PACIFIC CREST TRAIL–The famous international trail that stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada winds some 39 miles through Big Bear with spectacular big-mountain hiking for day treks or even overnight adventures. The PCT enters Big Bear Valley high up Onyx Summit and serves up terrific mountain and desert views as it winds around Baldwin Lake and through Holcomb Valley before continuing west toward the Lake Arrowhead area and beyond. Convenient trail access is at Onyx Summit, Hwy. 18 at the top of Cushenbury Grade, at the north end of Holcomb Valley Rd. near the Transfer Station, and Big Bear Discovery Center. For information call (909) 866-3437.
Pacific Crest Trail’s motto has long been “Find Yourself on the PCT” but really it should be “See it All.” And we’re not even referring to the 57 major mountain passes it crosses through three states and touching as many countries, five national monuments and another five state parks, or six national parks.
There’s plenty to see in Big Bear alone, along the 39 miles of trail that passes through the Valley. Hikers wander historic mining country including below the fabled Gold Mountain Mine and through Holcomb Valley, past wildflowers that grow here and nowhere else in the world, and next to Serrano Indian sacred site “Eye of God.”
That’s not all you’ll see along the PCT in Big Bear. Last season the nation’s premier long distance trail, which runs some 2,650 miles from the Mexican to Canadian borders, served up some unusual sights in addition to the usual spectacular views of 11,402 ft. Mt. San Gorgonio, Big Bear Lake and the High Desert.
Like llamas on one outing, a trainer getting some work in with his camel-like beasts before taking them to Utah for pack duty. Then there was the sofa along the trail near Onyx Summit, next to a dumpster that served as a food cash. Both are probably still there, ready to service through hikers as they come through Big Bear, usually in May or June.
And let’s not forget the grizzlies and African lions either. At one time Big Bear Valley was teeming with grizzlies, but now the only ones still around are at Big Bear Alpine Zoo and this facility along the PCT.
Predators in Action, a facility which trains exotic animals for photo shoots and movie productions, is just off the trail, so close hikers can spot beasts checking them out. The company is founded by Randy Miller, renowned for his work with exotics. He was a stunt double working with lions on the movie “Gladiator” and has been profiled in many newspaper stories.
Indeed there’s so much to see along PCT in Big Bear, from gurgling creeks that should be flowing nicely after winter to trail camps for those pitching a tent. PCT is popular with equestrians, including Baldwin Lake Stables, which leads guided horseback rides along the trail.
Walk the whole route and go through terrain that ranges from fiery desert to dripping wet rain forest. PCT goes through 24 federal forests and 33 designated wilderness areas—including skirting the nearby San Gorgonio Wilderness. It passes a thousand lakes and tarns and descends into 19 distinct canyons, traversing some of America’s most majestic mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada and Cascades.
Yet the PCT is about much more than numbers. Several hundred through hikers will attempt the full distance this year, most leaving Campo at the Mexican border in late April and not arriving in Manning Provincial Park in Canada till October. Popularity has soared in recent years with the Reese Witherspoon movie glorifying life out of a backpack and on the trail.
You don’t have to hike all the way to Canada to have a good time on the PCT. Several local sections make great family day hikes. These sections are mostly level with not many killer climbs, suitable for all ability levels. Just be careful: you might have so much fun it’s hard to turn back!
The PCT enters Big Bear Valley at the top of Onyx Summit immediately east of Hwy. 38, and there’s a big turnout for parking too. Catch the trail up the hill about 100 yards east of where you park, then head either north or south on the path. Go south (toward Mexico) and you’ll start a gradual descent as beautiful views of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and its snowcapped namesake peak, 11,502 ft. Mt. San Gorgonio, unfold. Head north and and there’s a panoramic view spot with vistas stretching 180-degrees about a mile in.
Another good place for a PCT day hike can be found on Hwy. 18 at Cushenbury Grade, at the drop off to Lucerne Valley. Park on the east side and catch the trail going either direction as it crosses the highway. North is especially dramatic, with crest views of the desert and good wind and sun protection. Walk a couple miles and you’ll come to Holcomb Valley Rd., better known as the road to the county dump.
There’s nothing trashy about the hiking here. Continue on the trail (or park here instead) and you’ll walk through the Doble trail camp, roughly located where the mining boom town of the same name was. Note the remnants of the Gold Mountain mine on the ridge above you. The trail ascends up the ridge, serving dramatic views of Baldwin Lake, and eventually leading past Gold Mountain, one of the “Seven Summits of Big Bear.”
South on the trail from Cushenbury leads toward Shadow Ranch, and along the way serves up more great views of the Mojave Desert and also Baldwin Lake. The walking is mostly level with only a few grinds to climb, and leads to the quartz rock formation known as “Eye of God.”
For less convenient parking but more adventurous hiking, drive out to Holcomb Valley on Van Dusen Canyon Rd. off North Shore Dr. The PCT intersects the dirt road about 2.4 miles in; find a place to park and check out the great hiking in either direction. South climbs up the ridge immediately to the east and can be quite a hump; if you walk far enough it empties out after a descent back at the dump.
North also dishes up some uphill, and after a few miles the PCT connects with Cougar Crest trail. Get someone to drop you off on Van Dusen and you can hike the PCT to Cougar Crest, ending up at the Discovery Center for pickup.