It was sweltering hot in the San Gabriel Valley, 100 plus degrees. Even the beaches were hot! Low 80’s in the mountains was very appealing, so off we went to the Barton Flats campground, in the San Bernardino National Forest, for four nights. Even though July is peak vacation season, we were able to book our favorite campsite, number 38, because this trip was during the work week instead of the weekend. While there, we were able to visit a few new places.
This is our favorite campsite at Barton Flats. Nothing but room all around, lots of big trees and, in the spring, wildflowers. We were here July 17th through the 21st.
From this campsite, there is easy access to the Rio Monte and Santa Ana River hiking trails.
Coon Creek Group Campground
The 1st new place we visited was Coon Creek Group Campground.
We got there by driving through the Heart Bar Family Campground off of HWY 38. The road splits with one route going to the family campground and the other leading to the equestrian campgrounds. Take the road to the equestrian campgrounds. It will eventually turn into a dirt road, Forest Service Road 1N02, that you follow for about 4.1 miles. I wouldn’t suggest driving to Coon Creek unless you have a high clearance vehicle, the road is very rough. We have a Ram 2500 truck (a fairly large truck) and I couldn’t drive faster than 10 mph.
If you want some absolute seclusion, I suggest any of the 19 “yellow post” campsites you see along the road. They are really, really secluded and not suitable for an RV or travel trailer. These are tent sites. There are no amenities at all, nada, except for a fire ring and picnic table. They are free but do require a camping permit or Adventure Pass.
Here is the spot where the Heart Bar Campground road turns to dirt (Forest Service Road 1N02):
When we at last got to Coon Creek Campground, we found, what has been termed, 3 historic cabins missing all windows and doors, featuring lots of graffiti on the interior walls and bullet holes in the roofs. The public can be so respectful of places for sure.
We never did find out the historic value of the cabins, but I’m sure it’s engrossing.
Not far from where we parked our truck, there is a spectacular view of the Coachella Valley. This is the reason we drove here. A fellow camper at Barton Flats lived in Big Bear for 12 years and told us we should go here for the view if we had a chance. The view was well worth the drive.
F.Y.I. – It costs $100 to reserve the Coon Creek Group Campground (tent camping only), $110 on holidays. No amenities except for picnic tables, fire rings and 1 vault toilet.
Snow Summit and Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Our next excursion, was to the Snow Summit ski lift and the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, in Big Bear.
When I was younger, much younger, I skied at Snow Summit, but someone else owned it then and it had a different name. We took the one operating ski lift up the slope accompanied by other tourists and a lot of mountain bikers.
As a side note, this is mountain biker heaven. It’s about 2,000 feet to the bottom of the ski lift from where we got off. The slope is criss-crossed with mountain bike trails to the bottom. As a matter of fact we ate breakfast at the Grizzly Manor, in Big Bear, and I chatted with a guy named Mike Metzger. Turns out he used to be an American Freestyle Motocross champion who is now BIG into mountain biking. He’s 1 of 2 people who successfully completed a world record backflip over the fountains in front of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in May 2006. This jump didn’t work out so well for Evel Knievel. My motorcyle stories were not as good as his, but at least he didn’t laugh at me. He had cooler scars than me too. Oh yes, he’s broken about every bone in his body at least once, his back 6 times. Here’s a link that talks about him if you are interested: Mike Metzger
When we got to the top of the ski lift, we hiked the mountain loop trail. It’s maybe 1 mile, maybe a little less, but the scenery up there is wonderful. There is a restaurant at the top of the ski lift that’s supposed to be pretty good, but we didn’t eat there so I can’t verify that claim.
After the ski lift, we visited the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. It’s small but interesting. They permanently house animals that can’t survive in the wild, for various reasons, and run a rehabilitation program for injured animals that can survive in the wild. They have a 90% rehabilitation success rate.
The zoo features all kinds of birds, bears (black and grizzly), foxes, mountain lions, snow leopards, lizards, coyotes, wolves and so on. If you are in the area, visit it. They do good work and need the support. One of the animal ambassadors we got to see up close was a red tailed hawk. Here’s a link to their website: Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Rio Monte Vista Point
The last new place we visited was a vista point at the north end of the Rio Monte Trail. From the Barton Flats Campground, it’s about a 2 mile round trip hike. The hike takes you through San Gorgonio Campground, Lobo-Oso Group Campground and the Greenback Amphitheater. The vista point overlooks a wooded valley far below the trail. It’s very scenic and well worth the easy hike to it. The exercise doesn’t hurt either.
Cautionary note: watch out for tree roots. I stepped on one and made this poor tree scream out.
That’s about it for this trip. We will be going to San Mateo Campground located in the San Onofre State Park in August. If you happen to be there, look for us and say hello.