Hiking to Strawberry PeakStrawberry Peak is located in the San Bernardino National Forest between the communities of Twin Peaks and Rim Forest. Altitude at the top of the peak is 6100 feet and Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout is situated at the top of the mountain. The lookout towers are staffed from May through December and welcome visitors, although there are limits to how many visitors are allowed up in the tower at one time. Excellent views of the San Bernardino Mountains, the Inland Valleys and coastal plains, and the high desert are visible all year around. The best viewing days are early in the Spring, after a rain, a Santa Ana, or during clear winter days after a snowstorm. It is possible to see the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island on a clear day.
A paved access road takes you all the way to the fire lookout tower and can be hiked safely as there is little traffic. You can drive up to the tower from the community of Twin Peaks, turning South at the Antlers Inn and driving uphill, or by turning North at the marked exit from Highway 18 in Rim Forest.
There are several trails leading to church camps below the peak but no marked trails through the forest. Cross county hiking is possible and you may cross paved roadways where you must watch and listen for oncoming traffic, and you may encounter wildlife. You may cross close to private residences and cabins so respect private property and posted signs.
Wildlife abounds in the San Bernardino National Forest. While the Forest is inhabited by thousands of people, including mountain residents and visitors, and there are hundreds of cabins and homes and several communities and towns located within the boundaries of the Forest, wild animals co-exist with the human inhabitants and make living in the Forest fun and enjoyable. You will be hiking among Ponderosa Pines, Douglas Fir, Oaks, Manzanita, Jeffery Pines, and Cedar trees. No cutting or axe work or gathering of firewood by cutting branches off trees is allowed in the forest without a permit.
Birds which are often seen include the Stellar's Jay, Chickadees, Hummingbirds, Ravens, Red-Tailed Hawks, Mallards (ducks), Coots, house thrushes, Grossbeaks, banded Pigeons, and Robins. Birds which are seen less often include Grey Herons, Cormorants, Seagulls, and once, at a very high altitude over the mountains, a flock of Pelicans. Eagles are also seen around Lake Gregory, Lake Arrowhead, and Big Bear Lake.
Mammals seen in the Forest include skunks, raccoons, black bears, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes, bobcats, mice and rats. There have been rare sightings of mountain lions, although not confirmed. Fish are stocked in Lake Gregory and fishing licenses are available to angle for small but tasty lake trout. The occasional turtle may be seen along the lakeshore, but they are rare. Crawdads inhabit the shallows along the shore.
There are several species of snakes including rattlesnakes so hikers need to be aware and keep an eye open for snakes especially during the warmer summer and fall days. Lizards can also be seen sunning and scurrying around on hot summer days near rocky outcrops.
Many of the animals and birds and reptiles can be seen during the day, although most of them prefer to do their foraging for food and hunting during the night. Moving quietly and carefully while hiking and paying attention to wind direction and animal trails, tracks, scat, and signs of foraging will give you the advantage in finding and observing wildlife.
Since they are wild and you are in their habitat it is wise to respect their territory and keep your distance when observing wildlife. A good camera with a telephoto lens and a good pair of binoculars are excellent tools to have with you at all times, as you never know when or where you may encounter wildlife in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Always carry basic essentials like water, knife, windbreaker, and a hiking stick or pole, as there are also human inhabited areas in the Forest which you may pass through where dogs may be loose around their cabins, and the owner may not be home, so the dogs can be protective and threatening. Good supportive hiking boots and long pants and long sleeved shirts are recommended.
There are some green, leafy poisonous plants like nettles in the forest which can cause itching and painful welts on your skin at the slightest contact. Heavy growth and grasses can obscure snakes and moving fast without watching where you place your feet is a good way to get bitten. Carrying a cell phone and a GPS locater is a good idea.
Cell phones do not work in all parts of the mountains but may be very helpful if you get lost or disoriented or injured. Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return from your hike.
If you encounter a bear do not try to run away, as the undergrowth, vegetation, fallen deadfalls, branches and uneven ground will cause you to fall and injure yourself. A bear can move much faster than you can in forest terrain. Theories on dealing with a bear encounter vary. Some recommendations include making loud noises and banging metal objects together, while others recommend curling up on the ground in a fetal position and covering the back of your head and neck with your hands and remaining very still.
I personally try to keep very aware of my surroundings at all times, move carefully and slowly, and listen carefully for the sound of an animal feeding or moving near me, and watch the ground for recent signs of disturbance by an animal passing by. I also pay attention to wind direction so that if I am downwind from a bear when I encounter it, I can move away quietly before it smells my presence.
That technique worked for me when I encountered a black bear at approximately 5500 feet elevation near Strawberry Flats in the Twin Peaks area. The bear was feeding on insects and making a lot of noise with his claws while climbing up a pine tree. He was upwind and did not see nor hear me. I was able to back track and move away and bypass the bear. If you pay attention in the woods your instincts can help you first detect wildlife nearby. If you do not pay attention to your surroundings you may be the one that is surprised.
The terrain is often steep, overgrown with vegetation and fallen old growth trees and branches; so using a walking stick is a big advantage for maintaining balance and stability while hiking. Water is not abundant in the summer months high up on the mountains, so be sure to carry ample water for re-hydration. The air is dry and if you are not used to hiking at altitudes above 5000 feet be sure to acclimate and hike slowly until you are adjusted to the thinner air and altitude. Remember to bring sunscreen and sunglasses as the UV radiation at high altitudes is much stronger than down in the valleys and can cause sunburn very rapidly.
No open fires of any kind are allowed in the Forest, and a Forest Adventure Pass is required for parking and hiking in the Forest except in designated viewing areas. Adventure passes are inexpensive, and help to defray the cost of maintaining trails and picnic areas, and can be purchased at local hardware and convenience stores or at Ranger Stations. When driving on narrow mountain roads be aware that animals may be crossing the road and appear without warning, especially at night.
There are also many species of beautiful native wildflowers among the trees, and in open meadows, which offer colorful contrast to the greens of the forest and the browns of the forest floor. The clean and clear mountain air is invigorating, and there are many places at higher altitudes where you can get a great view out over rolling ridges and mountain peaks set against the blue sky.
If you hike or drive in the San Bernardino National Forest in the winter always carry extra warm clothing, a lighter or matches, a flashlight, dry socks and gloves, a snow hat, windshell, parka, sweater, and snow boots, and water to drink. During a snowstorm visibility can be reduced to a few feet, and it is easy to become lost or disoriented. Always let someone know where you are going and check in with them regularly by cell phone if you have reception. If you hike trails at high elevations where there may be ice or frozen snow carry crampons to attach to your hiking boots to maintain traction.
Because of changing weather patterns during the winter months, frozen rain or snow layer may be hidden beneath fresh soft layers of snow. This can cause you to lose balance and traction and fall into canyons or ice chutes. If you are not an experienced hiker, and familiar with the area and know the terrain, and if you do not know how to use ski poles, snowshoes, or crampons while hiking do not venture off marked trails or far from your vehicle or cabin or roadways. Searchers cannot always find you if you are buried in fresh snowfall, even if they know approximately where you are supposed to be.
A portable GPS mapping device and/or locater unit or small short range portable radios carried by each hiker can keep you from getting lost or separated in the forest. Practice using these devices before you go hiking in the woods and have to depend on them.
Enjoy your visit to the San Bernardino National Forest and be on the lookout for wildlife. Keep your camera ready and practice focusing quickly to get the best images when you spot wildlife.