Best Hikes in San Bernardino National Forest (CA)

San Bernardino National Forest Overview

San Bernardino National Forest lies just east of the greater Los Angeles area. The forest is made up of two main divisions: the San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino Mountains to the north, and the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to the south. Elevations range from 2,000’ to 11,503’ at the top of San Gorgonio Mountain, the tallest peak in Southern California. In addition to some of the best hikes in San Bernardino National Forest (see below), there are 2 incredibly beautiful scenic drives allowing visitors to experience the forest. Rim of the World and Palms to Pines Scenic Byways both contain diverse and remarkable landscapes with spectacular views.

Nearest Metro AreaLos Angeles, CA
Area Size672,701 acres
EstablishedSeptember 30, 1925
Hiking Trails574 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Best Hikes in San Bernardino National Forest

Bonita Falls Trail – 1.4 miles out and back
Bonita Falls
Bonita Falls, Photo by San Bernardino Nat’l Forest

Easy trail to a beautiful 100’ waterfall. The falls come and go with the season so it is best to experience this hike after a rainfall or snowmelt.

Castle Rock Trail – 2.4 miles out and back
Castle Rock Trail, San Bernardino Mtns, CA (14)
Castle Rock Trail, Photo by Robb Hannawacker

Short hike to Castle Rock, a 100’ outcropping that has earned its title. This spot is said to have the best vantage point of the Big Bear Lake area as well.

Cougar Crest Trail – 7.1 miles out and back 
(An ordinary) Panorama of Big Bear Lake
Panorama of Big Bear Lake, Photo by Person-with-No-Name

Steady climb up to Bertha Peak where you can see the beautiful view of Big Bear Lake to the south. The trail meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail for a short way before ending at the peak.

Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock – 6.6 miles out and back
Panorama from Suicide Rock, Idyllwild, California (Deer Springs Trail)
Panorama from Suicide Rock, Photo by Sergei Mutovkin

Uphill hike with gorgeous views of the San Jacinto area on the way to Suicide Rock. According to legend, the name comes from a story of a Native American princess and her lover who, after being ordered to separate, instead committed suicide by jumping off the rock.

Etiwanda Falls Trail – 3.3 miles out and back
Along the trail, Photo by Brian Altmeyer

Nice out and back hike suitable for the whole family with lots of great scenery and photo opportunities. Depending on the time of year and level of recent precipitation, the falls can vary greatly in intensity.

Heart Rock Trail – 1.7 miles out and back
Heart Rock Waterfall, San Bernardino Mountains, California
Heart Rock Waterfall, Photo by moonjazz

Gentle trail easy enough for the whole family that leads to a heart-shaped hole in a rock next to a 20’ waterfall.

Mount San Jacinto via Aerial Tramway*** – 10.5 miles out and back
San Jacinto Mountain 007
San Jacinto Mountain, Photo by Alan E

5th of Southern California’s Six-Pack of Peaks: the trail to the summit of Mt. San Jacinito can be accessed by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. If you want more of an extreme challenge, you can try hiking the entire Cactus to Clouds trail which gains more than 10,000’ elevation in under 14 miles making it one of the steepest trails in the world.

Pine Knot Trail to Grand View Point – 7.2 miles out and back
Looking towards Santa Ana River headwaters from Grand View Point, Photo by The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company

Beautiful trail that ends at the Grand View Point overlooking the mountains and the forest with views of Big Bear Lake along the way. Hikers can continue on Skyline Trail for a longer loop of the entire area.

San Bernardino Peak Trail via Angelus Oaks*** – 16.6 miles out and back
31 San Bernardino Peak Summit (1) - After 8 Miles Of Walk & 4,650' Elevation Gain
San Bernardino Peak Summit, Photo by The Fun Chronicles

4th of Southern California’s Six-Pack of Peaks: strenuous but rewarding hike to the summit of San Bernardino Peak (10,691’). There are several camps along the way so hikers have the option of making this a long day-hike or an overnight hike.

San Gorgonio Peak Trail via Vivian Creek Trail*** – 15.8 miles out and back
Pan looking west and southwest from Mt San Gorgonio
Pan looking west and southwest from Mt San Gorgonio, Photo by Mitch Barrie

6th of Southern California’s Six-Pack of Peaks: At 11,503’, San Gorgonio is the tallest peak in Southern California. The trail up Vivian Creek is the shortest and steepest way up the mountain ascending over 5000’ in just 8 miles. There are several campsites along the way if you would prefer to make this hike in 2 days.

Featured Image: San Gorgonio Wilderness, Photo by San Bernardino Nat’l Forest

Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on:

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