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San Bernardino National Forest

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San Bernardino National Forest Overview

If it weren't for the San Bernardino Mountains, Los Angeles probably would have sprawled all the way to Phoenix a long time ago. It takes a formidable wall of rock to contain a city the size of L.A., and the San Bernardinos are exactly that.

And the national forest, with its towering oaks and manzanitas, serves as an oasis that protects these mountains as well as those of the San Jacinto Range to the south. Today, rangers have their hands full as the forest receives more visitors than either Yellowstone or Yosemite national parks.

Hikers can explore over 500 miles of trails that not only penetrate the forest's mountain pines, but also meander through a beguiling landscape of desert flowers. It is this seeming incongruity that makes this forest unique, where desert cactus is juxtaposed against distant snow-peaked mountains. And it is the forest's large bodies of water, like Big Bear Lake, that serve as a recreational oasis for parched and thirsty southern Californians.

We can thank President Benjamin Harrison for setting aside 737,280 acres in 1893 to establish a forest reserve that would protect the land from the degradation that began in 1855, when gold was discovered in the San Bernardino Mountains. Because the second half of the 19th century’s mining, timber, and grazing took a heavy toll on the land, Harrison established a forest reserve (which later turned into the national forest) to preserve the area’s natural resources such as trees, water, minerals, and bighorn sheep.

Explore Cucamonga Wilderness
Enter this wilderness and you will discover rugged terrain, talus slopes, and elevations ranging from 4,285 to 8,583 feet. Landslides serve as reminders of past earthquake activity and the proximity of the San Andreas Fault. Four other wildernesses serve as refuge from the human activity within the forest: San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, and Sheep Mountain.

Snowboard at Big Bear
Near the town of Big Bear, you'll find two ski areas within a mile of each other that don't treat snowboarders like second-class citizens. Snow Summit and Bear Mountain both employ a full-time snowboard director, PSIA-certified instructors, and a snowboard terrain park with kick-butt half-pipes, quarter-pipes, berms, kickers, spines, serpentines, bank slaloms, and snow-made jumps.

Tackle Wild Trout in Deep Creek
The sublime 36-mile Deep Creek is actually the east fork of the Mojave River and drains most of the Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear areas. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail traces the stream where you'll find Gilligan's Island—a 40-foot pyramid rock that locals use for cliff diving into the surrounding 12-foot-deep stream. Local swimmers say that it isn't the height of Gilligan's Island that's scary; it's the swimming rattlesnakes that are a cause for concern.

Save the Yellow-Legged Frog
The mountain yellow-legged frog was recently placed on the endangered species list when it was discovered that there are perhaps less than 100 adults alive today. The Peninsular bighorn sheep, a race of desert bighorn, was also listed as endangered in 1998. It is estimated that in the early 1800s, there were 1.5 million bighorn. Today, a mere 280 bighorn roam the desert between Mt. San Jacinto and the Mexican border.

Drive from Palms to Pines
Load up the kids into the station wagon and take them on the Palms to Pines National Scenic Byway. This 67-mile route traverses the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains as it travels from desert oasis to snow-capped peaks. Start your journey in the town of Banning on Highway 243 and follow it to the mountain village of Idyllwild. Get on Highway 74 and cruise the views. Overlooks at Indian Vista and Cahuilla Tewanet are worth pondering.

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