Castle Rock Trail is my favorite hike in Big Bear as a quick 2 hour getaway into the San Bernadino mountains from Los Angeles or Orange County. Mountains, evergreen forest, cool air and cozy cabins are all the good weekend getaway vibes to escape the city. This is the closest mountain and cold snow getaway while living in Southern California. Mammoth may have more snowfall and better skiing and snowboarding but is four times the driving time. Big Bear is a cozy close distance for day trips or a quick weekend jaunt. This is a steep 2 mile hike with panoramic views of Big Bear lake. Arguably this is the best hike in Big Bear and boasts the best views of the lake as well as a popular bouldering and rock climbing area scaling the Castle Rock to have spectacular views of the lake and forest surrounding. The rock overlook creates a great picnic spot to rest after your hike and take in the beautiful view. This is an easy hike that starts with a steep climb where you gain the majority of the 500 feet for the hike in the first mile of the hike. This is one of the hikes in Big Bear and CA that I have done countless times over different seasons, years and with so many different people. This trail is homey and is beautiful in all different weather and times of year.
How to get there
Castle Rock Trail is my favorite hike in Big Bear as a quick 2 hour getaway into the San Bernadino mountains from Los Angeles or Orange County. The trail is on your way coming into Big Bear from the main front entrance up the mountain that is very zig zag winding. Otherwise it is a little outside of town. The trail is past Boulder Bay Park and you will pass Big Bear Lake. You will take Big Bear Boulevard the main street in town until Fisher Cove.
The parking for this hike is very difficult and somewhat dangerous. The parking is really mostly all along the narrow margins of the winding mountain road on either side. There are two main turnouts when you drive past the hike that cars will fill up and park in for the hike. There is one main real parking area that seems to be designated for the hike and fits about 5 cars. This parking spot is right before you reach the hike point on the map before fully entering Fisher Cove. Right around mile marker 45.5, a mile or so past the Big Bear Dam heading towards Big Bear City, the road heads inland making a small U and the trailhead for Castle Rock is right there. There is no parking at the trailhead itself but about a tenth of a mile up the road there is a turnout on the lake side that holds about 4 cars and is a good spot to start this hike from. Be warned though that if you go on a busy weekend you may have to park far away and walk on the highway be careful. Dogs are also allowed to come with you on this hike!
Miles: 2 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 500 ft
Type: Out and back
Minimum Elevation: 6801 ft
Maximum Elevation: 7388 ft
Time: 1-3 hours
The trail is best used March until October but is open year round. I have hiked many seasons in the winter and snow when it is icy. This really is a difficult trial when it is icy and definitely becomes more dangerous especially the first half mile. If you are going to hike during the winter make sure to bring crampons and poles and good boots. This hike is best done in the warmer months before snow and ice cover the trail.
The trailhead sign will tell you Castle Rock is 1 mile away from the highway starting point. GPS shows this trail as 2.6 miles total. The majority of the elevation gain of 500 feet is in the first half mile of the hike so be prepared for a steeper start to this hike. After that the trail levels out and is easier. This trail is honestly not the most clearly marked. It is a pretty popular trail so normally it is easy to follow others. When in doubt keep an eye out for white arrows and rock cairns (piles) that hint at the direction of the trail. The trail is pleasant and shaded walking through trees and you get a lake view from the top of the first hill ascent. Once you reach the benches on the hairpin turn of the trail you have reached the halfway point! This is a good spot for a water break. The trail gets harder to follow from this marking point. It levels out and has lots of rocks that break up the trail and make it not as obvious. You won’t get lost because Castle Rock is a huge granite boulder seen above the trees so you know the direction to head through the scramble. Once you get up to the rock you can scramble up from the side facing the lake and get to the top with an amazing view overlook.
Boulder Bay Park
This is a beautiful spot on a hot summer day to take a dip in the lake or to watch the sunset and change colors over the water. This is one of the central hubs downtown Big Bear that is a great day hangout spot and is popular in the summer. This is my favorite spot to watch the sunset and hangout on the lake. Visitors to this public park in Big Bear can also canoe & kayak on the lake or enjoy live music at the bandstand.