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Big Bear Wild Burro 3

Big Bear Wild Burro Territory Hike

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory
  • Why are there Wild Burros in Big Bear?
  • Tips on Spotting the Wild Burros
Total Distance (?)12.5 miles (20.1 km)
Other Options 8 Mile Arrastre Creek Walk
Hike Time5-7 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,200 feet (671m)
Highest Elevation9,113 feet (2778m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682
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A hike through the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory, Located in the eastern San Bernardino Mountains, offers an excellent chance to spot these beautiful animals in the wild, as well as some pristine mountain scenery. The territory is about 50 square miles, and in this guide, I’ll take you on a route through some of the hot spots where the wild burros can be found. We’ll add in a trip to Onyx Peak as well, so you can bag a summit along the way. I’ll also share a map with alternative locations where the wild burro can often be found.

What is the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory?

Although common in the Southwest USA, wild burros, aka feral donkeys, are not native species. The donkeys that you find pretty much anywhere in the world are descendants of the African Wild Ass (now critically endangered), first domesticated around 3000BC. Donkeys were first brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

Wild Burro Herd G56117bc58 1920
“Hardy desert animal” is not what comes to mind when you think burro, but they are adept at surviving in environments like the Southwest USA. They can lose 30% of their body weight to dehydration and replenish with just 5 minutes of drinking. Today an estimated 16,000 wild donkeys still roam on public land in the Southwest.

There are a few theories on how wild burros got to Big Bear. Some say they were released by miners, common in the region from the 1850s-1940s. Others say they were let go from movie sets after the shoot. And some speculate that they were released from fox farms that collapsed during the Great Depression. Fox farmers would capture burros in the desert and then use them to feed foxes. They could have also migrated up from the desert in search of food and water.

Big Bear Burro Race
In the 1950s the Old Miner’s Day Carnival started the Burro Race. Participants would catch a wild burro in the desert around Apple Valley, and then run over 40 miles with it to Big Bear Lake, where the burros were released. Winners would cover the distance in about 8 hours. The ASPCA eventually got the race stopped in the 1990s. Photo Monrovia Daily News-Post, 1973

In 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act protected the burros as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” which “contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” The burros became protected and a herd of about 60 peacefully lived the area around Rose Mine in the eastern part of Big Bear, away from civilization.

But by the 1980s, many burros had migrated into the developed areas of Big Bear, where life was easier. They would dig through garbage, eat flower gardens, and would sometimes be fed by residents. And while they were cute, there was a darker side. There were many car fatalities. Burros would choke and die on plastic bags. Some were mauled in dog attacks. It was clear that something had to be done.

In 1997 the BLM and Forest Service created the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory (WBT), a 35,000 acre area in the east of the Big Bear area, to permanently give the wild burro a home. Burros from residential areas were relocated to the territory or put up for adoption. Today the heard is around 60 strong, and is slowly decreasing.

Big Bear Wild Burro Map
The official WBT is about 50 square miles in the eastern part of the San Bernardino Mountains, although the burros still wander into residential areas.

Seeing Burros On a Hike

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 3
On the day that I documented this guide, this burro turd was as close as I got to seeing them. As with all wildlife spotting, results can be hit or miss. Keep an open mind and enjoy the wilderness hike.

So there are about 60 burros and 50 square miles of territory. You have no guarantee of seeing a burro. So what I’ve done in this guide is given you a nice 12 mile loop that will take you past some of the places that you are most likely to see a wild burro (and where I’ve seen them). I’ve also included waypoints for other wild burro hotspots in the map below if you want to explore on your own. Even if you don’t see a burro on the hike, I’ve routed it so that it’s still a pleasant wilderness experience.

Your best bet to spot a burro is in the early morning or early evening. They generally travel in small groups. In this area, the burros are used to people and will generally glance at you and continue grazing or just walk away. Don’t approach too closely, they will kick with their hind legs if they feel threatened. But don’t worry, burros are very intelligent and will usually size you up pretty quickly as non-threatening, as long as you keep your distance.

Where is Big Bear Wild Burro Hike?

For this hike, we are going to start at the massive parking area at Onyx Summit, which is really a pass, not a summit. Use this trailhead address:
Onyx Summit, Big Bear, CA, 92314

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 4
There’s a massive parking area at Onyx Summit, but no facilities.

You do not need a parking pass here.

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 1
The trailhead is up the very short paved road on the right of the parking area.

Gear For the Hike

This is a backcountry hike and I’d recommend proper hiking gear, with 2-3L of water. In the winter there can be snow and ice, and the area can become impassable. Trekking poles will help on the steeper slopes. And if you have binoculars, this is the hike to bring them on.

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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Garmin inReach Mini
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.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI | Backcountry
My Review & Guide

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Z-Poles: MacPac | REI | Amazon | Black Diamond

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated November 2021.

My November 2021 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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Wild Burro Hike Trail Maps

This route takes us on a scenic stretch of the PCT, and then on some lightly used Forest Service roads. Toward the end we’ll bag Onyx Peak, at 9113 feet, before closing the loop and ending up back at Onyx Summit. I’ve included another walk along Arrestre Creek, an estimated area of the territory, and some other waypoints on the map. You can use this info to piece together your own hike if you’d like.

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike Elevation
From Onyx Summit we have a nice downhill on the PCT, eventually arriving at the low point at Broom Flats. From there, we’ll start our climb up to Onyx Peak, and then back down to the start.

3D Map

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 3d Map
We’ll hike in a clockwise loop roughly paralleling Rt 38. The eastern part of the loop goes through a more remote section of San Bernardino NF not often visited by hikers.

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 5
From the junction at the trailhead, go straight. We’ll be returning at the white gate on the left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 6
Pass through the boulders and start climbing.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 7
Looking back will give you nice views of San Gorgonio, the highest peak in SoCal.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 8
When you get to the PCT junction, make the left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 9
The PCT is fairly well marked. This is also a spot where trail magic, such as water, is common.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 10
Our next landmark is crossing 1N01, which parallels the PCT to the left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 11
Enjoy the beautiful scenery along the PCT as you hike through the pines.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 12
When you reach road 1N01, hike straight through and continue the PCT on the other side.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 13
There’s a sign for our next landmark (and turn), road 2N01.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 14
Keep cruising down a nice long downhill on the PCT. There are some faint crossings of road 2N68Y.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 2
This stretch also has some dispersed camping sites, often used by PCT hikers.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 15
When you reach road 2N01, make the right.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 16
Continue hiking on 2N01.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 17
After a short while Broom Flats comes into view, which is a regular stomping ground for the wild burros. 2N01 is elevated above the flat, giving you some good spotting opportunities.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 18
When you descend down to Broom Flats, stay right and pass 2N04 on your left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 19
And then make the right onto 2N64Y toward Juniper Springs Group Camp.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 20
Here’s a closeup of the sign at the last junction.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 21
You have a pleasant climb up toward the campsite.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 22
As you approach the campsite, look on the left for ponds which are often used by the burros as watering holes.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 23
When you get to Juniper Springs Group Camp, keep right and pass the campsite. If you need a toilet, there are vault toilets at the campground here.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 24
And then go through the “road closed” gate. The trail is closed to vehicles, not hikers.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 25
And now you start the tough part of the climb. Climb up the steep and rocky old mining road.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 26
There are some flatter sections where you can catch your breath, and you’ll have views into the desert to your left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 27
About halfway up you pass a really cute (private) cabin. I’ve heard this referred to as Doc’s Cabin, but I don’t know anything else about it. If you know the story here, please contact me and I’ll update the guide.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 28
The cabin has a really cool bench and fire pit looking east. Please be respectful of this private property.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 29
Keep climbing at stay right at the junction.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 30
And then you have another steep stretch of climbing.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 31
Towards the top, the faint 2N86Y road joins from the right.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 32
And then at the crest, make the left onto 1N01, which we know from earlier in the hike. When you return, you’ll be going down to the right here.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 33
The toughest climbing is behind you. Now head up the gradual 1N01 toward Onyx Peak.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 34
You’ll come around a bend and see Onyx Peak in front of you, which you can spot by the radio towers on top.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 35
At the split, take the right.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 36
And on this stretch you’ll be treated to postcard-perfect views of San Gorgonio.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 37
As you approach the summit, you’ll start to see radio towers.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 38
Now the summit area is a mess of radio complexes. To the right are views of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. The actual summit is in the radio complex to the left, on the side of the fence here.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 41
Here’s the summit marker.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 39
And straight ahead you’ll have great views into the desert.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 40
And if you look southeast you can spot Warren Peak, one of the high points in Joshua Tree NP.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 42
When you’re done at the summit, head back down the 1N01 road. As you start you’ll see Sugarloaf Mountain poking above the ridge.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 43
When you get back to the junction that you entered 1N01 on, stay left and descend toward Onyx Summit where you parked.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 44
Now you have a nice cruise down 1N01.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 45
Eventually you’ll pass through the PCT junction where we crossed 1N01 at the beginning of the hike.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 46
The views are great, including those to Baldwin Lake to the northwest.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 47
And eventually you’ll reach the gate where we started. That’s the hike!

This guide last updated on November 7, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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