Hiking Near Big Bear Lake

Our forefathers built a trail spanning from Mexico to Canada and designated that it be only used by hikers and horseback riders. Smart they were, as the Pacific Crest Trail shows it off from border to border. Known to go through isolated wilderness, baking desert, freezing mountains and a few fairly populated areas; the Pacific Crest Trail can be hiked in pieces, instead of jumping into the whole 6 months it usually takes.

In the San Bernardinos, we are fortunate, as the PCT passes right through our neighborhood. You can easily map out a bit of the trail and share your footprints with those who have walked before. We chose a simple overnight hike from Onyx Summit at Hwy. 38, down to Baldwin Lake, the East end of the Big Bear Valley, a distance of about 10 miles.

The PCT runs North from Onyx Summit and gently descends in altitude to the Bear Valley floor. We found no difficult spots, no endless switchbacks. There were uphills. This is no, “slap your feet in tennis shoes” walk. Southern California is made up of decomposed granite and sharp rocks. Most of them appear to be on the PCT. Check your soles. If you don’t have tread, favor your feet, and change your boots.

Starting at Onyx Summit, it is a little over 4 miles to the Arrastre Creek Horse Camp. This is a great place to overnight, as there is usually treatable water available in the warm months. There is a picnic table, a horse trough, a seasonal fire ring and seasonal treatable water. (Always check with the local Forest Service before lighting a fire, even in a campsite. You’ll need a free fire permit. Depending on conditions, you still may not be permitted to burn.)

If you haven’t hiked in a while, those 4 miles are a great way to break yourself back into the swing of it. There are enough mileage markers on the trail to keep you encouraged. Lunch or dinner at a picnic table is a great treat after some good trekking.

Lots of great views get you started. Just past the trailhead you’ll have views of the San Gorgonio Mountain Range to the Southwest. You’ll parallel the highway for a while, walking down the next ridge. Soon, the view to the North breaks open and you’ll see your destination spread out before you. You’ll be hiking into the ravine, entering a lovely area of large trees. Arrastre Creek starts to flow and disappear, down most of the trail. This gives the feel of walking in a garden!

View of Tip Top Mountain from PCT

You’ll actually encounter water along the trail for quite a distance. Just behind the Y camp in Lake Williams, the trail rises to meet the hills East of Erwin Lake. Views will come into perspective and you’ll be able to look back and see where you came from. The PCT comes very close to the residential area of Baldwin Lake. You can pick up Forest Road 2N02, coming out near Baldwin Lake Rd., or continue around to the North, meeting HWY 18 at the top of Cushenberry Grade. If you continue a couple more miles, you’ll come to the Doble Camp, another campsite accessible only by the PCT.

When you can, take a small hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. You will be well rewarded.


  1. Looks very beautiful there! Gorgeous vistas!

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