San Bernardino Peak’s triangular shape is recognizable throughout the Inland Empire and indeed from almost all of the L.A. area on days of good visibility. Though shorter than neighboring San Gorgonio, it is more prominently visible due to its location as the westernmost major summit of the San Bernardino Ridge. It’s a benchmark hike for any L.A. outdoor enthusiast, but doesn’t attract the same crowds as San Gorgonio or San Jacinto, making it an appealing alternative. While the views from the top aren’t quite as wide-ranging as from those higher summits, much of this hike’s most spectacular scenery can be seen on the way up. The elevation gain, distance and altitude required by this hike should not be taken lightly but the well-maintained, moderately graded trail is easy to follow and snow is less likely to be an issue as on the taller peaks. For hikers in decent shape, San Bernardino is a realistic day hike and there are also some good options for camping/backpacking. Even cell phone service, while not reliable, is better than one might expect for this area.
From the trail head, ascend through an attractive mixed forest; black oaks gradually giving way to white fir and Jeffrey pines. The initial going is challenging as the trail steadily climbs more than 1,000 feet up switchbacks, alternately providing views of the Santa Ana River Gorge and the San Gabriel Mountains, far to the west. At 1.5 miles, you reach the San Gorgonio Wilderness Boundary. After more ascent, the trail briefly levels out, traversing a west-facing slope with great views of Sugarloaf to the northeast. You may also get a glimpse of Old Saddleback and the Santa Ana Mountains to the south. It’s around this point that you will also get your first look at the towering San Bernardino Ridge to the south.
At 4.2 miles, you reach Manzanita Flats, the approximate half-way point (elevation 8,300). A spur to the right leads downhill to Columbine Spring; the trail to Johns Meadow and Forsee Creek branches off to the left. Your route stays straight, climbing another 1,000 feet in 1.7 miles to Limber Pine Bench Trail Camp. With views to the southwest and northwest, this is an attractive spot to stop and catch your breath before making the next push.
The trail continues uphill, Jeffrey pines giving way to limber and lodgepole pines. Shortly after the trail camp, at a switchback, you’ll hear and then see water trickling down from Limber Pine Spring. More switchbacks bring you to the western ridge of San Bernardino Peak and a vista point as the trail makes a hairpin left turn. At 7.3 miles from the start, look for a small monument on the right side of the trail. This honors Col. Henry Washington, who surveyed the area in 1852. Baseline Avenue, one of the Inland Empire’s major arteries, follows the route surveyed by Washington. A short spur leads to a lookout point where one can take in the modern-day version of Washington’s view.
The main route continues east for 0.6 miles, climbing about 300 feet to a junction with a use-trail. Bear right and make your last few steps to the summit. The view includes San Jacinto Peak, the Palomar Mountains, Big Bear Lake and in the distance, the high desert and southern end of the Sierras. To the east, San Bernardino Peak’s taller east summit and San Gorgonio block off the view, but there’s still a lot to take in while you rest your legs for the long descent. Since most of the return faces west, you will likely enjoy some panoramic sunset views on the way down.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.