Trail Name: Castle Rock
Forest Service Designation: 1W03
Total Distance: 1.3 miles
Overview: short steep hike up to a beautiful rocky crag with great views of Big Bear Lake.
Difficulty: Moderate to Advanced.
Activities: Hiking. Horses and Bikes are possible, but difficult because of the steep and rocky terrain.
Trail Type: 100% Singletrack
Possible Loops / Variations:start at the north trailhead and hike to Castle Rock, then continue south and visit the Champion Lodgepole Pine.
Trailhead and Parking: there are two trailheads; north and south. The north trailhead is located directly off Hwy 18, 1.25 miles east of the Big Bear Dam. Look for a small parking area on the north side of the road. The trailhead is on the south side of the road heading up the steep canyon. The south trailhead is located directly off Forest Service Road 2N10; start on Mill Creek Road, directly across from Bear Valley Bikes on Hwy 18, and follow this into the mountains 4.25 miles. Be sure to turn left onto 2N10 (don’t go to Cedar Lake).
Clear blue sky. Fifty five degrees. Sunday afternoon in February. Hiking conditions in Big Bear are superb. On this particular day, I chose to load up the kids (human and canine) and head out on a hike to Castle Rock.
The trailhead to Castle Rock was easy to find, just a short driving distance west of Big Bear Lake and Boulder Bay. The trail begins on the south side of Big Bear Boulevard. The trickiest part of my day was finding a parking spot. Numerous pullouts line the roadway, but on a sunny Sunday, most were completely full of visitors and hikers. After carefully squeezing my truck into a tight spot, we were ready to embark.
This well maintained trail follows a natural streambed for seasonal mountain runoff. The weather has been dry, so there wasn’t any water to be found, but I have hiked this in rainier seasons and the trickle is an added bonus to the experience.
Immediately, we found ourselves amongst the oaks and pines of the San Bernardino forest, leaving the busy road behind and ascending into nature’s beauty.
Castle Rock trail does not allow for a gradual warm up; my calves and quadriceps felt the steep grade from the start. The first half of the hike was the steepest. Man-made and natural granite “stairs” made for interesting variety as we ascended the sudden incline.
About halfway up the trail (0.5 miles), we came to a great rest spot. Had we packed a lunch, this would have been a beautiful flat area for a picnic, but we chose to hop around on the boulders and catch glimpses of Big Bear Lake from the rocks.
After our stop, the trail incline was more gradual. There were many trail signs and markers to keep hikers on the main path, but it did become a little confusing with small offshoots of the trail in several areas.
The next section took us through more granite boulders and beautiful tall pines. It really opened up here! Nearing our destination of Castle Rock, we continued along a slope. The trail, still obvious and easy to follow, had just enough variety to keep us focused on the path. Logs, trees, and boulders were close enough to the trail, or even on the trail, which kept us present and alert.
Luckily, I looked up along this section, catching my first glimpse of the majestic Castle Rock. Poking through the trees, it was a grand sight. Seeing the destination always ignites a spark under my family, and this was no exception! It was just minutes away!
Reaching Castle Rock, we climbed the boulders to the top. The views were spectacular. We could see almost to the east end of Big Bear Lake. The colors of the view were vibrant: glassy blue lake, ringed with colorful homes and docked boats, surrounded by the greens of the forest. Breathtaking! This was the perfect place to stop, enjoy a snack, and take in the quiet beauty of Castle Rock.
It took only 30 minutes for my family to hike from the trailhead to the top. We spent time exploring the many paths that circled the rock. The kids had fun investigating pine trees growing out of rocks, lichen on boulders, and the beauty of Manzanita bushes. We weren’t in a rush, so we watched a small group of rock climbers using the face of Castle Rock as their playground.
Once we had our fill, we hiked (the kids skipped and jumped) our way down the trail. One might think that downhill hiking is easier, but these legs certainly felt the grade going down, too! Castle Rock trail is a great hike, whether you have an hour to hike or all day to explore. Weekends are very popular; we hiked with friendly senior citizens, playful families, several rock climbers, and many others. Keep your dog on a leash, as there are many canine companions along the way. Overall, this family gives Castle Rock trail a thumbs up!