Even though I grew up here, I didn’t start hiking in the Trinity Alps Wilderness until about eight years ago. It’s hard to believe now, when my life is so woven into the wilderness, that a mere decade ago I had never passed a wilderness sign, lounged in a mountain meadow, or enjoyed an alpine lake.
Back then I asked a young hiker that I knew to recommend a day hike to a lake that wouldn’t kill me. That is how it happened that my first hike into the Trinity Alps was to Big Bear Lake — and indeed, it almost killed me. By the time I dragged my middle-aged, out-of-shape self up that relentlessly steep trail to the lake shore I had spent my last dollar of energy. But oh my goodness, the astounding beauty!
I have found over the years that time flattens a trail. My memory lessens the angle of ascent and I am always surprised when doing a hike I have done before at how steep it is. Yes, time flattens, and the more time that passes, the flatter my mind remembers a trail. But no amount of time flattens the trail to Big Bear Lake. It’s steep.
Since that first hike, I have used Big Bear Lake Trail as the unit of steepness against which I measure all other trails. Stoney Ridge Trail for example is ¾ as steep, Foster Lake Trail is 1½ times as steep. So, of course, I have to hike to Big Bear Lake every summer to recalibrate my steepness unit.
The trail offers a lot of everything wonderful; a wild variety of alpine beauty. For much of the way the trail climbs through a shady forest with extraordinarily big trees. Taking a rest from the endless climbing, you can lean against a huge cedar and admire, in awe, the Bear Creek Twins which are two of the biggest Ponderosa pines in the world. The awe is a promise.
One section of the trail weaves in and out of a fairy-fern-forest with the ferns sometimes waist high. Climbing on, the peaks start doing their peak-thing and peeking through the trees at you.
After about 4 miles the forest ends and you hike over exposed granite the rest of the way to the lake. Growing on this granite shelf is the sweetest rock garden I have seen anywhere in the alps. Wildflowers force their way up through the cracks in the rock and bloom all summer long.
When you get to the lake there is a perfect sitting-rock, you’ll know it when you see it. Sit on it. Take your boots off and let your feet cool in the water. And now you too have a unit of steepness against which to measure all other trails.
If you are going: The trailhead road turns off Highway 3 about 8 miles north of Coffee Creek. There is a sign. The road is about 1½ miles and is rocky this year, it hasn’t been graded yet. However, there was a low clearance car at the trailhead. The hike to Big Bear Lake is about 9 miles round trip.