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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
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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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 5
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.

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Joby GripTight Smartphone Flexible Tripod
Take your selfie stick game to the next level. Part of the fun of a hike is taking pictures, and a flexible JOBY smartphone tripod takes it to the next level. You can use it as a selfie stick, as a regular tripod, but more importantly, as a flexible tripod that can attach to tree branches and other objects. It’s not expensive, and it’s something you can use when not hiking too.

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Astro Headlamp

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It’s your biggest asset if you get lost. If something goes wrong and you get lost, sprain your ankle, or get delayed, you might be caught out after dark. And one of the top items that search and rescue departments recommend you carry is a light. Now smartphones have lights, but they drain the battery quickly. It’s better to invest in an expensive yet high-quality headlamp like the Black Diamond Astro 250. It takes AAA batteries, can last 200 hours, and has an emergency strobe. Carry it with you off the trail to use in emergencies as well.

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

My November 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.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
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 6. 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.

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

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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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 10
And shortly after the start you’ll pass your first stone bin trail marker. Keep hiking uphill.
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At the big clearing, avoid the unofficial trail on the right and continue up to the left.
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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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 14
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 18
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.
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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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 21
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 25
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 27
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.
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Kidd Creek Rd. (2N86) is flat and easy to follow.
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Bear left at the split.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 34
And the road dead-ends at a small cabin. Hike toward the cabin.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 35
Hike through the gate into Bluff Lake Reserve. The private property signs are meant to keep out vehicles, not hikers.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 36
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 38
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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