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Big Bear Wild Burro Hike Featured
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Los Angeles Hikes

Big Bear Wild Burro Territory Hike

  • 12.5 miles - Hard Effort
  • Or: 8 Mile Arrastre Creek Walk
  • 5-7 Hours (Total)
  • 2,200 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 9,113 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

A hike through the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory, Located in the eastern San Bernardino Mountains, offers an excellent chance to spot these beautiful animals in the wild, as well as some pristine mountain scenery. The territory is about 50 square miles, and in this guide, I'll take you on a route through some of the hot spots where the wild burros can be found. We'll add in a trip to Onyx Peak as well, so you can bag a summit along the way. I'll also share a map with alternative locations where the wild burro can often be found.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory
  • Why are there Wild Burros in Big Bear?
  • Tips on Spotting the Wild Burros

What is the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory?

Although common in the Southwest USA, wild burros, aka feral donkeys, are not native species. The donkeys that you find pretty much anywhere in the world are descendants of the African Wild Ass (now critically endangered), first domesticated around 3000BC. Donkeys were first brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

Wild Burro Herd G56117bc58 1920
"Hardy desert animal" is not what comes to mind when you think burro, but they are adept at surviving in environments like the Southwest USA. They can lose 30% of their body weight to dehydration and replenish with just 5 minutes of drinking. Today an estimated 16,000 wild donkeys still roam on public land in the Southwest.

There are a few theories on how wild burros got to Big Bear. Some say they were released by miners, common in the region from the 1850s-1940s. Others say they were let go from movie sets after the shoot. And some speculate that they were released from fox farms that collapsed during the Great Depression. Fox farmers would capture burros in the desert and then use them to feed foxes. They could have also migrated up from the desert in search of food and water.

Big Bear Burro Race
In the 1950s the Old Miner’s Day Carnival started the Burro Race. Participants would catch a wild burro in the desert around Apple Valley, and then run over 40 miles with it to Big Bear Lake, where the burros were released. Winners would cover the distance in about 8 hours. The ASPCA eventually got the race stopped in the 1990s. Photo Monrovia Daily News-Post, 1973

In 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act protected the burros as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West" which "contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people." The burros became protected and a herd of about 60 peacefully lived the area around Rose Mine in the eastern part of Big Bear, away from civilization.

But by the 1980s, many burros had migrated into the developed areas of Big Bear, where life was easier. They would dig through garbage, eat flower gardens, and would sometimes be fed by residents. And while they were cute, there was a darker side. There were many car fatalities. Burros would choke and die on plastic bags. Some were mauled in dog attacks. It was clear that something had to be done.

In 1997 the BLM and Forest Service created the Big Bear Wild Burro Territory (WBT), a 35,000 acre area in the east of the Big Bear area, to permanently give the wild burro a home. Burros from residential areas were relocated to the territory or put up for adoption. Today the heard is around 60 strong, and is slowly decreasing.

Big Bear Wild Burro Map
The official WBT is about 50 square miles in the eastern part of the San Bernardino Mountains, although the burros still wander into residential areas.

Seeing Burros On a Hike

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 3
On the day that I documented this guide, this burro turd was as close as I got to seeing them. As with all wildlife spotting, results can be hit or miss. Keep an open mind and enjoy the wilderness hike.

So there are about 60 burros and 50 square miles of territory. You have no guarantee of seeing a burro. So what I've done in this guide is given you a nice 12 mile loop that will take you past some of the places that you are most likely to see a wild burro (and where I've seen them). I've also included waypoints for other wild burro hotspots in the map below if you want to explore on your own. Even if you don't see a burro on the hike, I've routed it so that it's still a pleasant wilderness experience.

Your best bet to spot a burro is in the early morning or early evening. They generally travel in small groups. In this area, the burros are used to people and will generally glance at you and continue grazing or just walk away. Don't approach too closely, they will kick with their hind legs if they feel threatened. But don't worry, burros are very intelligent and will usually size you up pretty quickly as non-threatening, as long as you keep your distance.

Where is Big Bear Wild Burro Hike?

For this hike, we are going to start at the massive parking area at Onyx Summit, which is really a pass, not a summit. Use this trailhead address:
Onyx Summit, Big Bear, CA, 92314

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 4
There's a massive parking area at Onyx Summit, but no facilities.

You do not need a parking pass here.

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 1
The trailhead is up the very short paved road on the right of the parking area.

Gear For the Hike

This is a backcountry hike and I'd recommend proper hiking gear, with 2-3L of water. In the winter there can be snow and ice, and the area can become impassable. Trekking poles will help on the steeper slopes. And if you have binoculars, this is the hike to bring them on.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated May 2024)

Wild Burro Hike Trail Maps

This route takes us on a scenic stretch of the PCT, and then on some lightly used Forest Service roads. Toward the end we'll bag Onyx Peak, at 9113 feet, before closing the loop and ending up back at Onyx Summit. I've included another walk along Arrestre Creek, an estimated area of the territory, and some other waypoints on the map. You can use this info to piece together your own hike if you'd like.

Click Here To View

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

Elevation Profile

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike Elevation
From Onyx Summit we have a nice downhill on the PCT, eventually arriving at the low point at Broom Flats. From there, we'll start our climb up to Onyx Peak, and then back down to the start.

3D Map

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 3d Map
We'll hike in a clockwise loop roughly paralleling Rt 38. The eastern part of the loop goes through a more remote section of San Bernardino NF not often visited by hikers.

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike Directions

Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 5
From the junction at the trailhead, go straight. We'll be returning at the white gate on the left.
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Pass through the boulders and start climbing.
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Looking back will give you nice views of San Gorgonio, the highest peak in SoCal.
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When you get to the PCT junction, make the left.
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The PCT is fairly well marked. This is also a spot where trail magic, such as water, is common.
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Our next landmark is crossing 1N01, which parallels the PCT to the left.
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Enjoy the beautiful scenery along the PCT as you hike through the pines.
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When you reach road 1N01, hike straight through and continue the PCT on the other side.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 13
There's a sign for our next landmark (and turn), road 2N01.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 14
Keep cruising down a nice long downhill on the PCT. There are some faint crossings of road 2N68Y.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 2
This stretch also has some dispersed camping sites, often used by PCT hikers.
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When you reach road 2N01, make the right.
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Continue hiking on 2N01.
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After a short while Broom Flats comes into view, which is a regular stomping ground for the wild burros. 2N01 is elevated above the flat, giving you some good spotting opportunities.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 18
When you descend down to Broom Flats, stay right and pass 2N04 on your left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 19
And then make the right onto 2N64Y toward Juniper Springs Group Camp.
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Here's a closeup of the sign at the last junction.
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You have a pleasant climb up toward the campsite.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 22
As you approach the campsite, look on the left for ponds which are often used by the burros as watering holes.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 23
When you get to Juniper Springs Group Camp, keep right and pass the campsite. If you need a toilet, there are vault toilets at the campground here.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 24
And then go through the "road closed" gate. The trail is closed to vehicles, not hikers.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 25
And now you start the tough part of the climb. Climb up the steep and rocky old mining road.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 26
There are some flatter sections where you can catch your breath, and you'll have views into the desert to your left.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 27
About halfway up you pass a really cute (private) cabin. I've heard this referred to as Doc's Cabin, but I don't know anything else about it. If you know the story here, please contact me and I'll update the guide.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 28
The cabin has a really cool bench and fire pit looking east. Please be respectful of this private property.
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Keep climbing at stay right at the junction.
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And then you have another steep stretch of climbing.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 31
Towards the top, the faint 2N86Y road joins from the right.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 32
And then at the crest, make the left onto 1N01, which we know from earlier in the hike. When you return, you'll be going down to the right here.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 33
The toughest climbing is behind you. Now head up the gradual 1N01 toward Onyx Peak.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 34
You'll come around a bend and see Onyx Peak in front of you, which you can spot by the radio towers on top.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 35
At the split with Pipes Canyon Road, take the right.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 36
And on this stretch you'll be treated to postcard-perfect views of San Gorgonio.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 37
As you approach the summit, you'll start to see radio towers.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 38
Now the summit area is a mess of radio complexes. To the right are views of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. The actual summit is in the radio complex to the left, on the side of the fence here.
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Here's the summit marker.
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And straight ahead you'll have great views into the desert and the unique transition area of Sand to Snow National Monument.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 40
And if you look southeast you can spot Warren Peak, one of the high points in Joshua Tree NP.
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When you're done at the summit, head back down the 1N01 road. As you start you'll see Sugarloaf Mountain poking above the ridge.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 43
When you get back to the junction that you entered 1N01 on, stay left and descend toward Onyx Summit where you parked.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 44
Now you have a nice cruise down 1N01.
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Eventually you'll pass through the PCT junction where we crossed 1N01 at the beginning of the hike.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 46
The views are great, including those to Baldwin Lake to the northwest.
Big Bear Wild Burro Hike 47
And eventually you'll reach the gate where we started. That's the hike!

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.