Bear Lakes are in the heart of the Lakes Basin Recreation Area, the northernmost section of the Sierra Nevada. Less visited than Sierra regions to the south, the area is home to spectacular alpine lakes set among a forested and granitic mountain backdrop. Multiple trails weave through the Bear Lakes area forming various loops that provide access to the lakes. All are dog-friendly.
The loop profiled here doubles the distance of a shorter 2.5-mile Bear Lakes Loop, and it adds Round Lake and Silver Lake to the itinerary to bring the total to six lakes. It’s a great half-day excursion and offers a fantastic tour of the glacial lake-carved landscape.
The Bear Lakes Loop trailhead is located a short distance down the road from Lakes Basin Campground. Note that backcountry camping is not permitted in the Bear Lakes area. There are two trails that lead from the trailhead parking area; take the trail signed Bear Lakes Loop (the left trail), as the other becomes the Silver Lake Trail.
Traveling in a clockwise direction, head south toward the east shore of Big Bear Lake, passing a spur trail that leads to Elwell Lakes Lodge. After about a quarter mile you’ll approach Big Bear Lake and a trail junction; head left to follow the trail toward Round Lake. Follow signs at successive junctions toward Round Lake and climb a few hundred feet over the course of a mile and half. You’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views over Little Bear and Big Bear Lakes.
Climb toward the highest point of the loop, where you’ll crest to see Round Lake tucked into a glacial bowl approximately 1.8 miles from the trailhead. An old stamp mill gold mine operated here in the early 1900s, and remnants of the mine and equipment are still visible today. Stop your ascent here and take a right at at a not so obvious junction just past the mine site, and follow the trail down to Round Lake. Continue past Round Lake and you will reach Silver Lake in a half mile.
The trail follows Silver Lake’s shoreline, which is near the midway point and a great spot for a snack. As you approach Silver Lake’s northern shore, head right at the next junction. Soon you’ll see scenic Long Lake, an impressively large lake compared to the others along the loop. You’ll quickly meet another junction where signage will point you toward Cub and Big Bear Lakes. Descend gradually to Big Bear Lake and pass Cub Lake and Little Bear Lake along the way.
As you near Big Bear Lake’s northeast shore you’ll approach the junction where you first headed left toward Round Lake. Retrace your steps a quarter mile back to the trailhead.