Big Bear Lake at Cougar Crest Hiking Trail

Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak – Ultimate Hiking Guide

Located on the North Shore of Big Bear Lake in California, the Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak hike boasts scenic views of Big Bear Lake, beautiful wildflowers, old growth forests and lots of lizards. 

Bertha Peak Hiking Stats

Trail DescriptionOut and back
Trail LocationCougar Crest Trail, Big Bear, CA 92314
Trail Start34.26482, -116.91090
Round Trip Mileage7.5 miles
Average Time3 – 4 hours
Elevation Gain~1,354 feet
Best time to visitMarch through September
FeesAdventure Pass Required – $5 Daily or $30 Annually. A list of locations you can purchase the pass is found here.  Just search for “Big Bear.”  We got ours at a 7-11 (they only took cash).
Rating3.5 Mooses
Big Bear Lake Panorama

How to get to the Bertha Peak summit

There are two main ways to get to the summit of Bertha Peak:

  1. Start at the Cougar Crest Trail parking lot and hike up
  2. Drive up to the summit on the forest service road

We opted to start at the Cougar Crest Trail parking lot as we don’t like taking our sedan “off-roading” and we weren’t sure if the road was open to public traffic.  There are some reports of seeing private vehicles (mostly 4WD vehicles), but we didn’t see any when we were there.

In hindsight, we were happy we didn’t attempt to drive up after seeing the large number of sharp rocks and potholes on the service road.  

North Shore Big Bear Lake Information Sign
Map of Big Bear Lake’s North Shore

Our experience on the Cougar Crest Trail to Bertha Peak

We arrived at the Cougar Crest parking lot around 7 a.m. as we had read online the parking lot fills up quickly, even on weekdays.  When we arrived (on a Friday), there was no one in the parking lot.  It was completely empty.  So much for sleeping in on vacation. 

Spoiler alert!  When we got back down around 11 a.m., there were still plenty of spots.  We’re sure it does get busy, but it wasn’t bad the day we visited.

In any case, it was time to get moving before the temperature heated up.  

Cougar Crest Trail (Trail 1E22)

A paved path leaves the parking lot and heads towards the Cougar Crest Trail. 

Cougar Crest Trail Paved Path
Paved walkway near Cougar Crest parking lot

You’ll quickly come to a fork in the road with the Cougar Crest trail heading to the left and the Big Bear Discovery center to the right on the continuation of the paved path. 

Cougar Crest Trail Split
Cougar Crest Trail (Left) and Big Bear Discover Center (Right)

Insider tip: If there are no spots in the Cougar Crest parking lot, you can park at the Discovery Center and walk 0.5 miles each way to the trailhead. We’ve heard it’s free to park there, but we didn’t check.

Once you’re on the official Cougar Crest Trail, you’ll need to go approximately 2.25 miles before splitting off to the Bertha Peak Trail.

Cougar Crest Trail Information Sign
Cougar Crest Trail Marker

This first section before Bertha Peak’s trail starts was by far our favorite part of the trail.

Cougar Crest Trail
Cougar Crest Trail

The path starts out wide and flat before quickly beginning to gain altitude.  It doesn’t take long before you’re walking through beautiful old growth forests and watching as lizards scurry about.  

Tree along Cougar Crest Trail
Jeffrey Pine

A quarter of a mile into the trail you’ll notice some remnants of old buildings off to the right side of the trail.  

Cougar Crest Trail Building Remnants
Old building remnants along the Cougar Crest Trail

Continuing on, the trail steadily gains elevation as you’re rewarded with your first views of Big Bear Lake. 

Big Bear Lake seen from Cougar Crest Trail
View of Big Bear Lake from Cougar Crest Trail

Along the trail there are multiple benches to stop for a quick break or to enjoy the view. 

Cougar Crest Trail Bench

You’ll know you’ve made it to the end of the Cougar Crest Trail as there will be a large (and heavily graffitied) sign marking its end.  You’ll also come to a fork in the road with a “Bertha Peak” sign pointing up a service road.  

While the end of the Cougar Crest Trail was a bit anticlimactic (there wasn’t much of a view due to overgrowth), it is still a good turn-around if you want to skip the next part of the trail.

Cougar Crest Trail End
Cougar Crest Trail End

Bertha Peak Trail

You’ll be leaving the more traditional hiking trail for the heavily rocked service road that leads up to the summit of Bertha Peak.  This portion of the trail is a leg burner due to the final elevation push to the summit.

Bertha Peak trail start
Bertha Peak trail fork

We noticed at least one false summit on the way up the hill, but it didn’t take too long to wind our way up.

Big Bear Lake seen from Bertha Peak Trail
View from Bertha Peak Service Road

At the summit, you’ll find several fenced off buildings with communications equipment.  

Communication Tower on Bertha Peak

We searched around for a good place to stop and enjoy a snack, but never could find a friendly area to relax.  We ended up giving up and sitting on some half-suitable logs that had fallen. 

Needless to say, we didn’t spend a lot of time on the summit and decided to head back down. 

Bertha Peak

The way back down the trail was fairly uneventful, though we had lost all the shade we enjoyed on the way up and it was pretty warm the day we were there. We did see a fair number of hikers coming up the trail, including a couple of badass mountain bikers that were riding uphill.  

Later that night after feeling semi-let down at the summit, we wanted to know how others felt about the trail. 

Here are our favorite quotes:

Final elevation gain up to Bertha Peak is no joke.  Peak was a bit of a let down, but views of the lake made the trek worth it.

The end [Bertha Peak Trail] isn’t difficult – just fairly steep and tiring.  Nothing technical.

Great view at the top.

Nice hike most of the way until the end where it becomes a very steep fire road. When you get to the top it is a very pretty view but not much room as if it covered with radio towers. Not quite the peaceful peak we had imagined.

The last part of the trail before you reach Bertha Peak is pretty steep. The radio tower at the top is sort of a let down but the panoramic views of Big Bear Lake and Holcomb Valley are unreal.”

Glad we made it to the top to see a clear beautiful 360 view plus a pano shot of Big Bear Lake/City.

Maybe we’re spoiled with all the amazing hikes we’ve done?   We feel the summit was a bit underwhelming.

Big Bear Lake along Cougar Crest Trail

Should you hike up Bertha Peak?

Rating:  3.5 Mooses

What we liked

  • We had the trail to ourselves on the way up and mostly on the way back down. 
  • We loved all the lizards running around every which way we looked.
  • The views of Big Bear Lake were gorgeous throughout the trail.
  • There was plenty of shade in the morning because we got an early start on the trail.
  • The trail was well maintained and had benches throughout to rest. 
  • There were some majestic old growth trees throughout the trail which is something we don’t often get to see.

What we didn’t like

  • The Cougar Crest trail portion of the hike is more scenic and a more traditional trail rather than the rough service road on the Bertha Peak portion of the trail.
  • The views at the summit of Bertha Peak didn’t change much from the Cougar Crest Trail.  We could have easily skipped the last push to Bertha Peak and been just as happy.
  • There wasn’t a great location at the summit of Bertha Peak to enjoy lunch.

Verdict:  We really enjoyed the Cougar Crest portion of the trail and would give that 4.0 Mooses on its own.  We recommending skipping the Bertha Peak section unless you want to get in the extra mileage or tell your friends you “climbed a mountain” on your vacation.

Cougar Crest Trail through Jeffrey Pines

Know before you go

  • You’ll need an Adventure Pass to park in the Cougar Crest Parking area.  The passes are $5 daily or $30 for an annual pass.  The passes are also good until 10 a.m. the next morning.  We took advantage of the extra time and visited the Woodland Interpretive Trail the next morning. 
  • Dogs and mountain bikers also use this trail.
  • The parking lot at the Cougar Crest parking lot often fills up quickly on busy days and especially weekends.  We were warned to get there by 7 a.m. to get a spot.  Granted it was a weekday, but we were the only car when we arrived at 7 a.m.  You can also park at the nearby Discovery Center and walk approximately an additional 0.5 miles if the lot is full.  There is a nice connector trail between the two lots.
  • You may want to consider skipping the Bertha Peak portion of the trail and only complete the Cougar Crest portion.  The view of Big Bear Lake doesn’t change much and the Bertha Peak trail is a steep and rocky service road up to a communication tower.

More information for your trip to Big Bear

Bobsled hiking trail in Big Bear California
Hot Shot Mini Golf - playing a quick round
Woodland Interpretive Trail in Big Bear Lake

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