San Bernardino National Forest Hiking Trails
San Bernardino National Forest hiking trails are among some of the best in the world. You have the highest mountains in Southern California, backcountry trails and camping, and the transition between the coast and desert. It’s not just all mountain hikes though, there’s a hiking trail for everyone here. You can even do a hike that includes a tram ride that gets you up in the mountains without all the work. Don’t forget to leave your parks pass on your dashboard when you do these hikes.
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San Bernardino National Forest Hiking Tips
- Learn how to hike in the mountains and check for snow on the trail before you go.
- If you’re driving up during snow, know that traffic can back up for hours and you may need chains on your tires, which is enforced by the police.
- If you’re camping, get a free campfire permit.
- San Bernardino National Forest is home to the tallest peak in Southern California, San Gorgonio.
- San Gorgonio
- San Jacinto
- San Bernardino
- Aspen Grove
- Ernie Maxwell Trail
- Whitewater Preserve
The South Fork Trail is one of the more popular routes to the San Gorgonio Mountain summit, and for a good reason. You have to put some work in on the climb, but overall the gradients are steady and reasonable. As you wind up toward the summit, you’ll get postcard views of the San Bernardino high line of peaks, views down to Mill Creek, and then, of course, the epic views from the summit, the highest point in southern California. Overall this is a classic hike.
Angelus Oaks, CA - 19.5 miles, Hard
Offering solitude and the easiest (but not easy) climb to San Gorgonio Mountain, the Fish Creek Trail is a great hike to escape the crowds. Getting to the trailhead is a challenge, but once there, you’ll start the hike just 3500 feet below the summit, and a well-designed trail helps you keep momentum as you climb to the highest point in SoCal. Unfortunately, there’s some damage from the 2015 Lake Fire, but it’s still a beautiful hike with great views and rugged wilderness.
Angelus Oaks, CA - 20.5 miles, Hard
Easily the most popular San Gorgonio hike route, the Vivian Creek Trail is an iconic adventure up to the highest point in SoCal, at 11,503 feet. Vivian Creek is popular because it’s the shortest and most accessible route, but it’s also the steepest, so expect a good workout on your way to the summit. It’s a beautiful hike through pines, cedars, and streams and then up to the barren moon-like landscape above the tree line. From the summit, you’ll enjoy sweeping views from Nevada to the Channel Islands. Many people hike it in a day, but you can also make it an overnight backpacking trip. In this guide, I’ll give you everything you need to know for either option.
Forest Falls, CA - 18 miles, Very Hard
Off the radar of most hikers, the Exploration Trail to Keller Peak is a scenic adventure that’s not too hard but also packs in some great trail highlights. The entire area you hike through was devastated by the 1970 Bear Fire; today, as you hike, you can experience what a half-century of recovery looks like (it’s good). Along the way, you’ll get some epic views of the Angeles National Forest and the surrounding high peaks. At Keller Peak, you can experience the oldest standing fire tower in Southern California, dating back to 1926.
Big Bear, CA - 12.5 miles, Moderate
Although Sugarloaf Mountain, at 9952 feet, is the highest point in Big Bear Valley, this mountain peak is often overlooked by hikers today. That’s good news for you because the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail is rarely crowded, offers a good climb with excellent views, an old-growth forest, and another peak to add to your list. And while the summit doesn’t have a viewpoint, you do get some of the best panoramas of the San Bernardino high peaks along the way.
Big Bear, CA - 12 miles, Hard
Hiking up the Castle Rock Trail to the viewpoint is tough, but thankfully short. Once you get to Castle Rock, you’ll have sweeping views of Big Bear Lake and the mountains surrounding it. Since the whole hike is under two miles, I’ve included an easy extension to a hidden mountain lake, Bluff Lake, which also features ruins from an 1890s mountain resort. There’s a lot to see packed into this short hike, and it’s worth the effort.
Big Bear Lake, CA - 1.6 miles, Moderate
While it isn’t a hike to a high mountain summit, taking the serene and scenic Pineknot Trail up to Grand View Point offers you a similar payoff, but without a big effort. The trail climbs gently through the pine forest, with glimpses down to Big Bear Lake, and then ends at Grand View Point, which has sweeping views of the San Bernardino high peaks. Overall it’s a pleasant hike that offers something nice for hikers of all ability levels.
Big Bear Lake, 92315 - 7.5 miles, Moderate
One of my favorite hikes, the Canyon View Loop Trail at the Whitewater Preserve, between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, offers beauty at every twist and turn. The well-marked trail follows the Whitewater River Canyon until it reaches the iconic PCT and then climbs up to a bluff that offers non-stop views into the canyon and high peaks of the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. It’s a hike that’s worth making a trip for, so give it a try.
Whitewater, CA - 4 miles, Moderate
The Bump and Grind Trail, one of the most popular in the Palm Springs area, is a short yet challenging loop hike that packs a lot of fun. You’ll get the incredible scenery of the desert foothills, a challenging but doable climb, a visit to a refuge for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, and views of the two high peaks of Southern California, Mt San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. For the best experience, leave at sunrise or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and heat. This guide will show you how to navigate the Bump and Grind Trail and have a great time.
Palm Desert, CA - 4 miles, Moderate
The Cougar Crest Trail, one of the most popular in Big Bear, CA, offers excellent views and beautiful wilderness for a moderate, but not crazy, effort. On the hike, you’ll experience a lush Alpine forest, views of Big Bear Lake, stone sculptures, a stretch on the iconic Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and then the panoramic Bertha Peak, one of the high points around the lake.
Big Bear, CA - 8 miles, Moderate
Hidden in a remote valley in the mountains around Big Bear, the Aspen Grove Trail offers a rare glimpse into one of the two aspen groves in Southern California. The leaves turn orange and yellow in the fall, and the area feels more like the Sierra Nevada than Big Bear. The Aspen Grove Trail was destroyed in the 2015 Lake Fire, and while the big pine trees are no longer there, the aspens have grown back nicely. If you’re looking for fall colors, this hike is a great option.
Angelus Oaks, CA - 4.8 miles, Moderate
Dry Lake, nestled in the shadow of San Gorgonio Mountain, is a beautiful day hike or overnight camping destination. This hiking guide to Dry Lake takes the scenic South Fork Trail, which is well maintained with gradual slopes. And despite being called Dry Lake, it often has water in it, making for a pristine alpine oasis in the mountains of Southern California.
Angelus Oaks, CA - 11.5 miles, Hard
Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.
Banning, CA - 8 miles, Hard
The Etiwanda Falls Trail hike feels like you’re a world away from the nearby LA suburbs. Starting in North Etiwanda Preserve, you gently hike up through the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, with glimpses of the prominent mountain peaks along the way. After a short 1.6 miles, you’ll reach Etiwanda Falls, tucked into a shady canyon. The trail is easy to follow, the workout is good, and the scenery is beautiful.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA - 3.5 miles, Moderate
Tucked into the foothills around Idyllwild, the Ernie Maxwell Scenic Trail offers backcountry beauty without heading into the big mountains. This family-friendly hike is easy to follow, has a gentle climb, and offers lots of shade. Even though you’re right next to a residential area, you’ll feel like you’re miles away as you hike through the forest.
Idyllwild, CA - 5.2 miles, Easy
Get away from the crowds on this San Bernardino East Peak hike that climbs up the Forsee Creek Trail, meanders along the breathtaking Bernardino Peak Divide Trail, then heads back to the start on the primitive and secluded John’s Meadow Trail. It’s a tough hike with a fair amount of climbing, but the scenery and ruggedness of the San Gorgonio Wilderness make it well worth it. I usually do this as a loop hike in a day, but there are several camping options if you want to make it an overnighter.
Angelus Oaks, CA - 18 miles, Hard
The Tahquitz Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail hike is one of the most popular hikes in the San Jacinto area for a reason. The scenery and views are incredible, the trails are in excellent condition and are well-marked, and the summit includes a visit to the highest fire lookout in San Bernardino National Forest at 8,846 feet. Because of its popularity, there are times when you need to apply for a permit and other times that you don’t. I’ll explain it all in the guide.
Idyllwild, CA - 8.5 miles, Hard
Unlike the route from Bowen Ranch, this Deep Creek Hot Springs hike takes you on the free and less-traveled Bradford Ridge Path to the popular hot springs. The hike along the Bradford Ridge Path is a treat in itself, winding its way along lush valleys tucked into the pristine wilderness of San Bernardino National Forest until it joins the PCT, where you hike above Deep Creek. And then, of course, you arrive Deep Creek Hot Springs, a series of jacuzzi-temperature pools next to the river. The scene at Deep Creek Hot Springs can be interesting, to say the least, but plan your trip right and you can enjoy a beautiful hike and a nice soak without any craziness.
Lake Arrowhead, CA - 5.6 miles, Moderate
Feeling more like Joshua Tree than Lake Arrowhead, this short but tough hike to the summit of The Pinnacles rewards you with a stone perch where you can soak in 360-degree views from the mountains to the Mojave. The hike ascends through a granite boulder field to a small plateau, then after a last mild scramble to the boulder-pile summit, you reach The Pinnacles peak. It’s a fun hike that’s a bit off the beaten path; don’t be surprised if you have the whole place to yourself.
Hesperia, CA - 4 miles, Moderate
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Hike to Mt San Jacinto is a great way to bag Southern California’s second highest peak without putting in a huge effort. It’s still a tough 11 mile hike, but it’s nothing like climbing to Mt San Jacinto from Palm Springs or Idyllwild. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cuts about 6,000 feet of climbing off the hike, and offers a nice base station where you can grab a snack after your successful summit. The summit of Mt San Jacinto is one of my favorites because it straddles the line between Coastal California and the Sonoran Desert, allowing you to see the transition between the two. On a clear day you’ll see from the Pacific Ocean to Mount Charleston in Las Vegas. A really fun and insanely beautiful hike.
Palm Springs, CA - 11 miles, Hard
The Cactus to Clouds hike is epic. It was rated one of the hardest day hikes in the world by Backpack Magazine. You start in downtown Palm Springs and climb over 10,000 feet to the summit of Mt San Jacinto, with a large stretch on the treacherous Skyline Trail. The Cactus to Clouds hike should only be attempted by the very experienced and very fit hiker, and only under the right conditions. This guide gives you all the info you need to do this incredible hike safely.
Palm Springs, CA - 21 miles, Very Hard
The San Bernardino Peak (10,649 feet) hike is tough but rewarding. The San Bernardino Mountains were named after San Bernardino Peak, which was named by one of the pioneer friars in California, Francisco Dumetz in 1835. I like this hike a lot. The crowds are light, the fauna is beautiful, and it offers sweeping views of Mt Baldy, Mt San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Big Bear Lake, and the Inland Empire.Planning for the San Bernardino Peak Hike
Angelus Oaks, CA - 16 miles, Hard