Cougar Crest to Bertha Peak – Christine Kler

Teaching outdoor education during the week…and living the outdoor lifestyle on the weekends. Go hike a popular and beautiful Big Bear classic trail, Cougar Crest.
Trail Name: Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak
Forest Service Designation: 1E22
Total Distance: 8 miles, round trip
Overview: Scenic hike that works its way up mountain ridges to a summit with a stunning view
Difficulty: Moderate
Activities: Hiking, Horse Back Riding, Mountain Bikes are allowed on the first 3 miles – after this it connects with the Pacific Crest Trail, which does not permit mechanical use.
Trail Type: Singletrack
Trailhead and Parking: Just park in the Big Bear Discovery Center Parking lot. It’s free! The trailhead is right on the edge of the lot, plus you can stop in the Center for some cool maps and information.

It was an unseasonably hot Saturday when we strapped on our hiking boots at the Cougar Crest Trailhead. The dust settled in a fine layer on our sunglass lenses as we peered up the rocky trail watching lizards bolt from Manzanita to Manzanita. Due to the weekend, or the fact that it was Earth Day, there was a good number of people, pups, and horses on the trail enjoying the day.

Indian Paintbrush

The trail began as a paved path, but within half a mile, opened up into a comically well-marked trail. Wildlife was abundant the entire trip with plenty of lizards, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds enjoying the spring. Rife with nature: trees, flowers, and shrubs in full bloom, a personal favorite was the Indian Paintbrush that appeared higher up the trail.


The path wound up the side of the ridge with viewpoints and vistas worthy of the plethora of photographers stopping for a break. Wooden benches lined the path for stops at exceptionally beautiful vistas.

The Cougar Crest trail itself extends two miles up to a south facing ridge with a view of Big Bear Lake, the city of Big Bear, and San Gorgornio towering over it all in the distance. We continued along the path which met the Pacific Crest Trail for a short distance before turning right to continue on up to Bertha Peak, one of the seven summits of Big Bear.

The trail became markedly steep and rocky. We were thankful for the extra water we brought and the plants along the trail which gave us a chance to stop, examine, and catch our breath. Although most other hikers had chosen to stop at the end of the Cougar Crest Trail, there still were some pushing for Bertha Peak.

The summit did not disappoint. The views were spectacular, oaks offered shade, and rocks offered good seats to enjoy it all. The radio towers atop the summit reminded us of the people in the mountain town below, preventing us from feeling that we had gotten too far into the forest, even though we could no longer hear the cars on the road below. Although the majority of hikers chose to admire the view of Big Bear, the more adventurous hikers found their way to the other side of the mountain for a view of the Holcomb Valley and the high desert in the distance. Every side of the summit offered us beautiful views.

The hike down was equally as beautiful, though we had to be careful of our footing on the steep rocky soil of our descent. The views were fantastic in the afternoon sun, and we paused many times to snap a photo or two of the view. All together the hike was lovely and was made even more enjoyable by the local burritos afterwards.

The author…

At High Trails Outdoor Science School, we literally force our instructors to write about elementary outdoor education, teaching outside, learning outside, our dirty classroom (the forest…gosh), environmental science, outdoor science, and all other tree hugging student and kid loving things that keep us engaged, passionate, driven, loving our job, digging our life, and spreading the word to anyone whose attention we can hold for long enough to actually make it through reading this entire sentence. Whew….


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