Keller Peak Lookout via Exploration Trail
- Location: San Bernardino National Forest, east of Running Springs. Take Highway 18 east from the junction with Highway 330 and turn right on Keller Peak Road (look for a brown sign indicating the Exploration Trail.) Go 0.1 miles and park in a dirt turnout on the right side of the road. A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required for parking. To purchase one, click here here.
- Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Arrowhead Ranger Station
- Distance: 12 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,900 feet
- Difficulty Rating: R (distance, elevation gain, altitude)
- Suggested time: 6 hours
- Best season: April – November
- USGS topo map: Keller Peak
- Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
- More information: Trip report here; Exploration trail information here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 9
This is a hike that truly has a little bit of everything: panoramic views of almost every mountain range in Southern California, pleasant woodlands of oaks and pines and a historic fire lookout. Its length and elevation gain make it challenging, but route finding and terrain are easy, and the grade remains moderate throughout the trip. It is a great training hike for the bigger summits in the area, but substantial enough that veterans won’t feel short-changed.
The first 4-plus miles follow the Exploration Trail, completed in 2005. Follow it from the parking area into the forest, passing by some boulders that resemble smaller versions of nearby Castle Rock. You cross a dirt road at 0.6 miles and continue through the forest, soon getting some nice views to the south and of the San Gabriels to the northwest. You will also see Keller Peak itself, appearing close, but still several trail miles away due to the winding course of the route.
At about 2 miles, look for a “window” in a rock to the left of the trail. At 3.5 miles, a clearing offering excellent views of the San Gabriels and (on clear days) the high desert makes a nice place to rest.
The Exploration Trail ends at the paved Keller Peak Road at 4.2 miles. This is a good turnaround point if you’re short on time, but it’s definitely worth it to continue on to the lookout, even though it’s on a paved, exposed road. The views, particularly of San Gorgonio to the south, are great and the going is smooth and easy.
Near the top on the left side of the road, keep an eye out for a plaque commemorating nine US soldiers whose plane crashed on Keller Peak shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Past the plaque, the trail continues to the summit and the lookout.
The lookout is open from 9am to 5pm each day and is staffed with volunteers. Be careful on the steep stairs up to the lookout, which provides a great 360-degree view of the San Bernardino Mountains, the San Gabriels, Old Saddleback, Sugarloaf and more.
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.