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Aspen Grove Trail Hike Southern California

Big Bear Aspen Grove Trail Hike

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions for the Aspen Grove Trail
  • Permits & Parking Information
  • What to Expect on the Hike
Total Distance4.8 miles (7.7 km)
Other Options 1 mile roundtrip to the first grove
Hike Time2-3 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)770 feet (235m)
Highest Elevation8,000 feet (2438m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee & Occasional Permit
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682

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.

Where Is the Aspen Grove Trail by Big Bear?

Just getting to the remote trailhead for the Aspen Grove Trail is an adventure. Ideally, you’ll have a high-clearance vehicle with 4×4 to navigate the last 1.5 miles up a windy and rutted dirt road. If you don’t have that option, you can drive to where the road’s bad part starts and walk the 1.5 miles (about 30 minutes) to the trailhead. If you do end up walking the last stretch, the good news is that you can see aspen trees at the beginning of the hike; you don’t necessarily have to hike the Aspen Grove Trail to the end (more on that later in the guide).

In the winter, the road to Fish Creek can be closed. Check the “alerts” link above before you go.

To get to the trailhead, use this address:
Aspen Grove Trail 2E05, Angelus Oaks, CA 92305

Aspen Grove Trail Directions 1
The main part of the dirt road is flat and smooth. You can do it with a low-clearance vehicle, just don’t go too fast.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 2
Turn right towards Fish Creek.

Shortly after that last image the road starts to go uphill. If you have a low-clearance vehicle, park around the intersection sign and walk. I’ve marked the trail map (in a following section) with the alternate parking location.

Aspen Grove Trail Directions 7
The last part of the dirt road to the trailhead is steep and rutted in places.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 3
The parking lot is small, but given the tough drive to the trailhead, usually has at least some space available.

Permits For the Hike

Occasionally you need a permit to hike the Aspen Grove Trail. Whether you do or not is often dependent on the fire conditions and traffic. Check the San Gorgonio Wilderness Associate website before you go. You can arrange for a permit online and it’s free.

Gear Recommendations

Although the hike isn’t long, it’s definitely in the backcountry, and you should be prepared. Bring at least 1L of water and a satellite communicator if you have it. The trail is overgrown in spots; having long pants and trekking poles will help save your legs.

Aspen Grove Trail Directions 6
This is what happens when you wear shorts on this hike.

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My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move.  It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
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Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33  (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles.  I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated December 2020.

My December 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Aspen Grove Trail Maps

This trail is very easy to follow from the trailhead to the first aspen grove at Fish Creek, and then it gets a little more challenging as you hike to the end of the trail. Tise area was leveled in the 2015 Lake Fire, and the trail also fell victim. If you have a GPS and know how to load the GPX track (below), it will be helpful. That said, although overgrown in places, there are very well defined sections at regular intervals. If you’ve been hiking for 10 minutes and you haven’t seen a well-defined trail, you’ve lost the trail.

Also of note is the OSM map track, which shows the trail running on the east side of Fish Creek. If this was the trail at one point, it’s not the trail anymore. The GPX file I have available here, along with the images and video, show the current trail.

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable  Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.

Elevation Profile

Aspen Grove Elevation
After an initial downhill, the trail gradually climbs until its end. There are no steep climbs, just a gentle uphill.

3D Map

Aspen Grove 3d Map
The trail follows the canyon carved by Fish Creek.

Hike Brief

Lake Fire Aspen Grove
This is what the Aspen Grove Trail area looked like before the Lake Fire of 2015. Today all the big pines are gone, but the aspens have started to grow back. Photo Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

Aspen Grove Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Aspen Grove Trail Directions 4
There’s a Sand to Snow National Monument trailhead sign at the parking area. The trail starts right behind the sign.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 5
The trail heads downhill towards Fish Creek.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 8
As the trail twists around to the east you’ll start to see the dead trees and barren hills.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 9
But look down into the valley and you’ll see your first grove of aspen trees!
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 10
When the trail reaches Fish Creek, cross over.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 11
On the other side of the creek there’s a sign letting you know that you’re entering the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Make the left after the sign.

If you just wanted to see that first grove of aspens, you can turn around here. You can also explore the trail to the right at the San Gorgonio Wilderness sign, but note that the area to the right is popular with hunters (in hunting season).

Aspen Grove Trail Directions 12
From here on out the hike is more primitive than the first part of the trail. Make your way upstream along Fish Creek.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 13
Keep your eyes open for aspens on the rest of the hike. Generally they can be found closer to Fish Creek, which is on your left.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 14
Huge mushrooms!
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 15
When you get to this large burned tree, you’re going to have to climb around to continue the trail. Often these large dead trees will fall, decay, and provide nutrients for new growth.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 16
Keep following the trail as it heads up along Fish Creek.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 17
When the trail looks like it will cross over the creek, look for the hard right and climb up on the same side.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 18
Keep hiking up through the burn area. I remember hiking though here before the fire; it was a dark, lush forest.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 19
When the trail approaches the creek again, look for it to continue as a hard right.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 20
The trail starts climbing uphill. Although there isn’t a lot of climbing on this hike, the rough nature of the trail makes it seem a bit harder than it actually is.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 21
In the fall, the colors from all the foliage is spectacular. And in the spring and early summer the area is great for wildflowers.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 22
Some sections of the trail are heavily overgrown. Keep going; there’s generally a good section immediately after a tough one. At this point the trail meanders on the side of the hill to the right.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 23
Be prepared to cross several fallen trees.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 24
The trail starts to climb up toward the end of the canyon.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 25
After the climb you’ll cross over Fish Creek.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 26
The trail heads up the left bank of the creek.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 27
And then crosses back over and heads up to the left.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 28
You’ll definitely know that you’re higher up at this point as the trail gently climbs towards its end.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 29
And soon you reach the end of the Aspen Grove Trail at the Fish Creek Trail. If you were to make a right, you could hike to the highest point in Southern California, San Gorgonio, about 10 miles hike (don’t actually do this unless you know what you are doing). To the left is the PCT and the end of the dirt road from the trailhead.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 30
From here you just turn around and head back the way you came.
Aspen Grove Trail Directions 31
Enjoy the views on the way back down, which should be an easy cruise after the climb up.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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