Most people go to Big Bear in summer for the lake. Sunbathing, swimming and paddling are all great activities and are not to be missed, but while spending time in the San Bernardino mountains, be sure to get a taste of true mountain views. The Cougar Crest Trail rises above Big Bear, delivering hilltop views of the lake and surrounding peaks. This is one of the most popular trails in the area, and for good reason.
The trail makes a gradual climb through Big Bear's famous pine forest, and it deals eyefuls almost the entire way as gaps in the trees open to views of Big Bear Lake, the town and ski resorts, and San Gorgonio Mountain far beyond. Wildflowers burst during early summer, and deer browse along the trail all year long.
Because it is such a rewarding hike, the trail can get very crowded and the parking lot full, especially on weekends. Arrive early in the day to beat the crowds and the heat and to have a better chance of seeing wildlife. The path is quite rocky, and ice may linger on some parts during spring, so wear sturdy shoes and watch your footing. Shade is lacking on some segments, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
This trail connects with the Pacific Crest Trail in about 2 miles from the trailhead. From here you have the option of extending your hike to the top of Bertha Peak for a bigger challenge and even more rewarding views. Note that bicycles are not allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail, so mountain bikers must turn around at this junction.
Cougar Crest begins from a parking lot on North Shore Drive, less than a mile west of Big Bear Discovery Center and just north of Serrano Campground. To save space in the trailhead parking lot, walking or biking to the trailhead is recommended if you are camped nearby or can park elsewhere. Additional parking is available at the Big Bear Discovery Center, where a 0.6-mile paved extension path connects with Cougar Crest Trail.