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Los Angeles Hikes

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

  • 1.6 miles - Moderate Effort
  • Or: 3.8 to Bluff Lake
  • 1 Hour (Total)
  • 570 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 7,400 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

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.

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

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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 4
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.

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 June 2024)

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

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

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

Castle Rock Trail Directions 7
The trailhead is well-marked. Check out the notice board for any updates before you start your hike.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 8
There's a little trail sign at the beginning.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 9
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.
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.
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.
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 21
Continue around to the far side of Castle Rock.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 23
Another old school sign tells you that you've arrived.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 22
Continue straight until you get views of Big Bear Lake. The scramble to the top is back to the right.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 24
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 28
Eventually the stone markers thin out and there are yellow trail markers on the trees.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 29
There's a bench where you can take in the views of Castle Rock.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 30
Soon after the bench, the trail levels out and rolls along. The climbing is done.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 31
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.
Castle Rock Trail Directions 33
Bear left at the split.
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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.
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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.

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.