Gold Fever Trail

Big Bear Lake, California (San Bernardino County)

Last Updated: 05/05/2022
4.8 / 5 ( 17 reviews )
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Status:
Open
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 1-2
( EASY )
Length: 19.86 miles
Highest Elevation: 8000 feet
Duration: About 3 hours
Shape of Trail: Loop
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: Big Bear Lake
Nearest Town w/ Services: Big Bear Lake
Official Road Name: 2N09, 3N16, 3N05
Management Agency: San Bernardino National Forest
District: Mountain Top District

Highlights

Highlight: Gold Fever Trail
Take an unexpected adventure through the history of Holcomb Valley's gold rush and the history behind it. During this trip, you will see abandon mines, dig sites, grave sites, pygmy cabins, and much more. So pack up the family and explore the history of Holcomb Valley.

Video

Route Information

Advanced Rating System

Recommended Vehicle:
2WD Vehicle with High Clearance
Concerns:
Summary:
This is a dirt road, just be careful for after it rains because many of the water puddles can get over 2 feet deep.

Technical Rating

MANDATORY
1
EASY
OPTIONAL
2
EASY
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.
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Description

Welcome to the historic gold country of San Bernardino National Forest. This overland route takes you through the now tranquil Holcomb Valley that was once thriving with activity during the gold rush of the 1860's. At 12 selected markers you will live the history of there area. Please keep your vehicles on the designated roads and use the parking areas at numbered stops. When walking to the historical sites off the road, please stay on the trial. William F. Holcomb left Iowa in 1850 and went west to seek his fortune in the mining camps of Northern California. Discouraged by poor luck, he drifted southward. Intrigued by rumors of a small gold discovery in the San Bernardino Mountains, Holcomb left Los Angeles in November of 1859, joining up with others, and camped in the aptly named Starvation Flats. The section behind Holcomb Campground 3N05 closes for the winter.
Snow is common in the winter, please plan ahead.

Waypoints

1. Big Bear Discovery Center (0 mi)
Big Bear Discovery Center 40971 North Shore Drive/ Hwy 38, Fawnskin, CA 92333 www.mountainsfoundation.org
2. Holcomb View Trail (3.2 mi)
Bill Holcomb was hired by other prospectors to hunt bear in the hills. On a hunting trip up Polique Canyon, he first saw Holcomb Valley off to the North just 2 miles away. The group back at Starvation Flats later named this area Holcomb's Valley. The following day, Bill and Ben Choteau (Cherokee Indian), wounded a "Monster Grizzly." The blood trail lead them to a quartz ledge which caught Bills attention. While up there, they took some large pieces of the quartz where they planned on taking back to town to test it and while washing the rock off in the stream they discovered abundant amount of gold lying in the stream bed. The news spread quickly and by July 1860 the valley was swarming with prospectors. (Park and follow the Pacific Crest Trail 250 feet east to the view of Holcomb Valley)
3. Last Chance Placer (4.8 mi)
Placer mining is a simple technique where gold is separated from sand or gravel with water. The miners worked this area so heavily that they worked it all the way to the bedrock. When the black sand was found (pay dirt), they transported it by horse and cart to be sluiced in the rockers. These sluices were built near common run off areas where water was plentiful with the snow melt. The mounds of tailings are from the mines after it was worked for gold. To this date, the mother load has never been found. (Drive in 200 feet to the split rail fence around a mining pit)
4. Two Gun Bill's Saloon (5.8 mi)
A white lie, this site was believed to be the site of the famous saloon, dance hall, and bordello. The story was told so much that even the locals believed it. The truth is the real famous saloon was 1.5 miles to the southeast at the corner of 3N16 and 3N12. The remains are of a very large cabin that was occupied as late as the 1930's. Unfortunately the area has been picked over by visitors over the last 10 years and has almost completely removed all resemblance of the Cabin. (Walk in 300 feet to the scattered remnants of this historic log structure)
5. Jonathan Tibbetts' Grasshopper Quartz Mill (6.3 mi)
"Chinamen's Knoll" the center of activity was a high piece of ground in the area. In this spot Tibbetts operated a 5-stamp mill powered by Pico Steam Engine. The heavy iron heads rhythmically pulverized the gold ore from the John Bull Mines. The sand mounds are tailings from the mining. (Walk 900 feet past the sand mounds to the remains of the water pump)
6. Hangman's Tree (6.5 mi)
Where money can be found, so can crime. As the miners and prospectors found their fortunes, outlaws, claim jumpers, gamblers, and other trouble makers followed close behind. In August 1861, the valley was attacked by house thieves from Salt Lake City, known as the Button's Gang. It was estimated that 50 murders were committed in the first 2 years of the valley. For those outlaws who were unable to avoid the law, they found themselves at the end of a rope on this tree. The real hangmen's tree was burnt down by careless visitors not so long ago by the Belleville Cabin, after this happened they renamed this trail the hangmen's tree because of its scary looks. (The trail is just to the east of the trail, you can't miss it)
7. Original Gold Diggings (6.8 mi)
The spot where Bill Holcomb made his famous discovery. The stream is hard to see. Some of the purest gold that was ever discovered in California was discovered in this area along the river with panning and digging. IN 1861 and 1862, thousands of claims were staked throughout the valley. (Look in the meadow (the stream is not usually visible)
8. Belleville (7.1 mi)
On the outskirts of the haphazard town, earthen dugouts and hastily built shacks were thrown together by the miners. These include a brewery and the infamous "Octagon House," an 8 sided saloon and dance hall, where glittered girls entertained. In 1861, at the peak of the rush, 1500 people lived in Holcomb Valley, in which Belleville missed taking the county seat from the San Bernardino by a mere 2 votes. The population was typical of a mining town, with good men and industrious works, balanced by degenerates and professional lawbreakers. (A lone log cabin sits in the meadow on the left, just no longer there)
9. Arrastres (Gold Ore Grinder) (7.2 mi)
The oldest tool for recovering gold from rocks. The arrastre wheel was introduced my Mexican miners. The early arrastres consisted of a low rock wall banked around large, flat and fairly level stones. In a hole in the center was an upright post, and on this pivoted a long horizontal beam. A donkey or mule harnessed to the end of the beam provided the power by walking in an endless circle. The ore was crushed between the stones then slowly tendius process of grinding a single pile of ore took about four hours. Over 100 gold grinding quartz arrastres once dotted Holcomb Valley. (150 feet to the west of the Belleville Cabin.)
10. Ross' Grave (7.3 mi)
Little is known of Ross except he was accidently killed while cutting down a tree. Like most other items in the Valley, people have stolen parts of the grave including the hand carved picket fence. To save what was left, the SBNF Rangers relocated some of the fence to the Big Bear Discover Center. (A 500 foot trail leads to the gravesite)
11. Pygmy Cabin Site (7.3 mi)
The original cabin was burned down in November 1983. The forest service rebuilt the cabin to represent what it was once before. The original cabin only had 4 foot tall walls and at the highest point in the roof was from the ground to ceiling 6 foot. (Across the road from Stop #9, a winding 900 foot trail leas to the original cabin remains.)
12. Metzger Mine (9 mi)
After most of the placer sites were staked, gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered in the hills to the north and down through Jacoby Gulch to the east. The vein the miners followed when they dug this underground horizontal passage is still visible above the main entrance. Lode claims could not be worked without heavy machinery, so a wagon road became essential. The miners pledged $1500 and a road was cut by Jed Van Dusen down through Lower Holcomb connecting with the "New" toll road in Cajon Pass. Soon after, a wagon hauled in a four-ton boiler to power the first quartz mill. The trip took 27 days from Los Angeles to Holcomb Valley. (800 foot trail to the mine entrance)
13. Gold Mountain (Also known as "Lucky Baldwin" Mine (10.8 mi)
The last major gold discovery occurred in 1873 when Barney and Charley Carter were enroute to the Ross Mine. While camped for the night along the North Shore of Baldwin Lake, Barney went to inspect the "Shiny Stuff" in the quartz ledge immediately above their camp. His brief exploration led to the a mountain of gold ore. Elais J. "Lucky" Baldwin purchased "Carters' Quartz Hill" for $30,000. By 1876, Baldwin had 180 men working his mine and a 40 stamp mill was in place. The concrete footings can be seen to the west. The site of the large mill and cyanide processing plant was added in 1899. The mill was in operation as late as 1923. (Watch for the wooden structure on the right / south side of the road. This was once a Ore Bin, built in 1945.)

Directions to Trailhead

Starting Point: Fawnskin, CA

Set your trip odometer to "0" as you leave from the front gate of Big Bear Discovery Center. Mileage shown at each stop is the distance from the Center. Turn right onto Hwy 38, drive .08 mile and turn right on Polique Canyon Road - 2N09.

Camping

Dispersed
Improved
The trail follows a path that has a lot of dispersed camping areas along it, but the more popular camping along this trail is the Holcomb Valley Campground which is an improved campsite with a camping fee. Bathrooms, campfire ring, and tables are provided in this campsite. The San Bernardino National Forest is a nearby oasis for millions of Southern Californians who want to escape for the weekend and go camping. The higher elevations of the forest mean that the summertime temperatures are cooler than the valleys below. And as an added bonus most campgrounds have shaded sites and some are near streams or lakes. Many campgrounds are adjacent to beautiful natural areas and you can find solitude on quiet wilderness trails. Some campgrounds are reserved campsites, and on weekends or holidays, we definitely recommend making a reservation. To do this, visitors can go online to www.recreation.gov or call toll-free 1-877-444-6777. Most campgrounds can accommodate both tent campers and RV's. All campgrounds have picnic tables and restroom facilities, and some even have showers and other amenities. Most campsites accommodate up to 6 people and 2 tents. There may be an additional cost for more than one vehicle. The Forest Service describes camping as either "developed" (usually accessible by road and including facilities like picnic tables, restrooms and fire rings) or "undeveloped/dispersed" (remote areas accessible only by dirt roads or trails, no facilities). During winter months, some locations may be inaccessible due to snow or closed, check with the local Ranger Station for updated conditions. More info can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/sbnf/recreation/camping-cabins You are allowed to do dispersed camping with no fires of any kind along the trails. Most people choose to use a campsite so they can enjoy a warming firing and cook their food.
Camping: Gold Fever Trail

Trail Reviews (19)

Questions & Answers (3)

Q: is this a trail that a stock Subaru outback could do fine?
–Charles Patronilo (02/14/2020)
A: You should be fine
–Josh Noesser (02/14/2020)
Q: Hey does anyone know if Two Gun Bill's Saloon type of guns that are allowed? Is it just shot gun and pistols or can you shoot rifles too?
–Troy Pigneri (05/02/2019)
A: The kind that are legal in CA
–Josh Noesser (06/03/2019)
Q: Will a stock 2018 Toyota Tundra 4x4 be able to complete the trail?
–Eddie Garrovillo (08/15/2018)
A: As long as it is dry, this trail can be completed in a stock 4x4
–Josh Noesser (08/16/2018)

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.