Big Bear Wild Burro Territory Hike
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||12.5 miles (20.1 km)|
|Other Options||8 Mile Arrastre Creek Walk|
|Hike Time||5-7 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||2,200 feet (671m)|
|Highest Elevation||9,113 feet (2778m)|
|Fees & Permits||Free|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Bernardino National Forest|
|Weather & Forecast||Latest Conditions|
|Stay Safe||Copy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.|
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.
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.
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.
Seeing Burros On a 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
You do not need a parking pass here.
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.
Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
Altra Lone Peak 6
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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
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
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.
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.
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.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. 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 7 or Epix. 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.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
This guide last updated on February 21, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.