Right around this time of year, ski-bunny hangout Big Bear Lake
transforms into a high-altitude hiking haven. Plenty of trails crisscross the San Bernardino Mountains here, but if you only have time for one hike, the 7.5-mile roundtrip to 8,200-foot Bertha Peak richly delivers the goods. Pine forest, meadows, the shining blue lake below, and snow-dusted mountains on the horizon are highlights of the 1,300-foot elevation you’ll gain to reach the peak. After heading out on Cougar Crest Trail through a forest of tall Jeffrey pines, the wide path narrows and switches up Bertha’s south slope. Benches along the way offer peek-a-boo views of the lake through the pinyon pines and manzanitas. At 2.5 miles, you’ll hit the ridge top and turn right to make your footprint on a small section of the famed 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Enjoy the open vistas before turning right again on Bertha Peak Road and following a marker toward the summit. You’ll tackle 500 vertical feet in less than a mile on the final thigh-burning push to the finish, but the effort is rewarded with 360-degree views down over Holcomb Valley to the north and the snow-tipped San Gorgonio Mountain to the south. That blue ribbon far below? That’s Big Bear Lake—glinting like it’s winking at your king-of-the-mountain moment. Bertha bagged!
TIP: Before heading out, stop by Mountain Munchies (42171 1/2 Big Bear Blvd.) and toss a hearty deli sandwich with names like the Backpacker or the Trails End into your pack.
A $5 Adventure Pass is required to park at the Cougar Crest Trailhead. You’ll find the trail on North Shore Dr., just west of the Big Bear Discovery Center. From Big Bear, take Route 18 east to the Stanfield Cutoff. Cross the lake, turn left, and drive 1.6 miles on North Shore Dr. to the well-marked trailhead. Dog-friendly!