Castle Rock Big Bear Trail Guide
A couple weeks ago the California mountains got a wonderful dumping of snow! My wife and I were originally planning to go to Joshua Tree National Park over the Veterans Day weekend but due to the snow made a last minute decision to go check out Big Bear instead.
I had personally never been to Big Bear and was excited to check out the town and a couple of day hikes. We drove up early Saturday morning and had time for one short hike and decided on Castle Rock trail which offers fantastic views of Big Bear Lake and wonderful rocks to climb on! The trail itself is super short, a total of 1.15 miles round trip!
Castle Rock Trail Map
The Castle Rock trail map above can be viewed and downloaded on Caltopo here.
Castle Rock Trail Permits
Parking at Castle Rock trailhead is the biggest danger on this hike in my opinion. Especially with smaller areas to park with snow banks on the side of the road in the winter. Most if not all the hikes in and around Big Bear require an adventure pass for parking which can be purchased at the Big Bear Visitors center. My wife and I went there and were told that due to construction going on that the Adventure Pass was not needed the weekend we were up there. We got lucky, but it's always worth a quick stop at the Visitors Center.
Additionally it looks like for this particular hike you actually may not need permits depending on where you park. The US Forest Service Website says:
The Castle Rock trailhead is located 1.1 miles east of the Big Bear Dam on State Highway 18 or 3 miles west of the Big Bear Lake Village. There is limited parking 50 yards east of the trailhead in a turnout on the north side of the highway. The Adventure Pass is not required on the turnout. There is a small sign marking the Castle Rock Trailhead across the highway.
The above quote was taken from their website on November 19th 2022. Always check for the most recent up to date info when planning a hike.
Castle Rock Trail Parking
Unfortunately there is no dedicated parking and it's just on the side of the road. Since this is a short hike with beautiful views and fun rocks to climb.... it can be crowded and hard to find parking.
You can see the small turnout mentioned by the Park Services in this screenshot from Google Maps:
When we were there, there were cars parked all over the place on the side of the road. Since there was snow on the side of the road there were a lot of hikers basically walking in the road, so be extremely careful driving through this area as well.
Castle Rock Trail Guide
Once you finally find parking and make your way to the trailhead of Castle Rock Trail, you will find a wonderful trail map board to get an idea where you are. But if you are reading this guide you probably downloaded the Caltopo map that I provided above and are all set 😉
As you can see while we were there, it was still pretty snowy on the trail. We arrived about 3-4 days after a decent snow storm hit the mountains. I honestly didn't think we were going to see much snow, but it was super snowy and super slick on the trail.
Since this is a popular trail, the snow had been pretty packed down and then at night it must freeze over and become very slick. This trail is really short, but it is steep which can make it difficult and dangerous if you are not prepared. My wife and I had a pretty easy hike because we had Micro Spikes. We were the only ones on the trail with them, and everyone else looked like they were struggling on the steep sections. You can check out out my full packlist on my new app I just launched here.
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With the Micro Spikes on our feet, we were walking up with our hands in our pockets. The initial section was the steepest. It was basically an icy snow slick stone staircase going up. Be careful on this trail in the winter! The Micro Spikes were key to our success!
The trail was pretty easy to follow for the most part. The snow was packed down from other travelers, but once in awhile you might have to take a second to stop and look to see where the next cairn on the trail is. I hesitate to call these things cairns..... they are huge wired in rock piles that really help out when you are looking for the next twist in the trail. Their huge!
On the way up before you get to the main attraction Castle Rock there is another smaller outcropping of rocks which are fun to check out and climb. Again be careful if when climbing the rocks especially if there is snow and ice covering the rocks as well. I love getting up high on the rocks and checking out the views!
Eventually as you quickly climb up this short trail you will get to the what I am calling the backside of Castle Rock. Instinctively you will want to start walking and or climbing straight up Castle Rock when you first see it. The trail actually continues to loop around in a J-hook. In the picture below the trail continues to the left of the big boulder in the foreground.
Once we looped around and saw the rocky path that goes toward the top of Castle Rock we climbed our way up as high as we could until it did not feel safe to go any higher. There was a lot of snow and ice on Castle Rock and despite really wanting to get to the top, the conditions just were not there for us that particular day.
We settled on some lower boulders in front of castle rock and enjoyed the view!
For the return trip back down it looks like most people in the winter turned around and went back the way they came up which is the eastern path. We decided to take the western path down, to make a small loop out of it. This trail did not have any of the large cairns that we saw on the eastern path and had very little if any at all foot traffic since it snowed. There was basically no path to follow down so we ended up using our map and some route finding to make it back down to the main trail. If you are not comfortable with back country snow navigation just go back down the way you came up and play it safe.