Even today, Grout Bay doesn't sound like a place to play. The name suggests mortar, not lake shore, and offers no clue to the considerable attractions offered by the bay and the woodsy hiking trail with vistas of Big Bear Lake.
Back in 1919, Los Angeles businessmen William Cline and Clinton Miller ran into serious consumer resistance when they tried to lure vacationers to the upscale summer resort they were developing on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. Marketing a community called Grout was difficult, to say the least; the name had to go.
The developers changed it to Fawnskin, appropriating the name from a nearby meadow. Although the word evokes images of Bambi, Fawnskin's origin is one guaranteed to upset an animal rights activist. In 1891, hunters shot many deer, stretched their hides on trees and promptly disappeared. As the story goes, subsequent travelers observed the fawn skins and began referring to the meadow and surrounding area as Fawnskin.
During the 1920s, Fawnskin expanded to include the Swiss chalet-style Fawn Lodge (which is no longer there), a general store, post office, more than 100 fairly pricey homes along the lake shore and in the surrounding woods, as well as the Theater of the Stars, a stage for musicals and dramas.
A bit west of Fawnskin proper stood Gray's Lodge, a pier, store and rental cabins owned by Alex Gray. These days, Gray's name only graces a boat landing and a 7,880-foot peak. As for the name Grout, it didn't entirely slip between the cracks: Grout Bay and Grout Bay Trail remain on the map, perhaps a reminder that a name isn't everything.
Grout Bay Trail begins in the pine-filled woods above the lake and climbs to the summit of Grays Peak. The trail begins at the outskirts of the drowsy hamlet of Fawnskin, where a couple of eateries offer hikers pre- or post-hike sustenance.
Directions to the trail head: From the far west end of Big Bear Lake at the junction of California Highway 18 (Big Bear Boulevard) and California Highway 38 (North Shore Drive), take the latter highway northeast 2.5 miles to the outer fringe of Fawnskin. Turn west into the trail parking lot of the Grout Bay Picnic Area. To purchase a Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for the day), continue on California Highway 38 a few miles past Fawnskin to the Big Bear Ranger Station/Big Bear Discovery Center. The center offers recreation information, interpretive exhibits and a nature gift shop.
The hike: The well-graded, signed path begins a moderate ascent over wooded slopes and soon offers views of Fawnskin, Grout Bay and Windy Point. Vistas then close up as the trail traverses more heavily timbered terrain.
A bit less than a mile out, Grout Bay Trail meets and joins dirt Forest Service Road 2N68E. Assisted by a couple of "Trail" signs, follow the road west about 0.4 mile. (Grout Bay Trail resumes as a footpath and heads north toward Fawnskin Valley.)
This hike leaves the road and follows the signed trail west toward Grays Peak. Long, finely engineered switchbacks aid the ascent past conifers, jumbo boulders and impressive specimens of manzanita. The trail ends just short of the peak at a rock outcropping, which provides a superb overlook of the lake, valley and surrounding San Bernardino Mountains, as well as a fine picnic spot.
John McKinney is the author of "Day Hiker's Guide to California's State Parks" (Olympus Press, $14.95).
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Grout Bay, Grays Peak Trails
WHERE: San Bernardino Mountains
DISTANCE: To Grays Peak is 6 miles round trip with 1,000-foot elevation gain.
TERRAIN: Wooded slopes above Big Bear Lake
HIGHLIGHTS: Lake and forest vistas.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
PRECAUTIONS: Forest Service Adventure Pass required.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Ranger District, P.O. Box 66, Fawnskin, CA 92333; tel. (909) 866-3437.