Most images you see of four-wheeling in southern California are of Jeeps crawling across desert sands with cacti protruding from the landscape like tall porcupines growing out of the ground. However, truth be known, there are forests filled with pine, juniper, and oak atop mountain ranges that scrape the sky at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation winding their way through much of the southern section of the Golden State.
One such place is Big Bear. A lively little area situated at about 7,000 feet above sea level in the San Bernardino Mountains, the Big Bear environs encompass a lake, a couple small communities, and dozens of lodging accommodations, restaurants, and services. Every year in June, it hosts the Inland Empire 4 Wheelrs’ (IE4W) Big Bear Forest Fest, during which hundreds of Jeepers gather to see old friends, meet new ones, check out a huge vendor show of the latest off-road gear, and head out for adventure on some of the best Jeep trails in the region.
During the 2016 Fathers Day weekend event, while the Southwestern US was sweltering in a triple-digit heat wave, Forest Fest participants luxuriated in clean mountain air that was 20 degrees cooler. Grand Central was the gigantic parking lot for the Snow Valley ski resort, where you could find vendor displays, some food, members of the IE4W taking care of event registration, and if you were so inclined, park your motorhome, travel trailer, or tent, instead of spending money on a hotel.
Club members led trail runs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Saturday evening brought on the big BBQ tri-tip dinner and a huge raffle. The raffle this year saw more than $50,000 worth of gear handed out to registered participants. Funds raised through the event allow the IE4W to help keep trails in the region open, support local charities, and even support two college sponsorships created by the club. We were more than happy to help out, but like the other 400+ Jeep-loads of people on hand it was the trails we really came to see.
Being “locals” we’re familiar with many of these trails, and have favorites such as Dishpan Springs and John Bull, both of which are fairly hardcore. We chose to join our friends Carl and Becky Kaucky, who we met on the 2016 Jp Dirt N’ Drive, in their highly modified Jeep JK Wrangler to tackle Dishpan Springs on Saturday. Highlights of this trail were some very challenging (to drivers and machines) driving, a stop for a swim in the cooling waters of Deep Creek, and an IE4W-sponsored taco lunch mid-way through the trail run at the historic Splinters Cabin Day Use Area.
The scheduled trail runs (there were 10 officially guided trails this year) available were classified in three groups: Easy (as the IE4W’s state “anyone can finish these”), Moderate (“these trails will be a challenge, modified vehicles advised”), and Difficult (modified vehicles with experienced drivers only). The trails included bunny runs such as the Historical Run and Big Bear Spooky Night Run, moderate runs like Gold Mountain and Onyx Summit, and difficult trails such as Pilot Rock and our Dishpan Springs day-trip. The great thing about the Big Bear Forest Fest is that it’s perfect for first-timers and old-timers. There’s something for every Jeeper, novice or expert, and everyone is friendly and willing to share tips, tricks, and advice. Maybe we’ll see you there next time.