By TIM WILCOX
Special to the Alpine Mountaineer
Length: 3.3-mile round trip
Elevation gain: 102 feet
Covering some 200 acres and comprising 94 campsites, the Dogwood Campground is one of the largest in the San Bernardino Mountains. It’s also among the most popular.
This time of year, though, it’s nearly vacant as the 2023 season winds down to its closing date. Even after the main gate is locked on Sunday, Oct. 29, you can still hike through this expansive site. Then it’s especially quiet and enjoyable.
Please note that you’ll need to leave your vehicle on the side of the short access/egress road between Highway 18 and Daley Canyon Road. During the week it’s usually not hard to find a spot there, just steps from the campground entrance. On weekends, though, it can be a challenge – even during winter months.
On the Road
Once you’ve parked and locked your vehicle, head toward the nearby Forest Service sign and entryway gate. (Watch carefully for traffic turning off Highway 18 en route to Agua Fria and Blue Jay.) Hike uphill for about half a mile to the check-in booth, which is the official campground portal.
Dogwood is a maze of roads and campsites, so there’s no well-established hiking route. Your best bet, however, is to stay on the widest road and avoid wandering off onto side streets. Initially, the campsites’ numeric posts are helpful guides. One way to verify that you’re on the main route is that it tends to have more of the large restroom stations.
Not far from the booth, on the right, you’ll catch a glimpse of Rim High School’s athletic field. It’s a reminder that civilization is maybe a little too close to the campground. The principal road continues past Site 35 and heads gradually uphill. Here the numeric posts are more consistent, evolving into the 40s.
Please pay close attention to roadside views, which reveal that this is among the mountains’ most prolific forests. Especially striking are the thick stands of young fir trees.
As you pass campsites in the 50s, the road narrows slightly and heads downhill. When you come to Campsite 59, turn right and walk past the picnic table, then a small field of rocks. A few steps down the slope is a striking, tree-framed view of The Pinnacles almost directly north.
Immediately beyond that site is a side road leading to the right. Take it, and you’ll come to the upper-level access/egress point for the Dogwood Trail – about 1.7 miles into your hike. During warmer months, it’s the campground’s principal attraction for hikers. From this point, too, you can see a slice of Lake Arrowhead to the northeast. Another tenth of a mile or so brings you to a second trailhead, this one for the intriguingly named Enchanted Loop. It’s a pleasant, half-mile path, so why not take a quick break from the asphalt?
Finally, just past Site 81, you’ll return to the main road. Arrows in the pavement marked “EXIT” point the way for you to retrace the initial portion of your trek. Especially at Site 93 and 94, make sure to bear to the right. Soon you’ll come to the check-in booth, at about the 2.8-mile mark of the hike. Add another half mile as you walk downhill to your vehicle, and you’ll have completed an approximately 3.3-mile round trip. Expect to invest 60 to 75 minutes in this delightful foray.
NOTES: One of the mountains’ largest and most-popular campgrounds soon will be an alpine ghost town. The 2023 season’s finale will result in peaceful, traffic- and crowd-free hiking. During weekdays in particular, you’re likely to have Dogwood’s 200 acres all to yourself. Even when the roads here are covered with snow, it’s a manageable outing as long as your boots are equipped with traction cleats.