Trail Name: Tip Top Mountain
Forest Service Designation: 2N90
Total Distance: 1.7 miles one way
Overview: Rocky and steep road up to one of the best views in Big Bear.
Difficulty: If you hike this it is moderate, with several sections of loose rock. On a mountain bike this is a difficult climb that will push you both aerobically and technically.
Activities: Hiking, biking.
Trail Type: 4×4 trail.
Description: A seldom visited part of Big Bear, Tip Top Mountain is a true summit, with steep expose on all sides and views from Joshua Tree National Park to Sugarloaf Peak. Start at the bottom of the trail and head up the rough and loose road, traversing back and forth past Joshua Trees until you hit a steep ridgeline. Continue on up the trail until you reach the old mine close to the top. Scramble up the last bit to the summit and revel in the 360 degree mind blowing views. This spot is one of the true hidden treasures in this area. Once you’ve taken it all in, head on back down.
Possible Loops / Variations: On a bike, you can make a day out of this by climbing up towards Onyx Summit on Highway 38 and heading east on Forest Road 2N01. Turn left on 3N03 and then head up Tip Top Mountain. Come out through Baldwin Lake, by taking 3N03 to 2N02 and on out to Baldwin Lake Road.
Trailhead and Parking: the easiest way to get to Tip Top is to head up Highway 38 towards Onyx Summit and turn east onto Forest Road 2N01. Follow this road out to 3N03 and head left. You’ll see the steep road up to Tip Top on your right hand side, along with several signs. Find a discreet spot to park at the bottom of the trail.
Trail Etiquette: Always be courteous to other trail users. All users yield to equestrians, with cyclists also yielding to hikers. Travel only at safe speeds, and stay on designated trails to protect our fragile mountain environment.
For Your Safety: Notify someone of your planned route and estimated time of return. Outdoor activities can be dangerous; use caution at all times and be prepared with water, food, and adequate equipment and knowledge. The Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation provides this description as a courtesy, and does not guarantee the accuracy of the information. You accept all responsibility for your outdoor activities.
A Local’s Review of Tip Top Mountain
After just two weeks of meeting as a brand new Boy Scout Troop in Big Bear Lake, CA (Troop 1845), we decided to take on the 12 Trails challenge and begin with a hike to Tip Top Mountain, the shortest hike but probably one with the most rapid elevation gain in the challenge (around 800 feet). The weather was perfect for mid-May – sunny and warm with a nearly constant, cooling breeze. And when needed, plenty of shade to stop for water breaks and take in the sights.
After getting lost on the dirt 4×4 roads for an hour and a half of exciting ups and downs and roundabouts (and so grateful we took the 4-wheel drive vehicle, not the mini-van!) and with a little help from a friendly jeep group and a better map than we had brought with us, we finally arrived at the trail head. The boys poured out of the car, ready to go.
While it didn’t initially look that steep, we knew we were in for a straight up, rocky grade sure to give us fantastic views at the top. The boys trotted on ahead as if the road were flat while this old lady tried to keep a steady pace (and her breath) to catch up.
The bonus of walking slowly was that I was able to see the beauty in the landscape around me, from the many sparkling rocks to the classic Big Bear flora and fauna, including the surprising but gorgeous forest of Joshua Trees below, alongside the road we had driven in. We made friends with a giant, contented lizard sunning himself on the rocks, took lots of photos, and I sat in the shade and watched as the scoutmaster and boys scrambled up the steep side of the road to a decrepit, bullet riddled truck – which turned out to be a memorable point in the hike for them (and a great break for me). We also stopped to check out an old mine, but the sign warned us off with threats of cave-ins, dangerous gasses from the earth, and risks of explosion; so sadly, we safely bypassed that without taking a look inside. There was also a sort of bunker, probably a remnant of mining blasts from long ago. Inside on the walls and ceiling was some interesting reading, but we quickly moved on without adding our own name or comments to the structure.
Along the way up we saw one group of jeeps, making their way slowly up the trail – but still much faster than us! They detoured at a side spur and we continued on, until we finally reached the peak. The views were incredible, from Baldwin Lake in the far distance to the desert on the other side of us, it was quite breathtaking (and at that point, I needed every breath)! Of course, the boys then began to climb even higher up the rocky cliff face for more of a 360 degree view! I was content to sit on a rock, relax, and enjoy the view from where I rested, listening as the breeze carried the kids’ laughter and banter about us, merging with the sounds of birds, scuttling lizards, and rustling pines.
After a light snack and rounds of pictures, the jeep club showed up; they were super friendly and we learned that they had actually adopted the 4×4 road we had hiked and were picking up trash to maintain it. Wow! The boys added some bits of glass and trash they had found too, and then it was time to head back down.
The trip down was much faster, but we had to watch out for the loose rocks each step we took. While I found my pace was much faster, the boys still clearly out-paced me yet again! On the way, we talked about our favorite points on the hike and began planning our next one of the 12 trails. While a tough hike for me –a clearly out-of-shape novice– this was a fantastic hike for a more youthful –or at least more fit– hiker. I am proud to have accomplished this almost-3.5 mile hike and can’t wait to hit the next trail next time!! – Shari Volpicelli