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Hike Keller Peak On The Exploration Trail

Hike Keller Peak on the Exploration Trail

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Keller Peak on the Exploration Trail
  • How to Get to the Trailhead (near Big Bear, CA)
  • Insider Tips, Gear Recommendations, and Maps for the Hike
Total Distance (?)12.5 miles (20.1 km)
Hike Time4-6 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)2,200 feet (671m)
Highest Elevation7,882 feet (2402m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
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Off the radar of most hikers, the Exploration Trail to Keller Peak is a scenic adventure that’s not too hard but also packs in some great trail highlights. The entire area you hike through was devastated by the 1970 Bear Fire; today, as you hike, you can experience what a half-century of recovery looks like (it’s good). Along the way, you’ll get some epic views of the Angeles National Forest and the surrounding high peaks. At Keller Peak, you can experience the oldest standing fire tower in Southern California, dating back to 1926.

Where is the Exploration Trail?

The Exploration Trail is point-to-point and has two trailheads. We’re going to start this hike at the lower trailhead and then hike uphill to Keller Peak. You can find the quiet trailhead just off of busy Rt-18, past the Deer Lick Fire Station at:
Exploration Trail 2W09X, Keller Peak Rd, Big Bear, CA 92314

Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 2
There’s a small parking area at the trailhead. While it’s small, I’ve never seen big crowds here. The trail starts to the right of the parking area.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 3
I’ve also seen people parking across the street on the shoulder.

There are no bathrooms or water fills at the trailhead.

Gear For the Hike

While this isn’t an extreme mountain hike, you are still in the high country and I recommend regular hiking gear.

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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.

Trail Maps

The section of the hike on the Exploration Trail is a gradual uphill dirt trail. Keep your eyes and ears open for mountain bikes that share the trail. You’ll have a short but very scenic walk up paved Keller Peak Rd to reach the summit and fire tower when the Exploration Trail ends.

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?
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

Exploration Trail Keller Peak Elevation
While the trail is uphill, it’s very gradual with some rolling sections, and doesn’t feel like a climb aside from some short inclines.

3D Map

Exploration Trail Keller Peak 3d Map
From this perspective you can see that the climb is gradual as the Exploration Trail approaches Keller Peak. Once at the peak, you have great prominence and views.

Hike Brief

Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 1
There’s not much evidence left from the Bear Fire of 1970, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you can see some burned tree stumps like this.

Exploration Trail to Keller Peak Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 4
Start the hike at the trailhead with the bench and trail board.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 5
The trail follows the banks of Dry Creek.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 6
And then starts to climb up to the ridge. There are steep sections, but they’re very short.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 7
At the trail split, continue to the left. On the right three is a spur trail to a bench.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 8
Here’s the view from the bench on the short spur.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 9
Go straight through the old 1N42A Forest Service road.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 10
As you hike you’ll see these posts that used to contain interpretive displays created by children. Today whatever was there is gone.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 11
Hike straight through the 1N42 Mill Peak Trail, another old Forest Service road.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 12
As you get up to the ridge, look off to the right for glimpses of San Jacinto, Tahquitz Peak, and Black Mountain. The last two peaks also have fire towers.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 13
The trail rolls along the ridge with nice views to the right.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 14
The hike is nice and shady through the second-growth forest and massive boulders.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 15
Keep right at the clear cut.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 16
And then continue past the old 1N42D Forest Service Road.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 17
Now you’ll get some incredible panoramic views of Angeles National Forest. From left to right you can see Cucamonga Peak, the 3 Ts, Mt Baldy, and Mt Baden-Powell.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 18
Hike through the boulder field.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 19
And there’s another bench with a view of Angeles NF, a great place for a break.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 20
And then you’ll reach the end of the Exploration Trail.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 21
There’s a big Forest Service sign for the Exploration Trail.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 22
Make the right turn on Keller Peak Road.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 23
As you climb the paved road you’ll see the summit of Keller Peak in front of you.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 24
Hike past the Yellow Post campsite on your right.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 32
The campsite is free and first-come, first-serve.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 25
Off to the right you’ll get views of (left to right) Sugarloaf Mountain, Andersen Peak, San Bernardino East, and San Bernardino Peak.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 26
And as the trail winds around you’ll see the twin peaks of Saddleback Mountain, (left to right) Santiago Peak and Modjeska Peak.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 31
As you get toward the top, keep your eyes open on the left for a dedication to the B-26 crash. It’s a little above the road on a boulder.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 27
And soon after that you’ll reach the summit area, which has radio antennas and the fire tower.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 28
The fire tower is occasionally open to visitors, check at the stairs.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 29
You can climb around the boulders at the summit. There are two USGS summit markers up here.
Exploration Trail Keller Peak Directions 30
Enjoy the views and then just return the same way that you came up!

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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