Castle Rock Big Bear Lake
If Big Bear’s crown jewel is its glimmering lake, then the moderate 1.5-mile (round-trip) hike to Castle Rock is a must-do, offering a panoramic view of the lake that’s fit for a king. Starting on the trailhead just west of Big Bear Village, begin a 700-foot ascent for about half a mile on a steep dirt path that’ll get your heart pumping—especially if you’re new to the altitude. As the trail levels out, towering Castle Rock is to your right, jutting conspicuously skyward above the trees. On the near side, rock climbers scale this granite giant, but as a hiker you’re much better off following the footpath up the backside, testing your traction (grippy shoes are very helpful) and mettle navigating up the boulders. Atop Castle Rock’s grand throne, take a seat to enjoy stately views of Big Bear Lake and surrounding peaks. Alpine forest adds a punch of green beneath, and Boulder Bay (part of the lake) looks as if it’s housing King Kong’s rock collection. Hit the trail in late afternoon and it’s a fantastic spot to catch the sunset. Royal highness.

WHERE TO STAY: Built beneath the pines along Big Bear Boulevard, Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast Lodge combines rustic log cabin décor with modern amenities. Hosts Mark and Vicki are skilled breakfast chefs (their blueberry pancakes are a stack of sweetness). Relax in an Adirondack chair on the patio, or kick back in seclusion in one of the cottage suites. (Two units at Eagle’s Nest are dog-friendly.) Campers can sleep near the Santa Ana River at one of South Fork Campground’s 24 tent-only sites. Dog-friendly!

The Castle Rock Trailhead begins on Big Bear Blvd. (SR 18), 1.2 miles east of the Big Bear Dam. From Big Bear Village, drive west 0.7-mile past Boulder Bay and park in the dirt pullout on the right side of the road (there’s limited parking here and an Adventure Pass is not required on this turnout). Find the trailhead on the opposite side of the curve 50 yards beyond the pullout. There is a small sign marking the Castle Rock Trailhead There are numerous direction signs to follow en route to Castle Rock, which is helpful because there are several footpaths branching off from the main trail. Beyond Castle Rock, the trail continues up to Route 2N86, an alternate starting point. A pamphlet on local trails can be picked up at the Big Bear Lake Discovery Center. Dog-friendly!