By TIM WILCOX
Special to the Alpine Mountaineer
Where: Lake Arrowhead
Length: 2.6-mile round trip
Elevation gain: 344 feet
Challenge: easy to moderate
We’re back at Arrowhead Ridge, which “Let’s Go Hiking” visited in early September. The focus then was on the Will Abell Memorial Trail – a winding, sometimes steeply ascending route located on this 80-acre site. In a few weeks that trail will be snowy and icy, suitable only for outdoor enthusiasts with traction cleats attached to their boots. You can still hike on this site, however.
First, though, a reminder of how to locate Arrowhead Ridge. It’s on Grass Valley Road across from the southern end of Lake Arrowhead Country Club (just north of Agua Fria). Thanks to the flag-festooned Lake Arrowhead veterans monument on the premises, it’s easy to spot.
This prime parcel was once a high-end residential development. It failed well before any foundations were laid or homes built, languishing for a while in stark and sad incompletion. Then, in 2011, the San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust purchased the property from the developers and began painstaking restoration of the site. More than a decade later, this multifaceted project continues – marked in particular by amazing regrowth of trees and shrubs in the unfortunately and unwisely invaded forest.
Informal, somewhat haphazard parking is available by the gate, not far from the veterans monument. Your initial route lies ahead: the hapless development’s main street.
On the Road and Trail
The principal road ascending to the ridgeline is steep and wide. Along with this street, the most prominent signs of the ghostly development are large concrete conduit sections – jarring reminders of dashed infrastructure plans. Still, the acreage is largely free of such unsightly debris, which is a tribute to the Land Trust’s massive effort.
Toward the top of the hill, you’ll see a sign that reads, “TRAIL,” with an arrow pointing to the right. That’s one of two upper Will Abell access points. To make this outing longer than it would be if you kept to the pavement, take a short detour here. The narrow trail has its ups and downs, though it’s primarily a rising route. Proceed for several tenths of a mile until you pass a wizened oak on the right and come upon the bare trunk and lower limbs of a long-fallen tree stretching down the slope. Turn around here and return to the main road.
There it continues uphill with a much more moderate incline. You’ll notice that trees in this part of Lake Arrowhead, on either side of the road, are mainly pines and firs. Hardy shrubs supply the complementary vegetation.
When you level off about one-third of a mile from your starting point, you’ll come to a side street, which ends abruptly. Turn right there immediately past another trailhead sign, then bear slightly to the left. Look for an opening between adolescent evergreens and climb up that short, rocky incline to the namesake ridge itself.
Turn right again and head uphill. Although this isn’t a carefully marked trail, you’ll sense that it’s an intentional pathway winding among the trees. The forest here is healthy but not overly thick.
The mostly narrow route ascends gently. Pause at the large clearing to take in westward views of Strawberry Peak and hills above the golf course, then follow the meandering pathway until it reaches its highest point on the ridge. Here it becomes wider and shifts dramatically downward. Continue on past a dirt road on the right. A few paces beyond that point, you’ll encounter a wider dirt road and large turnaround.
Hiking past both, you’ll come to what might take you by surprise: a closed swing-out gate and, beyond it, actual pavement. The street signs here reveal that you’ve arrived at the intersection of Golf Course Road and Old Toll Road. This is your outward-bound endpoint. Now it’s time to retrace your steps back up to the ridgeline, down to the side street and finally onto the main road.
Hike downhill to the parking area, turn right at the gate and walk to the veterans monument for a moment of quiet and respectful reflection. Completed in 2015, this is an impressive memorial thanks to high-grade stonework plus black-marble benches bearing the insignias and mottos of the primary military branches. Overhead the service banners flutter proudly in the company of the U.S. and California flags. It’s a fitting and moving salute to our honored and honorable veterans, which many mountain residents did individually and collectively during last Saturday’s official observance.
NOTES: This outdoor adventure combines walking up a steep roadway with hiking a short section of the Will Abell Memorial Trail, then along a narrow alpine ridge. The Lake Arrowhead veterans monument is an inspirational bonus. Expect to invest about 75 minutes in your foray.