Big Bear's Holcomb Creek Trail
Holcomb Creek (3N93) is another Black Diamond (Most Difficult) trail in the Big Bear area of the San Bernardino National Forest. It’s approximately 5.5 miles of rock gardens and off-camber tippy climbs with a few water crossings of Holcomb Creek, as well as a fun off-road play area midway through.
The trail is maintained by the My Jeep Rocks Jeep club through the San Bernardino Forest Adopt-a-Trail program. They are committed to ensuring it is always kept at a Black Diamond level of difficulty and regularly check the trail for any rock stacking or by-passes created by people going around obstacles that make the trail easier, with particular focus on the gatekeepers at each end. A gatekeeper is an obstacle intended to block anyone who does not have the right vehicle modifications or driver skills to safely travel the length of the trail - keeping them from getting stuck in the middle because they or their vehicle wasn’t prepared for the difficulty level. If you can’t make it past the gatekeeper, you don’t belong on the trail!
We did Holcomb Creek Trail a few weeks ago with the Misfits Off Road Club and 4 Wheel To Heal, approaching the trail in the "reverse" direction. Most people do this trail west to east, we went east to west. Reversing direction doesn’t necessarily make a trail easier or harder, just different because uphill obstacles become downhill obstacles and vice-versa. As with any Black Diamond trail, 33 inch tires, high ground clearance and lockers are strongly recommended and vehicle damage is possible.
We ran through the gatekeeper without incident and the first water crossing was barely a trickle thanks to the severe drought we’ve been in for the past few years. During rainy years the water crossing can be a few feet deep and a lot of fun!
Trail elevation is 5600-6500 feet, so the best time to do this trail is late spring through early fall. Snow and ice can make it extremely challenging or impassible during the winter.
The trail winds through a portion of the San Bernardino Forest that was badly burned in 2007.
The trail was closed for several years after the wildfire, until My Jeep Rocks came in and put in the man hours and hard work to work with the U. S. Forest Service to repair and reopen it. You can see the remaining evidence of the fire in blackened tree trunks, but this is still a beautifully scenic trail.
Unlike the John Bull Trail, which is one long non-stop boulder field, Holcomb Creek has sections of easier trail in between the rock gardens. That doesn’t make it any less challenging because these are some very challenging rock gardens with huge boulders. Some of the sections without rocks are powdery sand up steep off-camber climbs.
A good spotter can be very helpful, and straps were needed a few times for the stock vehicles with us.
The free play area is located at 34.275033° -117.024783°. Almost everyone wanted to try the “extra credit” line climbing nearly a straight vertical up a huge slab of rock. Four doors with their longer wheel base definitely had an advantage on this obstacle. A few made up it the hard line, and more made it up on a slightly easier line. Thankfully we had no carnage, although a few came close!
After spending some time at the play area we started working our way down the trail again. When we reach the gatekeeper at the western end of the trail, there was someone high-centered on the rocks -I won’t post his photo to call him out, but he obviously hadn’t read my article on Trail Etiquette. He refused to accept the help of a strap or winch and insisted on working his own way out of it, an inconsiderate move considering we had seventeen rigs in our group and there were another six Jeeps coming in the other direction all waiting to get past. The guy kept everyone held up for well over half an hour after we arrived - he had attracted quite a crowd as two dozen onlookers lined the side of the trail urging him to accept a tow.
Finally he made it through, and then the first guy in our line got stuck! After high-centering on the same obstacle as the previous guy and taking a different line, his tire slipped off a rock and was jammed tight against it keeping him from moving forward or backward. After determining that his front locker had stopped working, with absolutely no traction going to that wheel, we strapped him off and he finished the trail.
After all of the holdups, we decided on no more extra credit lines and spotted everyone through the easiest line. The rest of our group made it through without incident, and the other group was relieved that they could finally start the trail!
I love my Nitto Trail Grapplers, they did a fantastic job handling this trail! Holcomb Creek is a very fun and challenging trail, highly recommended. Go with experienced wheelers who know what they are doing and you’ll have a great time. For a full version of the trail map shown above, see the San Bernadino National Forest Motor Vehicle Usage Map. Continue scrolling for more pictures of the action.