By Lara Kaylor
Many people would love to hike the entire 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, but many people also have full time jobs with 2-3 weeks of vacation per year so a six-month trek in the wilderness isn’t realistic. Instead, why not rack up some miles completing sections of the trail on the weekends?
A good place to head for weekend warrior hiking is Big Bear, California where you can take day trips on the famed trail and still wind up in a comfortable bed at the end of the day.
Section C of the PCT starts in Palm Springs and goes through Big Bear according to Sierra Club hike leader Ed Caliendo. Many through hikers will stop to take breaks in Big Bear for the same reasons they stop to take breaks once they reach the Sierra Nevada mountain range a few hundred miles down the trail: it’s beautiful.
On a three-day trip to Big Bear for an Outdoor Writers conference recently, Ed was kind enough to lead a group for a quick jaunt on the PCT to show us how easily accessible it really is. The day began with a drive around Big Bear Lake on Hwy 38, turning off on Polique Canyon Road. A few miles up Polique and you’re at the trailhead. Convenient but limited parking is available close by.
The trailhead is clearly evident by the recognizable PCT National Scenic Trail marker, and a few steps further, large water bottles left trailside by “trail angels.” Trail angels are known to leave supplies and/or provide support for through hikers.
The piece of trail we visited sits at 7,544 feet, well above Big Bear Lake, providing a beautiful view and landmark as you trudge along. Section C, says Ed, is about 110 miles. Ed will often lead groups on 8-16 mile sections on the weekends.
Looking south from this portion of trail, you not only see Big Bear Lake but also Mount San Gorgonio, the highest mountain in Southern California. To the north of this segment of trail you will find views of Holcomb Valley, part of the historic gold country of San Bernardino. According to bigbearcountry.com, more gold was taken out of Holcomb Valley per square mile than anywhere else in Southern California. The popular television show, Bonanza was also filmed in Holcomb Valley.
Ed added that we were only 8-10 miles from Gold Mountain, a prominent peak that is northeast of Big Bear Lake. Of all the storied gold-mining operations in the area, none is as popular as that of San Francisco multimillionaire Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin and his stamp mill at the base of Gold Mountain. Lucky started a gold rush in the area in 1874 with the construction of the mill.
Along the way we also saw remnants of a campsite, most likely a through hiker on the trail. Ed commented that while you can camp anywhere along the PCT, you aren’t allowed to have a fire unless there is a metal ring.
All in all, there was plenty to see and learn within a few short hours and miles — a great alternative way to get a taste of the PCT without having to pause from life for six months.