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Big Bear Lake is a beautiful vacation spot. There is nothing quite like a nice getaway in the fresh mountains. As I have said before Big Bear is Southern California’s mountain treasure and if you make a trip there you will see exactly why. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy hanging out on a lake in the perfect 80 degree weather during the day and ending the evening with a stroll around the village? All before grabbing dinner at one of Big Bear’s most popular restaurants, like the Azteca Grill. While the town of Big Bear Lake offers so much to do and see, some of the best and most unique adventures are on the Less Traveled Path.
I love exploring what many do not.
It makes life all that more adventurous. I love looking back and saying “we explored this cool place”. Big Bear was our first real adventure as a family; it was the reason we bought a 4×4 after all. However, these next 7 Less Traveled Paths will feed your adventurous soul without needing anything more than a high clearance vehicle- no 4×4 needed.
*You will need to stop by the Discovery Center, or other locations around Big Bear for an adventure parking pass for $5 a day. These small fee passes help the rangers conserve, restore, and enhance the national forests and its historical sites.
Let the Adventures Begin…
Gold Fever Trail-
This is a must if you plan to head back to the Holcomb Valley. You can pick up a brochure guide at the Discovery Center or download one. You will want to have it on hand to get the most out of this trail. It requires both driving and walking and is full of some amazing sights. This trail is full of rich history dating back to the first settlers in the Holcomb Valley. While you visit each stop, just envision these back roads full of cowboys and gold miners; the Holcomb Valley will feel alive.
This trail begins on 2N09 (Polique Canyon Rd), turns right on 3N16. You take the small loop 3N05 of this trail as well. Each site is labeled with a green placard to make it easy to follow. Although this trail ends in Baldwin Lake after the last stop, I recommend turning back and taking 3N09 (Van Dusen Canyon Rd) back to the city if you don’t have a 4×4.
My tip for this trail is to Bring A Flashlight! You will need it if you plan to explore the Metzger Mine. I promise that this will be one of the most interesting trails you will ever take in Big Bear, CA
This is not on the Gold Fever Trail, but it is so close in location that an extra stop is worth it. When you turn onto 3N16, take the first left (Holcomb Pinnacles Camp Rd), right before 3N05 and on your left you will spot Wilbur’s Grave. Wilbur was a well-liked gold miner in the lively days of the Holcomb Valley. He played an important role during those times and when he died he asked to be buried near his favorite pond. You can read more about Wilbur’s grave and its history here.
Although you cannot go into the ranch buildings, you can still enjoy the Hitchcock Ranch from outside the lined perimeter. This is one of the most preserved sites in the Holcomb Valley and is another reminder of the life that boomed in the back roads of Big Bear approximately a century ago.
Personally, the history of this site stumps me to this day. I have spent so much time researching what secrets this ranch holds, especially because you can still find horses near the property; the only signs of life still. I have come across articles stating that this location is from the days of the gold rush in the Holcomb Valley. While other articles state it was a location used in many older television shows. To this day, I still do not know much about this abandoned ranch. Yet it is fascinating to make a stop and check out.
From 2N09, turn left onto 3N16. A little ways up and Hitchcock Ranch will be on your left. However, without a 4×4 I would not pursue the back roads any further. This is definitely a good turn around spot for those without the proper off roading equipment or knowledge.
If you like rock formations this is the place to go hiking. There is a parking area at the end of Holcomb Pinnacles Camp Road (a road off of 3N16) where you can park and explore. If you are lucky enough, you might even come across some real rock climbers. It is here where you need to watch you step because there are remnants of mines all over. We have explored in search of mines, however, aside from evidence of long lost mines and some strange markers on stakes, our curiosity was left to wonder. Either way, the rock formations are beautiful and there are some that even the modern adventurer can climb on. Just be aware of your surroundings, especially during the warmer weather.
Eye of God-
Not every hidden gem is in the Holcomb Valley. If you travel to Baldwin Lake turn onto Vale Dr. Turn left onto the dirt road Burns Canyon Rd and travel for a bit. This road is a bit more rocky and bumpy, however, with good tires and a high clearance vehicle you should have no problem getting to the Eye of God without a 4×4. However, do not continue further because the dirt road does have some steep and extremely rocky areas. To get to the Eye of God, type in google maps 34.279422, -116.786120 and look for the wire fence. This is where you will park and take the trail through the fence.
This is what remains of the sacred grounds of the Eye of God. The Serrano Indians once inhabited this area. However that ended when miners began moving into the area during the California Gold Rush. There are numerous articles online about the history of this beautiful historical landmark. I can promise that adventures here lead to some beautiful views.
If you think Big Bear Lake is beautiful, then you will fall in love with Bluff Lake, especially during the ‘green’ seasons. It is small and the county works hard on preserving the habitat- so please stay on the trails. There is often times a ranger on scene who has some wonderful informational booklets to learn about the surrounding animals and their habitat. Seriously, take a moment to chit chat if he is there. We learned that Bluff Lake was used in a few movies; one being Dr. Dolittle 2. He also showed us where a frog was living near the lake and told us why we should smell the Ponderosa pine trees. Smell them- they smell like butterscotch or vanilla!
The lake isn’t the only sight to see. A quick hike along a trail extension will lead you to the Champion Lodgepole pine (one of the largest of its kind). Other unique things that you will see along the hike around Bluff Lake are the remains of some cabins. Just remember the “leave no trace” rule that the Bluff Lake Ecological Reserve asks its visitors to follow. This is the perfect place to have a nature study with your kids. There is so much wildlife to listen to and observe.
To get here take Mill Creek Rd (near the Alpine Slide) and pass the Aspen Glen Picnic Area. Turn left to remain on Mill Creek Road. At some point your gps may say you are on Skyline Dr, this is ok, just keep going on this road. When you read 2N10, turn left. Then on Bluff Lake Rd turn right until you reach the parking area for the trail to Bluff Lake.
Get the app. There are some free caches to find, however if you upgrade there are so many more. There are seriously hundreds of these to find on the back roads all around Big Bear and they really make your adventures even more unique. It is fun for both kids and adults. really, I get so excited when I find them. Just be careful when turning over rocks and always be aware of the animals that you might encounter. Adventures are the best, but you have got to think about safety first.
The back roads of Big Bear, CA hold so many hidden secrets and adventures. Some we still have yet to find. I can’t tell you how many random things we have come across, because there have been so many as we explored the Holcomb Valley and the other back roads of Big Bear. It seems that when you are least expecting to discover something, you may just find another piece of history.