Cougar Buttes

Lucerne Valley, California (San Bernardino County)

Last Updated: 04/27/2021
5 / 5 ( 4 reviews )
Nearby Trails
Status: Open
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 1-10
Length: 20 miles
Highest Elevation: 3600 feet
Duration: About 4 hours
Shape of Trail: Other Shapes
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: Lucerne Valley
Nearest Town w/ Services: Lucerne Valley
Official Road Name:
Management Agency: BLM
District: Barstow Field Office
Showing 0 trails within 2 miles


Highlight: Cougar Buttes
Cougar Buttes is one of the great off-road areas of Southern California that has yet to be discovered by the main stream off-road community. Just minutes from Big Bear and Johnson Valley, this small area is easy to miss with its few rock pile hills, it almost looks like it could be someone's backyard. But don't let this fool you, Cougar Buttes has everything Johnson Valley has but in a much smaller and more accessible area. Everything from high speed sandy roads to some of the most extreme rock crawling and Jeeping in all of the United States. Whether you are into rock crawling, some 4x4'ing, pre-running dirt roads, overlanding, or simply just want to take a short vacation. Cougar Buttes should be your place on your next trip.



7 day forecast for Cougar Buttes

Route Information

Advanced Rating System

Recommended Vehicle:
2WD Vehicle with High Clearance
The main path is a dirt road, but just off the path is plenty of hard stuff.

Technical Rating: 1-10

Dirt and/or rocky road. Potential rocks and/or tree stumps less than 5" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 5" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 6" inches. Good tire placement likely. Can be steep, but with good traction.
Read more about our rating system


Cougar Buttes, has everything Johnson Valley has but in just a fraction of the area. The area has everything from high speed sand roads and geocaches to rock crawling ranging from simple to extreme. What makes this area different from most others is there aren't many official trails, but just an area you can try to explore and see how far you can make it. The best example of the area would be to think of desert rocky terrain you would see in Star Trek. Cougar Buttes would be something like that. There are several named trails in the area. Even though the trails are named, they are very hard to follow due to the lack of signage or obvious paths. Those trails are; Hammer Down, Bull Frog, Cake Walk, Split Fingers, and The Skull.


1. Turn off Camp Rock Road Onto Cambria Road ( mi)
Cambria is one of the many roads that head out to Cougar Buttes. Most of the dirt roads on the east side of Camp Rock Road will take you to this popular destination.
2. Example of Camping Area ( mi)
This is a good example of one of the popular camping areas in Cougar Buttes. Many off-road enthusiasts like to camp against the rock hills to stay out of the wind and also be away from the traffic.
3. Steep Hill with Turn ( mi)
One of the many examples of the terrain features in the area. This steep hill climb with an off-camber turn at the top is something that can get most people thinking twice about.
4. Hammer Down ( mi)
Hammer Down Trail is full of large boulders, rock ledges, short patches of sand, and tight squeezes. You will work your way over one rock, just to find you have to back up and work your way around another, over another, and make tight off camber turns. You will climb ledges, turn tightly, and drop back down just to meet another rock garden. The Sluice, at Waypoint 10, includes a rock scattered ledge to work your way over while trying to keep your tires on the ground. Deep notches in large rock faces need to be carefully navigated through while making downward, off camber turns. This trail is no joke! Be ready for potential vehicle damage or do not try this trail. For more information on Hammer Down, please click on the hyperlink.
5. Chicken Rock - Bull Frog Trailhead ( mi)
There are only a few named obstacles in the area. One of these is Chicken Rock. The reason it got its name is people constantly chicken out from trying to climb up this steep 40-foot rock. The rock itself has two paths up. The center route has a nice 3-foot ledge at the bottom while the left route is more suitable for lesser-equipped 4x4's. This is also the trailhead for Bull Frog, the trail continues southeast after this points. For more information on Bull Frog, please click on the hyperlink.
6. Waterfall - Bull Frog ( mi)
There aren't many trails out in this area, and even for the few trails, they are nearly impossible to follow due to the absence of any clear markings. At this point, Cake Walk and Bull Frog trail start to split apart. The water fall is a great spot to give you an idea what is expected ahead.
7. V-Notch - Cake Walk ( mi)
V-Notches are a rare thing in California so when you see one you almost have to run it. This V-Notch is part of Cake Walk Trail.
8. Notch Slide ( mi)
Another one of the many obstacles in the area.
9. Split Finger Trailhead ( mi)
Another one of the many obstacles in the area. Some a little harder than others. It is also the trailhead for Split Finger.
10. Skull ( mi)
On the west side of the rock hill is this treasure of the desert. Someone painted this skull in a way that looks real, but if you are trying to find it, be warned, it can only be seen if you are against the hill looking away. For more information on The Skull Rock of Johnson Valley, please click on the hyperlink.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 34.487242, -116.857138

Starting Point: Lucerne Valley, CA

From Lucerne Valley, head east on 247 till the road starts to curve right about 2 miles down the road. Turn left in the curve at Camp Rock Road. Cougar Buttes is on the east side of the road. You can take any of the dirt roads on the east side of the road for the next 5 miles to get to Cougar Buttes.


You are allowed to camp anywhere in the area. Some camp against the hills to try and stay out of the winds. Everything from RV's, to trailers, to tents are welcome in Cougar Buttes. Shooting is common in the area. If you plan on shooting make sure you brush up on your laws before starting any target practice. There is minimum distances from populated areas and other campsite.
Camping: Cougar Buttes

Land Use Issues

The US Government has come to an agreement with the Off-Roaders that use the area, and we will be sharing areas of the land in Johnson Valley with the US Military. During these times which are unknown, civilians will not be allowed in the area. There is no set schedule yet of when it will be closing and reopening. This is a growing concern for many people that enjoy the area for the fear that they will permanently close this area after the first time they use this area for Military training.

Trail Reviews (5)

Author: Official Crew
Status: Temporary Closure
Offroaded on:
This is the weekend for Military use... Make other plans if you are going to be in the shared use area

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Love this place. I always forget how much I like it everytime i go there.... This time i rolledover... Oh well. It was still fun.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
We drove through Cougar Buttes on our way to King of the Hammers earlier this year. This was the last trip my Cherokee Trailhawk KL ever went on and this is the trail where the transfer case blew up and it got stuck in 2WD. Despite all that, this is a *really* awesome area that's worth visiting. Had I not been so bummed out about my vehicle I think I would've enjoyed it much more. Now that I have the JL, I'll need to revisit.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Cougar Buttes is a great place to wheel, and don't let the description above discourage you from visiting. You only get into trouble if you look for it. Newbies in stock vehicles can still have a lot of fun out there as long as you pick your routes. Cougar Buttes is, in effect, a large jumble of boulders and rocks with a myriad of possible ways to drive up, over, or around them. There are few well-defined trails per se. You just head off into the buttes looking for a passage. Newbies will reach a rock canyon wall that is 8 feet tall and turn around without hesitation; but this might be the same rock wall that expert wheelers will climb over. The camping is great too. There is enough open space for kids to play and ride their bikes while Dad heads off in the jeep. Finally, don't forget that this is the California high desert. It will be impossibly hot from May until September, and the nights will be cold from December through March. Plan accordingly.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
What a fun area. Always worth the visit. My new Falken tires did awesome on the trail. They gripped way better then my previous tires and I was able to do all the hard obstacles with open riffs that I couldn't do before. I was able to do everything the and locked up vehicles did and in some spots even easier... Just shows you, tires can really make a big difference.

Questions & Answers (0)

Writer Information

Josh Noesser

Mapping Crew - California

Joshua Noesser grew up in Southern California but has lived in different parts of the country during his young adult life. Josh was first turned to four wheeling when he road with one of his friends dad up Surprise Canyon in the Panamint Valley at age14. After nearly 3 different roll overs later and a half dozen intense waterfalls, Josh was hooked. At 16 he purchased his first Jeep a CJ 7 and by 17 was putting his first locker in it. Currently, Josh is the owner and CEO of Nybble, an IT Solutions Company based in Orange County, California. Nybble isn't your normal IT company where everyone stays in and plays video games. Nybble's average company trip is out on the trails since a good amount of his staff enjoy wheeling too. As Josh likes to say, he offers the only IT Company with the ability to provide services in extreme locations. "If you want a server at the top of The Hammers, we will take care of that for you." Today you can find Josh out on the trail behind the wheel in one of his three different off-road vehicles. See the vehicles below for more information. If you ever run into Josh, please say high, he is a very friendly person and is always happy to have a new person join the group.
For individual use only, not to be shared.