Mountain Biking in Big Bear: Snow Summit Skyline Bike Trail via the ski lift

Date Visited: August 8, 2010
Check current conditions: Big Bear Mountain Resorts (909) 866-5766
  • One-Way Lift Tickets: $12 per person
  • Distance: 8.75 miles of bike trail
  • Route Type: Point to point
  • Trail Type: Fire road and single track
  • Elevation Gain: 1,280 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Advanced
  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest
  • Nearest Town: Big Bear City, CA
  • Hours: Contact the resort.
  • Parking: free at resort or bike shop (lot)
  • Kid-Friendly: Yes (if experienced)
  • Dog-Friendly: No

We enjoy the idea of mountain biking, but we are both really novices.  On our honeymoon in the Canadian Rockies, we took private mountain biking lessons, which was pretty awesome, but we haven’t really gotten around to getting our own bikes, even though it is still on our to-do list.

On our first anniversary, we couldn’t afford the Canadian Rockies again, so we headed to the local San Bernardino Mountains and Big Bear.  In previous research, we had discovered that this was one of the few places in the Southern California you could rent and ride mountain bikes without having to transport them long distances, and that Snow Summit ran their chairlift during the summer for mountain bikers, and had a series of trails that could be accessed from the top.  Curiously, unlike Mammoth Mountain, they don’t allow any bikes on their ski runs, but those would have been beyond our abilities anyways.  There is also a paved bike trail that goes around the north shore of Big Bear Lake, but after doing some research, the 9 mile, mostly downhill, Skyline bike trail seemed like a great opportunity for us.

Chains Required Bike Shop, at the bottom of the road to Snow Summit.

Chains Free bike rental shop is located right at the bottom of the road to Snow Summit, which allowed us to rent bikes ($33 apiece for a half day on a hard tail) there and ride them right the half mile or so up (gradually, but unrelentingly up) to the chair lift.  Once there, you can purchase a one way bike left to the top of the mountain ($12 per person).

A look up the hill from our chair, towards one of our bikes on the chair in front of us.

Looking behind us at our other bike and the lift loading area.

The ride up the chair is relaxing and scenic (if you're not freaked out by heights).

It’s a very pleasant ride on the lift, with great views of Big Bear Lake and surrounding mountains.  At the end of the lift, you collect your bike from the helpful lift attendant, and you’re on you’re own.  There at the top of the mountain you’ll find the View Haus restaurant, which is open year round, though it may have a more expansive (yes, expansive, not expensive) menu in the winter than the summer.

The lift unloading area--someone unloads the bikes for you.

The View Haus Restaurant adjacent to the top of the lift.

Sign pointing the way towards the trail.

From here, head west past the marked sign to 2N10.  This is a fire road that pretty quickly hits the boundary of the ski resort, which they warn you not to cross in the winter, but you’re expected to do in the summer.  So go on through the locked gate and the scary warning sign, and head on downhill.

Sign says: "This is your only warning--If you leave the Snow Summit Resort Boundary by going over, crossing around, beyond any boundary sign or area closed sign. You or your heirs will be responsible for the cost of any search and rescue activities. Be advised that rescue may not be possible. YOU ASSUME ALL RISKS!" Ignore this sign and its major grammatical error.

Heading downhill!

Neither of us are in particularly great shape for mountain biking (particularly the uphill stuff), so we enjoyed getting to cheat by taking the chair lift to the top.  This meant we got pretty much all of the vertical elevation gain out of the way at the beginning, and that the vast majority of the ride was downhill, which was awesome for me, if occasionally a bit scary for Colleen, who gets nervous when we go fast.  There are still some uphill pieces, and we did have to walk our bikes up a few of those when our legs gave out, but it was mostly a very easy ride through the trees on a nice, well-maintained forest service road.

The trailhead off the trail towards Grand View Point. Most people hiked, rather than biked this stretch.

At about 2.5 miles, there is a trail junction to Grand View Point, which is worth stopping for.  We left our bikes just off the road and took the quick quarter mile hike out to a set of rock outcroppings with a, well, grand view of San Gorgonio Peak (tallest peak in Southern California) and the Santa Ana River headwaters.

Santa Ana River headwaters and San Gorgonio Peak, as seen from Grand View Point.

We took some time under the shade of the tree at the junction to have some jerky and trail mix and relax a bit.  Very shortly after getting back on the road again, we came to the junction with 2N08 on the right side.  Take 2N08 and head on down the trail.  And speaking of “down”, the next stretch seemed even more  downhill than the first stretch.  About a mile further, you’ll come to a junction with 2N17.  Stay right on 2N08, and continue on.

Yup, that's a junction sign.

After careful review of the map and our gps, we head thataway.

Typical stretch of trail/road in this section. Looks nice, don't it?

In another two miles or so, you come to a sort of a u-turn, at the end of which is a nice viewpoint over Big Bear Lake, nice for posing for pictures like this:

Nice view of the lake from this spot--our first in a while.

The next mile went very quickly, and included the steepest and softest stretch on the entire trail.  One piece was too steep and soft for Colleen, and she tried to slow down and went straight over her handlebars and into the dirt.  Fortunately, she crashed slowly enough that she wasn’t seriously (or even moderately) hurt–other than her pride, of course.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a slow enough crash for me to get a picture!  ;-D

Another downhill stretch. It got steeper and Colleen crashed just around the corner from here, but she had the camera and wasn't in the mood to document the area she actually fell.

Towne Trail Junction. All single track from here, and very pretty, but we were moving too fast to take pictures from this point.

After that mile, you have to look for the Towne Trail sign, on the left side of the road.  If you miss it, you’ll quickly get to a paved road, and can either backtrack to Towne Trail, or take the long way back on surface streets to the bike shop.

If you successfully make the turnoff (and you should, it’s not hard to find), it becomes the only single track trail stretch on the entire route, and heads through some nicely shaded trees and crosses a couple of seasonal springs or wet spots on the final mile back to the resort.  This may actually have been my favorite part of the whole trip, and it definitely whetted my appetite for future similar trips.  It went quite quickly and then we were back at the base of the ski lift and ready to go down the last stretch of Summit Road to return to the Chains Free Bike Shop (the ride down to the shop was way easier than the ride up to the lift from the store, btw!).

This ride was probably just a bit above the skill level of Colleen, and may have just about matched mine, so I would say this trail is somewhere between a true beginner route and a serious mountain bike track.  There are definitely some uphills that require a bit of physical fitness to manage, but nothing too serious, and there are also some significant downhills stretches that may freak you out if you’re a mountain biking novice, but if you’ve had any experience at all, shouldn’t really be a problem, as long as you manage your speed.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most romantic way to spend our first anniversary (though we did have a nice dinner at the Evergreen Restaurant later to make up for it), but it was a way to re-capture some of the fun and adventure of our honeymoon in Canada, and it was in keeping with our mutual love for the outdoors.  And, yes, we would almost certainly do it again, though possibly only after we have our own bikes and a little more experience riding them.

Elevation profile of the bike trail. You can see the steeper section there between miles 6 and 7 if you click through.

View Snow Summit Skyline Bike Trail in a larger map

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