One of Big Bear's signature trails, Cougar Crest Trail is a beautiful hike with a moderate ascent up to Bertha Peak that features a scenic overlook of the lake. This hike is accessible for all level hikers and is great to do with friends. It also connects to a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail if you are looking to extend it for an even longer experience!
Length: 5 miles out and back | Level: Moderate | Duration: 2-3 hours | Elevation: 900
Dogs: Yes on leash | Parking: Free at the trailhead and on street
The trail-head is easy to find- coordinates here- on the north side of the lake, just west of the Big Bear Discovery Center. You can park for free right at the trail entrance, but if it is full there is plenty of street parking right outside the lot. Cougar Crest is a well marked and very popular hike so try to go early or later in the evening if you prefer to avoid crowds. It is also much cooler during those times in the summer months, as without much shade this hike can get pretty hot in the afternoon.
Quick Trail Tips:
This hike is best done in summer or fall months to avoid snowfall as the trail may be closed in winter
There is little shade on this hike so plan for sunblock and dressing in layers
Hiking poles aren't necessary, though I did see many other hikers with them as the trail is quite rocky in some spots. Wear sturdy shoes!
The trail starts off pretty flat right from the parking lot, but almost immediately you begin your moderate and slow ascent up through the windy trail. There are no switchbacks, so aside from a few turns you'll find yourself on a pretty straight shot path up through the forest until you hit the cross-section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail does tend to get rockier as you go up, so just be aware of that as you navigate through.
About a third of the way in, you get your first view of the lake, and it's probably one of the best views here in Big Bear! There are several benches along the open viewpoints here where you can take a rest and soak in the scenery. This hike definitely makes you realize that there is way more to Big Bear than just the lake activities in the summer!
After those gorgeous panoramics, the trail continues up through more forest and trees. Each turn you will still be greeted with plenty of pockets through the trees to see the lake and all of Big Bear. So enjoy the climb as you make your way to the peak of the trail.
After 2 miles or so you'll hit the point in the hike where it connects to the PCT, and then heads up to Bertha Peak. There is a nice flat area here with benches (pictured above) with plenty of shade to have a snack and take a rest before heading back down the mountain. This is the spot where you can continue to go up toward Bertha's Peak, or get on the PCT for a longer hike.
Which ever way you choose, the view from the top is stunning and a perfect place to chill before making your way back down the mountain. It is the one place I've found in Big Bear- aside from a few OVH trails where you can capture a full panoramic view of the lake.
And as always, uphill hikes are always the best when you get to go back down! The hike back to the parking lot is just as pretty as on your way up, the only difference is you get to enjoy a little more if you missed a few things on your ascent. That, and you'll take half the time going down!
Big Bear is such a great place to explore- beyond the lake and skiing in the winter! Lots more great trails up this way, DM me with your favorites. Enjoy Cougar Crest Trail.
Google Map Coordinates here.
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