By TIM WILCOX
Special to the Alpine Mountaineer
Where: Twin Peaks
Length: 2-mile round trip
Elevation gain: 358 feet
Challenge: easy to moderate
Turning 90 years old is a significant accomplishment and compelling reason to celebrate. That’s what the Strawberry Fire Lookout did recently, with the official celebration staged on Saturday, Oct. 28. (See the article in this week’s edition.) The 30-foot steel tower was erected in 1933 on a 360-degree vantage point at 6,135 feet. Staffed by volunteers during fire season, it’s been a vigilant presence almost without interruption ever since.
Let’s take a hike from Twin Peaks up to the fire lookout. Start by driving to that community, aiming for the intersection of Highway 189 and Bear Springs Road. Turn north on Rose Lane (immediately across from Bear Springs) and look for a place to park in the vicinity of the post office. Full disclosure: There’s no public parking in that small commercial quarter, so you may have to invoke mountain hospitality and ask a business if you can park for an hour or so in its lot. I did that with the post office, identifying my vehicle, and was given permission to park in the station’s back lot. With that initial hassle handled, you can begin an enjoyable hike to Strawberry Peak.
On the Road
Walk carefully across Highway 189 and onto Bear Springs Road past Antler Inn to the right. Now wind your way uphill, watching for oncoming traffic. This is the steepest part of the hike and, candidly, there isn’t much to see except for rustic cabins on both sides. Push yourself a little to amplify the aerobic benefits.
A third of a mile or so into your jaunt, you’ll leave the cabins behind and enter undeveloped forest. Apart from an occasional passing vehicle, it’s noticeably more quiet here. Then, at the half-mile mark, where Bear Springs curves sharply to the left, you’ll see an oak straight ahead with pavement on either side and a small fire-lookout sign on its trunk.
Head past the tree and up this new, more narrow road. Along the way you’ll notice pathways on either side that branch off from the pavement. These aren’t formal trails. Still, if you have extra time and are simply curious, you can take an exploratory detour or two.
Continuing your upward trek, you’ll come to a clearing at the .8-mile mark, where the road takes a sharp turn to the right. This wide-open space presents a breathtaking view of more than 240 degrees, providing a preview of the lookout tower’s full-circle vistas. In the distance to the left are Mt. San Bernardino, Mt. San Gorgonio (Southern California’s tallest peak at 11,503 feet) and Mt. San Jacinto. Panning right as you look down into the valley, you’ll see Saddleback Mountain. Casting your eyes even farther southwest, the ocean channel beyond Long Beach appears and—on a really clear day—the silhouette of Catalina Island.
Now walk past a heavy swing-out gate and up the road. When you see a light-green water tank on the right, you’re almost there. Just beyond the tank is yet another vantage point, this one taking in the San Gabriel Mountains to the west as well. Down the slope to your left is a large, olive-green, bunker-like building that houses telephone equipment (so I’m told, at least). From Highway 18 below, it looks like an intimidating mountain fortress.
Anyway, on to the fire lookout, which is now some 50 paces away. It’s surrounded by microwave towers that might be viewed as a protective presence but, frankly, are high-tech intruders on the historic lookout’s neighborhood. In particular, the relatively new structure next to the lookout is a 168-foot monster that looms over the entire compound.
Ignore that monster and head up the lookout’s steps to be greeted by friendly, knowledgeable volunteers and treated to some of the best views in all of the San Bernardino Mountains. Please note that the tower is open from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day during fire season, which extends until the first significant snowfall.
So you’ve been greeted and treated. Before retracing your ascendant route, gliding gracefully downhill, wish the 90-year-old fire lookout a belated happy birthday.
NOTES: Spend a pleasant hour on the road, at bluff-top vantage points with great views, then up in the fire lookout itself with the most expansive vistas of all. When the tower is closed, the hike from Twin Peaks or, for that matter, from Rimforest (slightly longer) is worthwhile. But it doesn’t have quite the same spectacular culmination.