Big Bear Aspen Grove Trail Hike
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||4.8 miles (7.7 km)|
|Other Options||1 mile roundtrip to the first grove|
|Hike Time||2-3 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||770 feet (235m)|
|Highest Elevation||8,000 feet (2438m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee & Occasional Permit|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Bernardino National Forest|
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
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
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.
- Aspens are an “aggressive pioneer species” that often colonize wildfire areas. So on this hike, even after the 2015 fire, you can see new growth aspens.
- The aspen is one of the most common trees in North America, but Southern California is generally too hot and dry for them. A few isolated areas like this support groves.
- There are several species of aspens, and these are called “quaking aspens,” also known as golden aspen, trembling aspen, American aspen, and mountain aspen. The words “quaking” and “trembling” describes when the wind blows through the leaves; the trees look as if they are shaking. If you want to learn more, the Forest Service has a few pages devoted to aspen trees.
- The area to the west of the trail (I’ll point it out in the directions) is a popular spot for hunters. If it’s hunting season they can be active here, and it’s not very fun. And of course, hunting season is in the fall, when the leaves change color. The good news is that most hunters here are used to hikers. Go to Walmart and invest in a cheap orange hat or vest. You can also make lots of noise by talking loudly or singing a song. It helps to scare away animals, and also let hunters know that a human is close. It might also be the only circumstance in which playing music through a Bluetooth speaker is acceptable.
- This guide brings you to the end of the Aspen Grove Trail. The area is remote and beautiful, but the aspens fizzle out as you climb up the canyon. If you don’t want to go all the way, simply turn around and go back whenever you feel like it.
Aspen Grove Trail Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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).
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.