Butler Peak Lookout
- Location: Northwest of Big Bear Lake. From Highway 38, head north on Rim of the World Drive (3.4 miles east of the junction with Highway 18 at the west end of the lake; 2.9 miles west of the discovery center at Fawnskin). The road becomes dirt after 0.5 miles; it should be passable for all vehicles but it is rough in spots so exercise caution. At 1.3 miles, park at the junction with forest road 2N13, which may be blocked off by a metal gate. There is an information board and room for a few cars to park.
- Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center
- Distance: 9.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,550 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain, altitude)
- Suggested time: 4.5 hours
- Best season: May – October
- USGS topo map: Fawnskin; Butler Peak
- More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; lookout information page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
Rising 8,535 feet above sea level, Butler Peak is home of one of seven fire lookouts in the San Bernardino National Forest. Though the lookout’s hours of operation are limited, guests can still climb to the balcony and enjoy the view. Butler Peak is the third most prominent summit in the San Bernardino Mountains, behind San Gorgonio and Sugarloaf; to the west, the nearest higher mountain is Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriels.
If the gates along forest road 2N13 and the Butler Peak Fire Road are open, it is possible to drive almost all the way up with an off road-capable vehicle. However, the distance and elevation gain listed here assume that you are starting from the junction of Rim of the World Drive and 2N13. This point can be reached fairly easily by almost any car and according to a sign posted at the beginning of 2N13, parking is free. If the gate is locked which it is as of this writing, this is as far as you can go.
Follow 2N13 southwest through a pine forest. At about 0.3 miles, stay left as another road branches off. The trail heads downhill briefly, reaching a junction with a single-track at about 0.9 miles. Continue following the trail for a pleasant if not terribly memorable 1.3 miles, arriving at a T-junction. This makes a good resting spot; almost half of the distance is behind you although most of the elevation gain is still to come.
Take a hard left on the Butler Peak Fire Road and begin climbing at a more steady pace. The scenery becomes more interesting; as you ascend, you’ll get views of Big Bear Lake, Delamar Mountain, Bertha Peak and a jumble of boulders known as Hanna Rocks. At about 4 miles, the fire road curves around the south side of a ridge, providing an excellent aerial view of Highway 18. You’ll also see the distinctive cone-like shape of Butler Peak ahead of you–with the lookout precariously situated atop.
At 4.8 miles, you reach the end of the road. Follow a signed single-track trail up a steep and somewhat rocky incline to the base of the tower. Two metal staircases bring you to the lookout, which was constructed in 1936.
Unlike some other lookouts, this one occupies the entire summit. This proves to be a double-edged sword: you can enjoy great aerial views without having to worry about falling, but it also makes the experience seem less wild and natural. Nevertheless, the views are outstanding in all directions. If the weather is clear expect to see Old Saddleback, the San Gabriels, the high desert, Big Bear Lake, Sugarloaf and more. After enjoying the view, return by the same route, taking extra care when descending the steep steps leading down from the lookout.
Text and photography copyright 2014 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.