Backpacking the Upper Bear Creek Trail

The trailhead for this trail is off the newly re-opened portion of Highway 39 at mile marker 32. The trailhead is pretty easy to spot on the side of the road.  There is a parking lot with some signs and a bathroom.

Almost from the very start of the trail you are pretty much constantly climbing up towards Smith Saddle.  This part of the trail is nicely maintained but some areas are kind of steep.

After about 3 miles you make it to Smith Saddle where you can get a close up view of Smith Mountain.  The trail to the peak is just straight up.  There were some day hikers at the saddle that were getting ready to make their final push to the summit.  We, on the other hand, continued down the other side of the saddle to make our way to trail camp.

Almost right after the saddle you cross the wilderness boundary.  As the trail winds it’s way down you get great views of the mountains beyond.

Some parts of the trail going down were washed out and in disrepair, however you could still negotiate these areas with a little caution.

Once we got down to where trail camp was supposed to be we found that the whole area had been overgrown.  There was also lots of poison-oak all around.

We ventured up and down the stream to see if we could find any other clearings but to no avail.  We ended up squeezing our tents in on the banks of the stream in between rocks and plants.

It ended up working out alright and in a short time we had a pretty decent camp set up. When the sun started to go down we made some dinner and kicked back at our little camp spot we had set up. Later that night while I was wondering around in the dark I noticed this little caterpillar munching away on some leaves.  I could actually hear him munching, which I thought was kinda cool.

As I was checking out the caterpillar this millipede came cruising by outta nowhere and kinda caught me off guard, but it was kinda cool to check out as well.  I tried to pick it up but it wrapped up into a little ball,  I guess that’s it’s defense mechanism.

During the night I started hearing rain drops on my tent.  I thought it was probably just a passing sprinkle, but I was wrong.  In the morning we awoke to it still raining outside and our whole camp was wet.  We ate a really small, quick breakfast, packed up, and headed out.

Hiking through the rain wasn’t that bad, it was actually kinda cool.  It gave the trail we saw just yesterday a whole new appearance.

The clouds drifting through the surrounding mountains was also awesome to look at.

Once we made it back up to Smith Saddle we were out of the rain. You really get a great view from the saddle.

The last few miles from the saddle were pretty much all downhill with no more rain. We were back to the trailhead in no time.

I had never been on the Bear Creek Trail before but it was a great little piece of the San Gabriel Wilderness. The trip was about 12 miles all together; the perfect distance for a quick weekend backpacking trip.

6 thoughts on “Backpacking the Upper Bear Creek Trail

  1. Anonymous

    Hey there. After checking out this post i decided to trail bear creek via smith saddle. I dont know how you guys manged to get through those washed out parts of the trail. I nearly died trying to get across. So i turned back. I ran into your boy, the tall skinny guy that rocks the big straw hat and the aviators. I told him i recognized him from this post. He was woth two cute friendly chicks. We talked a bit and he told me to be careful and there was a lot of poison oak. But that trail was really bad. Ended up going back down and overnighting in the south side of the creek. BTW i like your site. Really cool.

    1. Marty Post author

      Hey! Glad you like the site, and yes that was me you ran into on the trail. We were coming down off Smith Mountain. I wonder if the trail down to Bear Creek has gotten more washed out since the time I was there. I guess that section of the trail really needs some love. Feel free to e-mail me if you ever want to get together for a hike.

  2. Randy

    Hey Marty. I actually sprained my ankle hiking out of bear creek. As soon as i headed out the next morning i sprained it, stepped on a stone or something. About three miles of hiking and stream crossing on one foot. Plus i encountered a bear the night before, while hanging my bear bag, less than twenty feet away. Strolled right through my camp. I hid out in the woods for about two hours. Bear Creek just didnt want me there that weekend man. But yeah as soon as i heal up I’m down for some hikes. I think I’ll be out of commission for a few weeks.

    1. Lost_in_space

      No, the trail is dangerous and in disrepair as of May 2018. I was crossing the whole range unaided and was pretty much stuck going this way or else walking down highway 39. There are a couple of washouts that would be fatal to slip at, a few more where you’d probably break something. Be very careful on the 1st mile beloe Smith saddle toward Bear Creek.


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