Cougar Crest Trail: Best Views Of Big Bear Lake

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  • Total Miles: 5.43
  • Time: 3.5 hrs
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Hard
  • Best Season: All Year
  • Elevation Gain: 900 ft
  • Max Elevation: 7717 ft
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back
  • Parking Lot: Fits 20+ Cars
  • Dogs: Allowed On A Leash
  • Restrooms: Available On The Trailhead
  • Trail Popularity: High
  • Pics Taken On: Jan 3, 2022

Are you looking for the best views of Big Bear Lake? Look no further, and hike up to Cougar Crest.  

Cougar Crest Trail is a 5.43-mile hike located in the San Bernardino mountains that offers the best views of Big Bear Lake and Snow Summit. The moderate-rated trail is known to get plenty of snow during the winter months. Restrooms are provided at the parking lot, an Adventure Parking Permit is required, and dogs are allowed but must be on a leash. 

Perhaps Cougar Crest is too long of a hike or maybe not long enough. No problem, choose from the best trails by checking out the post below:

Best Hikes In Big Bear

Cougar Crest Trail Map

Please disregard the blue arrow on the map. It’s simply marking the end of the Cougar Crest Trail. 

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Cougar Crest Trail Elevation Profile

Download Printable PDF Map

Address & Directions 

Click the following link to be redirected to the Cougar Crest Trailhead via Google Maps.

Pro Tip: You can park at the Discovery Center parking lot until 6:00 pm for free and walk to the trailhead to avoid buying an Adventure Pass. 

Helpful Links

Weather Forecast

SoCal Adventure Pass (required to park in SoCal mountains)

For those who don’t have a SoCal Adventure Pass, daily passes can be purchased at the Big Bear Discovery Center, nearby gas stations, or stores such as 7-11 for $5. If you’ve already purchased a SoCal adventure pass you don’t need to buy the daily $5 pass.

Big Bear Weather And More (My friend’s YouTube channel. He updates us on all things Big Bear within a few hours of the event, including weather changes).

Cougar Crest Quick Guide 

Microspikes: If you’re hiking in the snow I HIGHLY recommend using microspikes. It’s a night and day difference. You can view the ones we use here.  

Trekking Poles: If you’re going to use microspikes, trekking poles won’t be needed to help with balance. However, they can still help reduce the weight from your legs, especially on steep sections. We use these trekking poles right here. 

Best Time to Visit: Go during the week if you can. Otherwise, arrive extra early at the trailhead. I also recommend hiking a few days after it snows as the views are even more beautiful (at least in my opinion).  

Hiking Cougar Crest

The trail begins via a very wide and gradual ascend. If you wanted to build a snowman, this beginning section is it.

As you keep hiking up, the trail becomes more narrow and the trees begin to enclose you in. Pretty soon, you’ll feel like you’ve wandered deep into the forest. 

Keep an eye out for the majestic Western Juniper trees. These native giants have red “peeling” barks, and some have been here for over a thousand years. 

They’re truly amazing and beautiful.

western juniper tree

Because most of the hike is on the south side of the mountain, the snow tends to melt much more quickly than the south side, as you can see from the following two shots. 

You know you’re almost to your destination once you loop around the darkside of the mountain.

cougar crest trail

And voila! You’ve reached your destination! Look at that view! 

The biggest peak in the distance is San Gorgonio, AKA Old Gray Back, the highest peak in Socal. You can also see Big Bear Lake and Snow Summit to name a few.

Check out this awesome interpretive trail located literally down the street from Cougar Crest. The trail features multiple plants and animal habitats which are detailed in a downloadable guide in the post below:  

Woodland Interpretive Trail

cougar crest trail

Need help identifying the peaks? I got you covered. I use the app, Peak Visor, to help me identify all the peaks on my hikes. 

It’s super cool. You can download it here for iPhones and here for Androids.

cougar crest trail

One thing to keep in mind regarding Cougar Crest is that it’s not a peak. It’s simply a ridge as the name implies. 

Do you want to enjoy amazing lake views without hiking 5 miles? My favorite Big Bear trail leads hikers to a huge boulder formation that can be climbed to enjoy scenic views.  Check it out in the link below: 

Castle Rock Trail 

cougar crest and bertha peak

However, some people like to elongate the trail by hiking up to Bertha Peak. It’s an additional .6 miles to the top and a total elevation of 8502 feet. 

If you want to do the same, stay on the trail until you see a sign that says Bertha Peak located on the junction of the famous Pacific Crest Trail, and head up. 

bertha peak

Unfortunately, we ran out of daylight so we ended the hike on the more popular Cougar Crest Trail. We had no complaints as the views are breathtaking.

Cougar Crest Trail

We loved this hike, especially because of the snow and the views. I’m positive you will too.


How Long Is Cougar Crest Trail?

The trail is a total of 5.43 miles, out and back, and is located on the north side of Big Bear Lake. Thus, offering views of the mountain resorts and San Gorgonio.

Is Cougar Crest Trail Open?

Cougar Crest Trail is currently open.

What Is The Elevation Gain Of Cougar Crest Trail?

The elevation gain for Cougar Crest is a total of 900 feet.

Do You Need An Adventure Pass For Cougar Crest Trail?

An Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead parking lot. Those who do not own an Adventure Pass can purchase a daily $5 pass at the Big Bear Discovery Center, gas stations, or nearby stores, which help support the preservation of the forest. Smoking and campfires are not allowed in the area.

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Hello, There!

I’m Phillip, and just like you, I feel very passionate about California and the outdoors. After many years of exploring amazing and hidden places, I thought I’d share them with you. Life goes by fast so get out there and enjoy it.  

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