San Bernardino National Forest

San Bernardino National Forest is located entirely in Southern California, connecting with Angeles National Forest on its western side. In the summer, the daytime temperatures can hover in the nineties, dipping down to the fifties at night, so campers should prepare for drastic temperature changes and the typical scattered thunderstorms.

 Snow is normal from November through March, and it gets deeper at higher elevations. The forest isn’t unwelcoming in the colder months though, as the average winter day fluctuates around the sixties at lower elevations. Just pack some extra layers and prepare for anything!

A mountain lake, something which San Bernardino National Forest has plenty of.
San Bernardino National Forest is over 800,000 acres of southern Californian beauty – Image by nightowl from Pixabay

About San Bernardino National Forest

The areas through which the forest can be accessed include Rim of the World National Scenic byway (a breathtaking drive), San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, and the San Jacinto Mountains.

The forest hosts a whopping eight different designated wilderness areas, all of which add up to about 151,341 acres of wild, protected land. No motorized machinery, not even mountain bikes, are allowed in these undisturbed, untamed swaths of woodland. Before visiting one, the USDA asks that you contact one of the ranger stations beforehand so you can check on the trail conditions, closures, and any other restrictions you should know about. You can also ask which wilderness area they most recommend! Remember, some wilderness areas require a permit, even for day use, and some do not.

Forest headquarters are located at 602 S. Tippecanoe Ave.

San Bernardino, CA 92408, phone number 909 382 2682. Aside from the three ranger district offices available to answer your questions, the forest also provides two separate visitor’s centers that can deliver very useful information and suggestions.  

History of San Bernardino National Forest

A great place to start looking for glimpses into the forest’s ancient past is either of the two visitor’s centers. From there, head to Cahuilla Tewanet Overlook where educational signs will teach you about the Cahuilla Native Americans who once inhabited the land. If this brief introduction into a mass of history leaves you wanting more, the USDA recommends the following museums in the area: the Malkai Museum, the Palm Springs Museum, and the San Bernardino County Museum.

 Another fantastic place to hear the echoes of the past within the forest is Gold Fever Trail, an 11.4 mile moderately trafficked dirt path for off-road driving. This trail can be bumpy, so make sure your vehicle has 4-wheel drive before attempting. This interpretive adventure is a self-guided tour through the Holcomb Valley area. The trail is open year-round, and brochures are available at Big Bear Discovery Center. Parking at this trailhead does not require an adventure pass.

Arrowhead Lake in San Bernardino National Forest
Arrowhead Lake in San Bernardino National Forest – Photo by Chase Rief on Unsplash

San Bernardino Accessibility Spotlight

Looking to take in the majesty of the mountains without dealing with strenuous terrain? San Bernardino has you covered. First off, there are 13 different scenic byways available for explorers in their cars! These gorgeous mountain roads will take your breath away at every turn as the scenery changes from one calendar cover-worthy landscape to another. These byways are all spread out between four recreation areas and two national monument lands, the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mtns. National Monument and the Sand to Snow National Monument.

If you would like a drive full of diverse landscapes, we recommend the Sand to Snow National Monument. As the name suggests, paths begin low in the sandy Southern California desert and slowly rise through the San Gorgonio Wilderness about 10,000 feet. Don’t blink during this ride, your surroundings will change in a second! For the complete list of scenic byways available, click here.

Accessible restrooms can be found at the ranger stations and several trailheads, camping grounds, and picnic areas. Looking for a paved way through the forest? Try out Children’s Forest Trailhead, providing a 1-mile paved trail and restrooms. For all you fishermen and fisherwomen out there, San Bernardino provides accessible points for fishing out of Jenks Lake at both the pier and several fishing pads located along the shore. For the full list of accessible recreation opportunities in this forest, click here.  

Recreation in San Bernardino National Forest

With hundreds of miles of trails, dozens of campsites, multiple rivers, and not to mention ample space for OHV play, there is as much to do and see in San Bernardo as there are trees in the forest! The land also contains Southern California’s tallest peak, San Gorgonio Mountain.

Before you strap on your snowshoes, saddle up your horse, or reach for your fishing pole, make sure you have all the proper permits and an adventure pass before you go! Adventure passes are part of the Recreation Fee Program, the proceeds of which all go towards protecting, maintaining, and conserving the forest that we all love and use.

A fly rod - bring yours if you visit San Bernardino National Forest!
San Bernardino National Forest has a host of fantastic fly fishing spots – Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Wilderness Areas

San Bernardino’s eight wilderness areas are amazing natural gems; click on any of the following to learn about trailheads, maps, and scenery!

One good moderate trail that is dog friendly and open year-round is located in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, and it’s called The Bridge to Nowhere. By the end of this dazzling walk of scrubland, riverbanks, open fields, and shady woods, you finally come to a large, beautiful bridge from the 1930s. It is said that at one time, a road did indeed connect to the archaic landmark, however now the trail simply ends there.

To explore all possible trailheads, be sure to check with the Angeles National Forest ranger stations as well, because Sheep Mountain Wilderness is actually shared between San Bernardino and its neighbor to the west. To see reviews and photos of this trail from the people who have been there, see this page of  

Visit San Bernardino National Forest

Stay up to date with San Bernardino’s latest Alerts and Notices from the USDA. And of course, save to your reading list. Then, you’ll always have a quick and easy relation to America’s national forests.

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-By Heaven Morrow

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