Aqueduct Trail, San Bernardino National Forest

Aqueduct Loop (Bearpaw Reserve)

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  • Location: 38801 Valley of the Falls Drive, Forest Falls, CA. From Redlands, head east on Highway 38 for a total of 14 miles. At the big U-turn, stay straight to get onto Valley of the Falls Drive. Make an immediate right onto a one-lane dirt road and follow it to the gate. Press the # key and the four-digit access code you are given by the Conservancy (see link below for access/permitting information.) Inside the preserve, follow the one-lane paved road to a Y-junction, bear right and follow the road to its ending. Park head-in by the picnic area.
  • Agency: The Wildlands Conservancy/Bearpaw Reserve
  • Distance: 4.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash (be careful of ticks; exercise caution on warm days; be ready to assist on some of the washed out parts of the trail. Also note that all waste must be packed out).
  • Cell phone reception: Weak to fair in some spots; none for most of the route
  • Water: Available in restrooms at the trail head
  • Restrooms: Available at the trail head
  • Camping/backpacking: Allowed by permit. Email for more information.
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Map My Hike report here; additional information about hiking here will be provided to you by the Wildlands Conservancy.
  • Rating: 7

Updated March 2018

This loop, featuring single-track trails, fire roads, paved roads and some light boulder scrambling, serves as an introduction to the Bearpaw Ridge Reserve, a 660-acre property overseen by the Wildlands Conservancy. Highlights include an attractive mixed forest and great views of the San Bernardino/San Gorgonio ridge. Add a seasonal waterfall and a bit of local history and you’ve got one of the more enjoyable short hikes in the San Gorgonio area, just a short drive away from the nearby towns of Redlands and Mentone. With elevations just under a mile high and substantial shade, the hike is a good one to keep in mind on hot summer days and it’s also low enough to avoid heavy snow.

Begin by picking up the single-track trail at the left side of the wooden billboard and trail register. The trail climbs to a fire road, 1S08 (also known as Bearpaw Ridge Road, the main service route through the preserve). If there have been recent rains you can detour to Columbine Falls by heading right and following a short spur trail. To find the Aqueduct Trail, head left (east) along the service road. Take a hard right at the next junction, following the signs for the Aqueduct Trail and begin a steady climb, in and out of shade. At 0.8 mile from the start, take a hard left and follow the road into a gully, pleasantly shaded with a mix of black oaks, pines and firs. You reach the signed but faint Aqueduct Trail.

Make a hard left and begin climbing the Aqueduct Trail, named for an aqueduct that once stood on the site, bringing water from Mill Creek to supply hydroelectricity to the San Bernardino area. For the next 1.7 miles, the Aqueduct Trail hugs the steep slope. The trail is lightly maintained and traveled. As of this writing few spots have been washed out, requiring caution and some fallen trees require a little bushwhacking, but no special equipment (beyond hiking poles) or climbing expertise is required. Along the way, enjoy views to the north of Mill Creek and Highway 38 making its way up to Big Bear Lake. As you head farther east, you also get views of San Gorgonio, San Bernardino and in back of you, Mt. Baldy. You also pass an old pipe left over from the aqueduct and a small abandoned mine shaft.

The trail ends at a spur off of Prospect Drive, a residential street. Head left for a short distance and look for the rocky wash of Oak Creek. Some moderate scrambling down the creek bed brings you to the wider flood plain of Mill Creek. Navigation can be a little tricky here; you will be heading generally northwest and downhill. Keep an eye out for signs of human impact; this can help with direction. After about half a mile, likely involving some bushwhacking, you reach a rough path that heads west, underneath a telephone line.

The path becomes a disused fire road which eventually brings you back to the reserve, just inside the gate. Follow the paved road half a mile back to the parking area.

Aqueduct Trail, Bearpaw Preserve
Pines at the start of the Aqueduct Loop
Aqueduct Trail, San Bernardino National Forest
Start of the Aqueduct Trail
Aqueduct Trail, San Bernardino National Forest
Washed out section of the Aqueduct Trail
Aqueduct Trail, San Bernardino National Forest
San Bernardino Peak and San Gorgonio Mountain from the Aqueduct Trail
Aqueduct Trail, San Bernardino National Forest
Mine shaft on the Aqueduct Trail
Oak Creek, San Bernardino National Forest
Beginning of the descent down Oak Creek
Aqueduct Loop, San Bernardino National Forest
Telephone lines paralleling Mill Creek
Aqueduct Trail, San Bernardino National Forest
Heading back toward the preserve on the fire road

Text and photography copyright 2018 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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