12 Best Big Bear Off Road Trails: California

Blue Off-Road SUV Driving on Rocky Terrain

Situated in San Bernardino National Forest, surrounded by the majestic mountains and views over the lake, there’s no better place to ride your ATV or Jeep than at Big Bear Lake. It has some of the best off-road riding you’ll find in Southern California, all in a resort that caters to all generations and types of rider. What are the best Big Bear off road trails then?

From encountering wildlife to losing yourself on technical trails or wrestling with mud and boulders, there’s a bit of everything in Big Bear. Here are the top trails to try:

  1. Gold Mountain Trail
  2. Burns and Rattlesnake Canyons Trail
  3. Big Pine Flat Trail
  4. Dishpan Springs Trail
  5. Gold Fever Trail
  6. Knickerbocker
  7. Van Dusen Canyon
  8. Sand Canyon
  9. Coxey Road
  10. Delamar Mountain Road
  11. Butler Peak
  12. Coyote Trail

These are just a few – there is so much more to explore in your Jeep, ATV, or OHV around Big Bear Lake. If you want to check off all the Forest Service marked routes, you can visit the OHV Trail Riding Guide for Big Bear Lake Recreation Area. The below are the cream of the crop, however.

12 Best Big Bear Off Road Trails 

1. Gold Mountain Trail

Gold Mountain Trail is the gold standard of Big Bear off road trails. It’s been rated as very difficult by the USDA Forest Service and is the go-to Jeep trail for many organized tours, as well as a great favorite of intrepid off-roaders. The most challenging section is only 3.2 miles long and is usually run from south to north, starting off Highway 18 near Baldwin Lake. This means it’s mostly a climb with a zig-zag up Gold Mountain where you reach the top elevation of 8,235 ft. To make it into a loop, continue northbound after the summit and loop counter-clockwise via Doble Trail Campground, for a total distance of c. 12 miles.

To ride on the Gold Mountain Trail, you’ll need a high-profile vehicle with at least 31-inch tires, preferably with rock sliders and a rear locker too. It’s worth the hard work, though: you’ll be rewarded with great views over the valleys and relive the gold rush years through the wilderness. However, bear in mind that most organized tours bring along spotters to help vehicles over the rough boulder sections, so only attempt this trail in a group or with an organized tour. Have a look at this video to give you an idea of what to expect:

2. Burns and Rattlesnake Canyons Trail

This trail is for medium-level experienced off-roaders, and it’s one of the best Big Bear Jeep trails to try out. You need high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles, and you’ll be heading into rocky and sandy terrain. On its own, Rattlesnake Canyon Trail is 27.5 miles long, while Burns Canyon Trail just next to it offers another 19 miles. You’ll pass historic gold mining ruins on your way. Watch out for the movie set built-in 1946 in Pioneertown, too – a generic “Old West” set-up that is still sometimes used in films but is definitely a fun tourist attraction.

To reach the trails, head to Yucca Valley, and the trailhead is just off of Pioneertown Road. You’ll start on the Burns Canyon Trail.

3. Big Pine Flat Trail

If the first two trails sound daunting, route 3N16, known as Big Pine Flat Trail, is an ideal easy off-road route in Big Bear. Starting in Green Valley on a paved road, you’ll ride over 26.6. miles into a graded dirt road and then end on a paved road north of Big Bear Lake (Holcomb Valley Road). There is a river crossing at Crab Creek, which is usually shallow, and the trail is wider and easier to ride than some of the technical ones described here. It doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see: there are great views over Baldwin Lake, the ruins of the Lucky Baldwin stamp mill, and lots of forest landscape to feast your eyes on.

4. Dishpan Springs Trail

A challenging trail designed for off-roading experts only! Expect giant boulders, deep ruts, and deep river crossings on the Disphan Springs Trail (route 3N34). The crossing at Deep Creek has drowned many engines, so be prepared for the worst. It’s only 3.4 miles long, but the trail’s difficulty makes it relatively slow, and it’s encouraged to ride this as a group or on an organized tour. So if you’re looking for tough Big Bear OHV trails, check out Dishpan Springs.

Dishpan-Springs-Trail-Big-Bear-California

5. Gold Fever Trail

The Gold Fever Trail does what it says on the tin: it takes you back in time to the gold rush, exploring the remains of historical events in Holcomb Valley while you ride your Jeep on a relatively easy 20-mile loop trail beginning in Big Bear City. Expect some water crossings and rocks; however, the terrain is mostly easy to approach, and the trail is wide enough to let you focus on the scenery.

6. Knickerbocker

This short trail can be found easily within walking distance from the Village in Big Bear. It is one of the maintained Forestry Trails, so it doesn’t pose many difficulties, but it will give you views of the lake, the Holcomb Valley, and Gold Mountain. You can then connect with Skyline at the end of the trail and extend your journey. This is a particularly great trail to try in the snow as long as it stays open. It’s one of the great trails of the Big Bear System. As it’s open to mountain bikes, you’ll need to keep an eye out for non-motorized riders too.

7. Van Dusen Canyon

Another easy Jeep off road trail in Big Bear is 3N09 through Van Dusen Canyon. It’s excellent for starting out off-road or as a connection into the San Bernardino Forest. It’s mostly a forest trail, so you’ll be enjoying some peace and quiet in nature, with a slight climb throughout. This is a multi-use trail where you can ride your Jeep or ATV and expect to see mountain bikers and hikers. It’s a great route if you’re looking for smooth Big Bear 4×4 trails.

8. Sand Canyon

Sand Canyon Trail is not as well-known as the other trails we’ve listed here, but it’s worth a visit if you’re on the south-eastern edge of the Moonridge mountain neighborhoods. It’s a dirt road with a low gradient, about 5 miles long in total, which will take you from Moonridge to another trailhead to continue on Wildhorse Meadows Road going east towards Sugarloaf Mountain.

9. Coxey Road

Starting in Fawnskin on the northwest side of Big Bear Lake, Coxey Road is 19 miles long and offers an easy ride past campgrounds, lovely meadows, ridges, and scenic peaks. You’ll finish on Bowen Ranch Road, from where you can carry on to Apple Valley, or you can return to Big Bear. You can also make quite a few detours to explore other dirt trails and even some shooting areas along the route.

Coxey Road Big Bear

10. Delamar Mountain Road

This is another connector off road trail in Big Bear, passing north of Delamar Mountain through dense forests and carrying you into Holcomb Valley. Any 4×4 vehicle can easily pass through this trail, and it’s a nice break if you’re going across all the technical options you have in the area.

11. Butler Peak

Ride the Green Valley Campground trail from Fawnskin to reach the Butler Peak Trail trailhead – an incredible climb to the Butler Peak Fire Lookout to take in the views. This trail is only 2.9 miles long, and it’s relatively easy to climb, but its main attraction is the views you’ll be rewarded with. You can see Calico Mountains, Big Bear Lake, Riverside, Orange County, Lake Arrowhead, and Mountain High. This is an excellent destination if you’ve just arrived in the area and want to plan your adventures, as you’ll be able to see almost anywhere you might want to explore!

12. Coyote Trail

While the most popular Big Bear off road trails seem to be concentrated on the north side, there are some hidden gems to explore on the south side of the lake, as we’ve seen already. The last one on our list is Coyote Trail, ideal for first-time Jeep drivers, with amazing views back onto the lake and the great destination of Snow Summit in sight. This is where the bulk of skiing takes place in winter, but summer trails can be great fun, too.

Conclusion – Big Bear Lake, an Ideal Off Roading Destination in Southern California

To summarize, here are the 12 best Big Bear off road trails again:

  1. Gold Mountain Trail
  2. Burns and Rattlesnake Canyons Trail
  3. Big Pine Flat Trail
  4. Dishpan Springs Trail
  5. Gold Fever Trail
  6. Knickerbocker
  7. Van Dusen Canyon
  8. Sand Canyon
  9. Coxey Road
  10. Delamar Mountain Road
  11. Butler Peak
  12. Coyote Trail

With its multitude of trails and well-maintained Forest Roads, and associated trail systems, it’s a great idea to head to Big Bear Lake whether you want to ride easy or be challenged on some gnarly terrain. Big Bear off road trails offers various views, different levels of difficulty, and lots of associated activities from fishing to shooting and, of course, hiking, biking, and more. On the cusp of winter, you can also enjoy riding in the early snow on the trails, which don’t get closed (check the Forest Service updates on their website to be in the loop). If you still need to be inspired, check out this promotional video of Big Bear Off Road Trails and plan your next trip!

Kris Peter

Adventure seeker and off-road enthusiast. I love the thrill of going off-road and taking on the elements.

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