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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 Distance (?)8 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
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.

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

Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 3
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

Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 2
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.

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Garmin Inreach Mini 2

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

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

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 Terraventure 3 or 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 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 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Gregory Zulu 30

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: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.

My June 2022 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.

Cougar Crest Trail Maps

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.


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.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

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

Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 4
From the parking lot, the trailhead is paved and has a big trail board. Head up the paved path.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 1
There’s a basic map of area hikes on the board.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 5
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.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 6
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.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 7
Soon you’ll see Bertha Peak in the distance. That’s where we’re hiking to.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 8
At just under a mile, you’ll reach this stone garden.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 9
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.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 12
At about this point, the trail changes from a wide dirt trail to more of a traditional single track through the woods.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 13
The trail starts to get a little steeper and rocky at points.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 14
At a little over a mile you’ll start getting glimpses of Big Bear Lake through the trees.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 15
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.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 17
And then the trail mellows out, and the climb gets easier.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 18
At around 2 miles in, there are several benches and some great viewpoints.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 19
The trail winds around the bend and starts to head east.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 20
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.

Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 21
At the PCT intersection, make the hard right to continue on the PCT.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 22
There’s a cool PCT sign at the junction. Hopefully it hasn’t been stolen when you do the hike.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 23
Head along the PCT, which is relatively level as it follows the ridge.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 24
This section of the PCT offers great views of Big Bear Lake and the mountains of San Gorgonio Wilderness behind it.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 25
You’ll see Bertha Peak in the distance. You’re almost there.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 26
When you reach the junction, make the hard right onto the dirt road that climbs Bertha Peak (leaving the PCT behind).
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 27
The dirt road is steep at the start.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 28
And then has some flatter sections as it makes its way to the peak.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 29
Soon you’ll see some radio equipment and a building. Make the left to hit the summit of Bertha Peak.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 30
Here you are, Bertha Peak, at 8201 feet.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 31
The views of Big Bear Lake are some of the best.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 33
Walk around the fence to take in views in every direction.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 32
To the west you’ll be able to see Mt Baldy and Angeles National Forest.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 34
And to the south you’ll see Sugarloaf Mountain, Mt San Gorgonio and the high peaks of Southern California.
Cougar Crest Trail Hike Directions 35
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 April 21, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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