San Bernardino National Forest

Around the Forest

About 20 miles east of the forest, you'll find Joshua Tree National Park or "J-tree", as climbers like to call it. The Children's Forest was developed after the Bear Creek fire of 1970 and offers a series of ecological education programs geared toward children and fun for the whole family.

Nearby towns include the megalopolis Los Angeles and the usual suspects: Pomona, Hemet, San Bernardino, Riverside, Banning, Palm Springs, and Yucca Valley.

The mountains of California rise above the cities of the valleys, offering visual relief to the residents below and blessed weekend getaways. This is especially true of the San Bernadino Mountains, which hug the eastern end of Los Angeles sprawl. The San Bernardino National Forest helps protect these mountains, as well their sisters in the San Jacinto Range to the south.

This protection is more than a century in the making. President Benjamin Harrison, in response to local sentiment, set aside 737,280 acres in 1893 to stop the depredations of sheep and the ravages of forest fires that were destroying the mountain watershed. Forest rangers were not appointed until 1898. The first ranger, Glen C. Shepard, began with a salary of $50 a month, and had to provide his own horse, hay, and camping gear.

Recreation? Plenty of it. Since the San Bernardino is so close to a major urban center, recreation is emphasized. Hiking is supreme, with over 500 miles of trail, including 195 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Mountain bikes haul out over the forest roads, as well as many of the forest's singletrack trails. The forest's lakes and streams are especially precious to anglers and boaters. And yes, there is skiing and other snow sports in sunny southern California. Of course, this wouldn't be LA without some form of internal combustion-based recreation. So in getting to where you're going, take a winding drive that has a little more scenic and historic interest than that straight-ahead interstate.

The movement to preserve wilderness areas nationally culminated with the passage by Congress in the Wilderness Act in 1964. It had begun as early as the late 1920s, when the first "wild area" was set aside. By 1931, three such wild areas, San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and Cucamonga were created in the San Benardino National Forest.

Today, the forest is unequally quartered by two major highways: Interstates 70 and 15. Scores of other roads crisscross the forest. Twenty-four communities live within the forest confines, including the resort towns of Idyllwild, Big Bear Lake, and Lake Arrowhead. With all this human activity, we're fortunate that Congress designated two more wildernesses besides the original three: Santa Rosa and Sheep Mountain, which the San Bernardino shares with the Angeles National Forest.

The seasonably arid forests of the San Bernardino are prone to fire; it's a part of the natural ecology, now largely suppressed. The Childrens Forest, near Running Springs off State Highway, was developed after the Bear Creek Fire of 1970. This facility, targeted at children but interesting to everybody who wants to learn about the ecology of the area, has a visitor center, interpretative trails, and an interesting series of child education programs.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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