- Location: San Bernardino National Forest south of Big Bear Lake. From the western end of Big Bear Lake, take Highway 18 east for 3 miles to Tulip Lane. Turn right and follow Tulip Lane 0.4 mile to Mill Creek Rd. Follow Mill Creek Rd. for a total of 2.1 miles (bear left at the first junction and right at the second). The road soon becomes dirt and a few spots may require and extra care, depending on road conditions, but most vehicles shouldn’t have a problem. Park at the start of the signed Plantation Trail (2N10C on Google Maps). From the east end of Big Bear Lake, take Highway 18 to Mill Creek Rd., which is 3.4 miles west of Stansfield Cutoff and 5.7 miles west of the junction with Highway 38. Turn left and follow Mill Creek Rd. a total of 2.5 miles to the Plantation trail head. Note: Check road and trail conditions (see link below) before going.
- Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Big Bear Discovery Center
- Distance: 5.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Suggested time: 3 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: All year depending on conditions (snow during the winter; hot during the summer)
- Dogs: Allowed
- Cell phone reception: Good at the trail head and on the ridge (south leg of the loop); weak on the west leg of the Skyline Trail; none on the Plantation Trail
- Water: There is a small seasonal stream near the intersection of Mill Creek Rd./2N10 and the Skyline Trail (see description below) and during the winter months, snow can be melted and treated for drinking. However, if you are only doing this loop and not a longer trip, it’s probably easiest just to bring your own water.
- Restrooms: None
- Camping/backpacking: Yellow Post Site #25 is a short distance from the trail head.
- Recommended gear: insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot & Afield: Inland Empire
- More information: Information about the Skyline Trail here; information about the Plantation Trail here
- Rating: 7
Updated April 2018
The 15-mile Skyline Trail traverses the mountains between Big Bear Lake’s south shore and the deep Santa Ana River gorge. Completed in 2015, it has become a favorite of mountain bikers and hikers. With a car shuttle, the entire route can be done in one day (and ambitious hikers might be able to pull off the whole thing in both directions.) For those looking for a more moderate day hike that doesn’t require a shuttle, the loop described here is a perfect option.
Begin by continuing along Mill Creek Road/2N10 for a short distance to the signed start of the Skyline Trail. (By hiking counter-clockwise, as described here, you save the most scenic part of the hike – the views of San Gorgonio – for last.) Follow the wide trail through a pleasant forest of pines, soon reaching the Boulder Group Camp. Here, pick up the next leg of the Skyline Trail, a single-track that climbs gently through the woods, taking in some views of Big Bear Lake. Stay left at an unsigned junction and make your way back toward the road. Just before you get there (0.7 mile from the start), the Skyline Trail veers right (west) and continues its jaunt through the forest.
You reach the road again 1.6 miles from the start. A seasonal stream runs under the road. Pick up the next leg of the Skyline Trail, which ascends steadily through thick pine woodlands for 1.2 miles before reaching a dirt road (variously signed as 2n10 and Skyline Drive). Continue along the single-track Skyline Trail which now starts heading east, providing glimpses of San Gorgonio through the pines. After about a mile, shortly before the trail begins its descent to Bellyache Springs Road, look for a jumble of granite boulders a short distance off the trail. Here you get your best views of the hike: an unobstructed panorama of San Gorgonio and its neighboring peaks with Sugarloaf Mountain farther east and the Inland Empire suburbs to the southwest. The views are similar to those from Grandview Point, although this spot tends to be less crowded.
The trail then drops to meet Bellyache Springs Road (4.3 miles from the start). Bear left and follow the road uphill to a junction with Clarks Grade Road. The Skyline Trail branches off at this point, continuing east. Stay on the dirt road and follow it north to a junction; this is the upper end of the Plantation Trail. Make a gradual descent through the woods, passing another seasonal stream, before returning to the parking area.
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.