Castle Rock Trail

Hike the Castle Rock Trail (Big Bear) + Bluff Lake

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Castle Rock Trail
  • Parking for the Trail in Big Bear
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
  • Optional Hike Extension to Bluff Lake
Total Distance (?)1.6 miles (2.6 km)
Other Options 3.8 to Bluff Lake
Hike Time1 Hour (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)570 feet (174m)
Highest Elevation7,400 feet (2256m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Bernardino National Forest
Park Phone909-382-2682

Hiking up the Castle Rock Trail to the viewpoint is tough, but thankfully short. Once you get to Castle Rock, you’ll have sweeping views of Big Bear Lake and the mountains surrounding it. Since the whole hike is under two miles, I’ve included an easy extension to a hidden mountain lake, Bluff Lake, which also features ruins from an 1890s mountain resort. There’s a lot to see packed into this short hike, and it’s worth the effort.

Where is the Castle Rock Trail?

The Castle Rock Trail is located on the south side of Big Bear Lake. Unfortunately parking is tough. There’s a small parking lot just east of the trailhead, and a few other turnouts with spaces for a couple of vehicles just west of the trailhead. Use this address:
Castle Rock Trail 1W03, Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315

Castle Rock Trail Directions 2
The main parking lot is 0.25 miles east of the trailhead. There are limited parking spots. Also, it’s best to park head in, not horizontally as people are parked here.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 3
About 150 feet west of the trailhead is another small shoulder where people park.
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And then 0.25 miles west of the trailhead is another small shoulder for parking.
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The worst part of the parking situation is that you have to walk along the road to get to the start of the trail. Stay as far over as possible. Vehicles often go too fast around the sharp turns here. Assume that you are not seen and walk defensively.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 6
The trail starts just off the road, on the side opposite the lake.

Gear For the Hike

This isn’t a long or extreme hike, so you don’t really need any special gear. Light hiking or fitness clothes are your best bet. Bring at least a water bottle, the climb can be tough and it can get hot in the summer (I bring 1L for this whole hike including the Bluff Lake option). In the winter, the trail is covered in ice and snow, and is not really doable given its steepness.

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.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

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.


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 a big discount 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 September 2021.

My September 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.

Castle Rock Trail Maps

Castle Rock Trail Directions 1
These wire bins filled with rock are your best friend on this hike. They are the trail markers that you will follow on the way up to Castle Rock. You should never be more than a few minutes away from one. If you are, you’ve gone the wrong way.

Since this is a popular and short hike, there are many unofficial trail cutoffs and use trails. As I just mentioned, you need to follow the big stone markers to stay on the official trail. Some maps show trails cutting off the main trail to the rock. Just follow the markers and you’ll be good.

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.

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 To Castle Rock

Caslte Rock Trail Elevation 1
The hike to Castle Rock is pretty much all uphill, but you do get a little breather in the middle.

Elevation Profile To Bluff Lake

Caslte Rock Trail Elevation 2
If you continue onto Bluff Lake, there’s a short uphill past Castle Rock, and then it’s an easy and flat hike to the lake.

3D Map

Caslte Rock Trail 3d Map
From the lakeside road, you’ll climb up and then loop around to Castle Rock. From there you’ll do a relatively flat stretch to the lake. As you can see here, most of the hike is shaded.

XX Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

Castle Rock Trail Directions 7
The trailhead is well-marked. Check out the notice board for any updates before you start your hike.
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There’s a little trail sign at the beginning.
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Right from the gun, the hike is steep and climbs up the left bank of a (usually dry) stream.
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And shortly after the start you’ll pass your first stone bin trail marker. Keep hiking uphill.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 11
At the big clearing, avoid the unofficial trail on the right and continue up to the left.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 12
The trail eases up for a little bit.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 13
And then it turns back to the right by some benches and gets steep again.
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Keep climbing up from stone marker to stone marker, avoiding side trails.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 15
This middle section, where you first start to get views of Big Bear Lake, has lots of little side trails. Again, look for the stone markers and follow them.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 16
You’ll go through a level section of forest.
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And then down through some big boulders.
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And then you reach a t-junction. To hike to Castle Rock, make the right. If you want to hike to Bluff Lake later, you’ll go up to the left.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 20
As you do a little downhill dip, you’ll see a sign for Castle Rock.
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Castle Rock is the large boulder formation sticking up about 100 feet on the right. The trail winds around to the left of Castle Rock. Do the hook loop around to the other side of Castle Rock.
Castle Rock Top Map
Here’s what the end looks like on a map. Avoid side trails and stay on the trail hooking around.
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Continue around to the far side of Castle Rock.
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Another old school sign tells you that you’ve arrived.
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Continue straight until you get views of Big Bear Lake. The scramble to the top is back to the right.
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If you want to scramble to the top of Castle Rock, look for the notch behind the viewpoint area.
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There’s a rope to help you up the first part, and there’s another challenging boulder right after that. It’s probably not doable for kids, and there are plenty of adults who give it a skip too. If you’re not comfortable on this scramble, don’t do it, just enjoy the views below.

From here head back to the last junction.

Castle Rock Trail Directions 26
If you want to head back to the start, go down to the left and follow the stone markers back down to the trailhead, following your route up. If you want to hike another mile to Bluff Lake, go straight.
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The beginning of this section is steep, and also features the stone markers.
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Eventually the stone markers thin out and there are yellow trail markers on the trees.
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There’s a bench where you can take in the views of Castle Rock.
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Soon after the bench, the trail levels out and rolls along. The climbing is done.
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The Castle Rock Trail ends at Kidd Creek Rd. (2N86). Make the right onto the dirt Forest Service road.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 32
Kidd Creek Rd. (2N86) is flat and easy to follow.
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Bear left at the split.
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And the road dead-ends at a small cabin. Hike toward the cabin.
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Hike through the gate into Bluff Lake Reserve. The private property signs are meant to keep out vehicles, not hikers.
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You’ll pass the remains of John Healy Williams’s cabin. He was a pastor at the resort here, Bluff Lake Resort, which dates back to the 1890s. The cabin burnt down in the 1950s.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 37
You’ll pass a sign for the park, now owned and protected by the Wildlands Conservancy.
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Check the lake out and then return the way you came. The lake your looking at was actually drained when the area was protected to kill off invasive species. If the area looks familiar, you might have seen it used as a location in Dr. Doolittle 2.

This guide last updated on June 18, 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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