The San Bernardino Mountains are the highest range south of the Sierra Nevadas, and are also unique in being one of the few transverse ranges in the nation. This huge and rugged country is filled with history, romantic legends, and magnificent scenery.
Proclaimed a “Forest Reserve” on February 25, 1893, these mountains were redesignated as the San Bernardino National Forest by presidential proclamation in 1925. Consisting of 1270 square miles, this vast area is much larger than the State of Rhode Island at 1058 square miles. Within the boundary of the National Forest are 812,633 acres, of which 198,042 acres are State and private lands.
The San Gorgonio Wilderness runs along the southern spine of this mountain range, and consists of 33,898 extremely rugged acres. The highest mountain in Southern California, Mt. San Gorgonio – nicknamed Old Grayback – at 11,502 feet, stands well above several others reaching over 10,000 feet –Dobbs Peak, Jepson Peak, Charlton Peak, and San Bernardino Peak.
Several excellent all-year state highways provide access to this beautiful mountain country, while the back woods regions are serviced by numerous Forest Service roads that are generally suitable for automobiles. However, before venturing off the pavement, obtain a Forest Service map at the Forest Service’s “Discovery Center”. The map shows the backcountry in detail. Also inquire about the existing road conditions where you intend to travel.
Of special interest to explore in the Big Bear area are the Holcomb Valley of gold rush fame and delightful Skyline Drive that overlooks the Santa Ana River Canyon. Both of these trips require driving on gravel forestry roads.
The San Bernardinos are friendly mountains, but enjoy them wisely. Prepare for the trip, drive carefully, follow the map, and always remember that climatic conditions can change swiftly in this high mountain country!