Like a good theater act, this trail on the north shore of Big Bear Lake ends with its audience demanding more: more shoreline paths, more access to the lake, more links to mountain trails.
Alpine Pedal Path--as the Forest Service and practically no one else calls it--is a paved, multiuse pathway that meanders lakeside across moist meadows and through a juniper woodland. On weekdays, more walkers than cyclists use the trail. The path parallels California 38 but is a bit removed from the sights and sounds of the road.
The trail's engaging 2.5 miles whet the walker's appetite for a longer lake-shore saunter--though political and financial realities make the prospect of a trail extension unlikely. Alpine Pedal Path seems destined to remain Big Bear's longest (in fact, only) shoreline sojourn, and the lake will likely continue to be known more for its bass fishing and jet skiing than for its day hiking.
Hikers should definitely schedule a stop at the Big Bear Discovery Center, San Bernardino National Forest's new visitor information facility. Open daily year-round from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., it is located on the north side of Highway 38 just one-quarter mile west of the Big Bear Ranger Station. A planned extension of the Alpine Pedal Path will connect the trail to the Discovery Center.
Exhibits highlight local flora, wildlife and recreation opportunities. The Adventure Outpost, a unique nature gift shop, occupies the back of the Discovery Center.
Woodland Trail, located across the highway from Alpine Pedal Path, offers the hiker a different look at the Big Bear Lake environment. The 20-stop nature trail, keyed to a brochure available at the trail head, explores an area ecologists call a dry woodland--a mixed forest of pinyon pine and juniper, black and live oak.
Even without the ecology lesson, the trail is an enjoyable one, particularly when the path winds through a stand of towering Jeffrey pine. Be sure to scramble up the granite outcrop near the end of the trail and enjoy the view of the lake and mighty Mt. San Gorgonio.
Directions to trail head: From the town of Big Bear Lake, follow California Highway 18 (Big Bear Boulevard) to Stanfield Cutoff and head north across the narrow eastern arm of Big Bear Lake. Just across the lake, you'll find the signed trail head on the left (west) side of the road, opposite the entrance to North Shore School. Park alongside Stanfield Cutoff.
From Big Bear City, you can reach the trail head by driving west on Highway 18 (North Shore Drive). At the city's outskirts, the road continues west as Highway 38. Turn left (south) at Stanfield Cutoff and park near the trail head.
The Forest Service trail head for Woodland Loop Trail is located on the north side of Highway 38, 0.2 mile west of Stanfield Cutoff. A Forest Service Adventure Pass is required to park at this trail head, and the Forest Service tickets vehicles not displaying one. (For a pass, call Big Bear Discovery Center at (909) 866-3437). If you are among the legions of hikers who've refused to purchase an Adventure Pass and participate in the Forest Service's monumentally unpopular experimental revenue generation program, park your car (for free) right across the highway from the trail head at the M.W.D. East Boat Launch lot.
The hike: Walk through open forest and soon pass the East Boat Launch ramp, from which all manner of watercraft are launched. You'll pass anglers along the shore and a couple of swimming areas, then skirt a small marina.
The path crests a low hill and crosses a marshy meadow via a wooden boardwalk. Continue through woods, passing Meadows Edge Picnic Area, a private campground and the Forest Service's Serrano Campground.
Near trail's end you'll spot the gleaming white dome of Big Bear Solar Observatory, located about 200 yards off the north shore of the lake. The trail terminates at a junction with Highway 38.
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Alpine Pedal Path, Woodland Trail
WHERE: San Bernardino National Forest.
DISTANCE: From Stanfield Cutoff to Big Bear Solar. Observatory is 5 miles round trip; Woodland Trail is 1.5-mile loop with 200-foot elevation gain.
TERRAIN: Woods and meadows of lake's north shore.
HIGHLIGHTS: Close-up and panoramic views, viewing the white pelicans, swimming.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.
PRECAUTIONS: Alpine Pedal Path is open all year; however, in winter nearby Meadow's Edge Picnic Area and Serrano Campground are closed to protect eagle roosting areas.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Big Bear Discovery Center; tel. (909) 866-3437.