”It’s also a popular place for drivers to shakedown their newly built rides or for those who want to try out their latest mods in a less extreme environment. It was the perfect place for us to take our recently acquired OVR project vehicle, a 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser, to further get acquainted with it.”
There’s a popular Southern California trail that runs from the desert community of Pioneertown straight through to the forested mountain community of Big Bear. It’s a trail that offers plenty of beautiful scenery to enjoy and a few moderate thrills along the way. onX Off Road rates the Burns Canyon Road (NF 2N02) trail a moderate difficulty trail and a 1 out of 10 score in its technical difficulty index. Hence why we said “moderate thrills.” That said, the trail is only a couple of hours away from Los Angeles so it’s a popular spot for Southern Californian city dwellers to escape their urban confines in order to enjoy the great outdoors and to get in some great wheelin’ to boot.
By most accounts, the trail is at best only moderately challenging to drive so it’s a perfect place for beginner off-road drivers to get a feel for off-road trail driving. It’s also a popular place for drivers to shakedown their newly built rides or for those who want to try out their latest mods in a less extreme environment. It was the perfect place for us to take our recently acquired OVR project vehicle, a 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser, to further get acquainted with it. We previously took the LC100 for our first off road drive in it to an area called Bailey Canyon, also in the San Bernadino National Forest, which you can read about here.
Our journey begins in Pioneertown, a unique town located in the High Desert region of Southern California, not far from Joshua Tree National Park. Pioneertown was founded in the 1940s as a movie set, designed to replicate an old Western town for film and television productions. Interestingly, actors such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and even the legendary John Wayne once walked its streets. Today, Pioneertown retains its charming Old West ambiance, with rustic buildings, saloons, and the famous Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, a renowned desert music venue. It’s also the fun setting from which we embarked on our day trip, which would take us from hot and flat desert terrain to chilly mountain forest.
Our navigation partner for this trip would be our trusty onX Off Road maps app. onX led us to the Burns Canyon Road trailhead a few minutes north-west of Pioneertown. It was from this arid desert setting that we embarked on our journey westward towards Big Bear and up nearly 2,700 feet of elevation along the way.
We aired down the Land Cruiser’s tires at the trailhead and proceeded onto Burns Canyon Road. It may be called a road, but the trail has no paved sections and consists of dirt, gravel and small rocks, at least at this end. The middle sections become much rockier with plenty of washboard sections and some rutted areas. If you do choose to drive this route, it’s important to take note that there are private residences dotted along this road so be aware to tread lightly.
As we traversed Burns Canyon Road, we witnessed dramatic changes in terrain and scenery. The Joshua tree lined dirt trail slowly gave way to pines and rocky ascents. The temperature also changed as well. It was well over 90°F where we started and midway through our drive the temperature dropped to about 75°F and fell further as we moved along the trail. While we were there to soak in all the nature, a few man-made structures along the trail in the form of abandoned mines also piqued our interest. We didn’t stop to look at them in detail this time but we do intend on investigating them more the next time we drive this route.
Another trail, called Broom Flats (NF 2N01), intersects Burns Canyon Road midway between where we started and our destination of Big Bear. It is at this intersection that the ground is covered in a reddish-hued terrain that was beautiful to look at. This is where we stopped, had lunch and hiked around a bit. But it wasn’t long before we were back in the SUV and once again headed westward. While driving on Burns Canyon Road, we passed by a few dispersed campsites that would undoubtedly make for excellent places to stargaze.
During the final third of our drive, we ascended into the San Bernardino National Forest, which was decidedly more mountainous and forested. The nose of the Land Cruiser was pointed up as we slowly crawled onward. We were headed towards Big Bear and that fact became more obvious every switchback we traversed. This is surely where Burns Canyon Road earns is “moderate” rating as the trail narrowed and the surface became much more rugged. Those looking for a bit more of a driving challenge could choose to tackle one of any number of trail offshoots, some of which are rated “black diamond” in difficulty. We were plenty happy to stick to the main road on this trip. Interestingly, we ran across two “shooting sites” where we spotted evidence of target shooting in two clearings, Arrastre Recreational Shooting Site 1 and Arrastre Recreational Shooting Site 2.
A little more than four hours after we started our journey in Pioneertown, with its desert terrain, Joshua trees, and expansive views, we were now at the opposite end of Burns Canyon Road near Baldwin Lake, in Big Bear Valley surrounded by towering pine trees, scenic meadows and crisp mountain air. The temperature dropped to about 70°F, which was over 20-degrees difference from where was started. Driving the full length of Burns Canyon Road was a great way to shake down the OVR LC100 Land Cruiser while also enjoying the great outdoors. It made it through the 20-mile trail without any issues, although we do think a taller lift in the front would be a nice upgrade to have, but we’ll save that story for another time. If you find yourself in Southern California and are looking for a scenic trail to drive, we suggest trying out Burns Canyon Road yourself.