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Cougar Crest Trail To Bertha Peak Hike Guide

Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak Hike Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions
  • Cougar Crest Trail Maps & Trail Conditions
  • Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance8 miles (12.9 km)
Other Options 4.5 miles roundtrip to viewpoint benches
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,450 feet (442m)
Highest Elevation8,201 feet (2500m)
Fees & PermitsParking Permit
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682

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.

Where Is the Cougar Crest Trail in Big Bear?

The Cougar Crest Trail is located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. Use this trailhead address:
Cougar Crest Trailhead, Big Bear, CA 92314

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There’s a big parking lot, but this is a popular hike, and the lot fills up quickly. There is a primitive toilet here.

You need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park in this lot.

If the parking lot is full, you can try parking at the nearby Big Bear Discovery Center and walk down the paved path to join the hike slightly after the start.

Gear For the Hike

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This is about as rocky as the trail gets, and it’s only for a few short sections. If trekking poles help you, bring them.

The Cougar Crest Trail up to Bertha Peak is a very straightforward hike, with a good trail. Some folks think it’s rocky, and compared to paved paths around the lake, it is, but compared to normal mountain trails, this trail is normal. If you have trekking poles, they’ll come in handy, but I wouldn’t buy new ones, especially for this hike. The summit at Bertha Peak can be windy and cool; bring an extra layer or shell. In the winter, there can be snow and ice, and micros-spikes help on slippery slopes. 2L of water will keep you hydrated for the length of this hike.

Altra Lone Peak

The Most Comfortable Hiking Shoe Ever
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 (Women: REI | Amazon  + Men: REI | Amazonis 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 work great on the trail. It’s a favorite of PCT and AT hikers for a good reason!

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.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

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

My February 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 offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Cougar Crest Trail Maps

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). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

Elevation Profile

Cougar Crest Elevation
Its a pretty steady but gradual climb until the very end.

3d Map

Cougar Crest 3d Map
The Cougar Crest Trail winds its way uphill until it reaches the ridge where the PCT is. From there you follow the ridge and then do a last little uphill to the summit.

Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak Directions

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Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

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From the parking lot, the trailhead is paved and has a big trail board. Head up the paved path.
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There’s a basic map of area hikes on the board.
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Shortly after the start, the trail splits. Head to the left on the dirt trail. If you parked at the Discovery Center, the paved path will spit you out here.
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The trail gently heads uphill through the junipers, cedars, and pines. Stay on the main (wide) trail and avoid any of the small trails off to the side.
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Soon you’ll see Bertha Peak in the distance. That’s where we’re hiking to.
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At just under a mile, you’ll reach this stone garden.
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There’s a bench here where you can soak it all in. I’ve seen videos of people knocking these stones down. Please don’t.
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After the stone garden continue up the main trail.
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Avoid any smaller side trails and continue up the wide Cougar Crest Trail.
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At about this point, the trail changes from a wide dirt trail to more of a traditional single track through the woods.
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The trail starts to get a little steeper and rocky at points.
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At a little over a mile you’ll start getting glimpses of Big Bear Lake through the trees.
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There’s also a single bench at the first viewpoint.
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There’s a steeper section as you head up the trail.
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And then the trail mellows out, and the climb gets easier.
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At around 2 miles in, there are several benches and some great viewpoints.
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The trail winds around the bend and starts to head east.
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And soon you’ll reach two benches before the PCT intersection. If you look carefully, you’ll also see some flat areas where PCT thru-hikers camp. You can imagine how nice it would be to camp here.

If you just want to hike Cougar Crest Trail, and not Bertha Peak, enjoy the benches, and then turn around.  Otherwise keep going to continue to Bertha Peak.

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At the PCT intersection, make the hard right to continue on the PCT.
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There’s a cool PCT sign at the junction. Hopefully it hasn’t been stolen when you do the hike.
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Head along the PCT, which is relatively level as it follows the ridge.
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This section of the PCT offers great views of Big Bear Lake and the mountains of San Gorgonio Wilderness behind it.
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You’ll see Bertha Peak in the distance. You’re almost there.
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When you reach the junction, make the hard right onto the dirt road that climbs Bertha Peak (leaving the PCT behind).
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The dirt road is steep at the start.
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And then has some flatter sections as it makes its way to the peak.
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Soon you’ll see some radio equipment and a building. Make the left to hit the summit of Bertha Peak.
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Here you are, Bertha Peak, at 8201 feet.
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The views of Big Bear Lake are some of the best.
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Walk around the fence to take in views in every direction.
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To the west you’ll be able to see Mt Baldy and Angeles National Forest.
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And to the south you’ll see Sugarloaf Mountain, Mt San Gorgonio and the high peaks of Southern California.
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Once you’re at Bertha Peak, just turn around and go back down the way you came. That’s the hike!

This guide last updated on February 1, 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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