Silver Peak (San Bernardino National Forest)

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Looking southeast from Silver Peak
View from the ridge, about to head down into the canyon (be careful!)

Silver Peak

        • Location: San Bernardino National Forest, northeast of Big Bear Lake. From the intersection of Highway 38 and Highway 18 at the northeastern corner of Big Bear Lake, head right on Highway 18 and go northeast for 6.8 miles. At mile marker 62, park at a dirt turnout on the right side of the road. From the high desert, take I-15 to Highway 18 and head east for 35 miles. The turnout is on the left. Approximate coordinates are N 34.325, W 116.821. A United States Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking. Click here to purchase.
        • Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center
        • Distance: 4.4 miles
        • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
        • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (terrain, steepness, navigation, trail condition, altitude)
        • Suggested time: 3 hours
        • Best season: All year (depending on conditions)
        • USGS topo map: Big Bear City
        • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellentsunblock; gloves (for cable)
        • More information:  here
        • Rating: 9

Located northeast of Big Bear Lake, Silver Peak is a long drive for most L.A. hikers, and the climb is rough and rugged. However, it’s one of the more unusual hiking experiences available in So Cal, featuring high-desert vegetation, off-trail scrambling, abandoned mines, panoramic desert views, and a cable (we’ll get to that later.) This is not a hike for beginners, although people in good physical shape with a descent sense of direction and an eye for detail shouldn’t have too much difficulty.

From the parking area, follow the dirt road 3N62 east for 0.3 miles. As you make your way through groups of Joshua trees, you see Silver Peak’s imposing form off to the left (northeast). In 0.3 miles, just before you reach a rock with some graffiti on it, head left on a trail that appears to be blocked by boulders. You climb over some fallen trees and follow the dirt road to what used to be a parking area for off road vehicles (half a mile from the start). Head downhill into a canyon, and in 0.1 miles, at the bottom, turn left. You head up a wash which, although it lacks any kind of formal trail, is fairly easy to follow. There may be a few bushes to climb around, but overall the terrain isn’t too tough.

After 0.2 miles in the canyon, you reach a dirt road, where you’ll see an abandoned car. Head right, past an abandoned mine (Silver Peak gets its name from the extensive mining that’s happened here), and in 0.1 miles, you reach a canyon. You’re now just under a mile from the start, and at about the same elevation.

Now comes the difficult part of the hike. You head left, following a semblance of a trail, which soon degenerates and requires some climbing over rocks and around bushes. After 0.2 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain, you reach a plateau (the last ten feet below it are particularly tricky, due to the looseness of the terrain and the lack of handholds, so be careful). Here, you can see an abandoned mine shaft, and you get a nice view of the valley before continuing uphill.

The next stretch is even more difficult. The canyon becomes very steep, ascending another 300 feet in less than 0.2 miles. There is a metal cable that runs the length of the canyon, and even if you don’t trust it as a handhold, it serves well as a navigational beacon. The terrain is rugged; if you use the cable, you may find yourself having to leave it from time to time to avoid yuccas and other plants.

Finally, after the difficult ascent, you reach a ridge line (elevation 6,400 feet). Turn right and follow the ridge 0.1 miles to a dirt road. There’s no real trail here, but the terrain isn’t too bad and the route should be pretty obvious.

Once on the dirt road, you’re rewarded with nice views on both sides. In 0.4 miles, turn right at an intersection. You continue to a false summit, make a brief dip, and then come to another junction. Turn right and follow a short spur to the peak.

At 6,756 feet, Silver Peak is the farthest northeast of any major summit in the San Bernardino Range.  As such, the views of both the desert and mountains are quite dramatic.  There’s also a mine shaft here – a feature to which not many other summits can lay claim. A rock pile near the opening makes a nice place to sit and enjoy the view before heading back down.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

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