first mile but the second one will get steeper and tougher. You will get shade from the giant Western Juniper and since these have blueberry-like fruits that mountain birds love, your hike will be decorated by birdlife.
At the Pacific Crest Trail, you can proceed to the left to go to the Bertha Peak from where you will get wonderful panoramic view of the Mojave Desert, Holcomb Valley and Bear Valley.
The difficulty rating for this trail is moderate to challenging. You will be in for a tough exercise but you will love it. To get to the trail-head, drive for about 0.6 miles from the Discovery Center and if you will be parking there, buy an Adventure Pass.
If hiking in summer, remember to wear good sunglasses, bring along enough snacks, and water as this trail is dry most of the time. The views (including spiral junipers) and the experience make the Pacific Crest Trail one of the best hiking trails in California.