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Joshua Tree to Big Bear Serrano Campground Day 1


When? April 26th, 2018

Destination: Joshua Tree to Big Bear – Serrano Campground

Temp: Ranged from 90 to 65 (430pm at camp)

Vehicle Configuration: 2017 Tacoma TRD Off-Road & Tepui Rooftop Tent

Purpose: Overland Rig Testing & exploration

Thought of the hour: Erica wasn’t a huge fan of the 4×4 trail

CG description: Fairly large campground, 100+ spots, with some hookup sites. Has bathrooms, showers, well-kept and relatively cheap at $34.50/night.


This trip took quite a bit more planning because I was looking for something where I had the opportunity to test out the Tacoma in a more Overland type experience. After careful consideration, I figured that the Big Bear area up in the San Bernardino Mountains was the ideal. After looking at different routes, I stumbled on a couple different options. I mapped a trail that would start out of Pioneer Town in Joshua Tree and lead us into Baldwin Lake, and then to Big Bear. The route was a fairly simple one, so it seemed. It was rated 1-3 easy / moderate. After watching some videos and reading some blogs, I confirmed that it was enough without any other vehicles to bail us out in case of trouble. It seemed that it was safe enough after a couple modifications / additions to the truck. As the departure date approached, I was filled with excitement and the overall allure of the unknown. I couldn’t wait to get out and explore! I got the gear and truck ready the night before so all I had to do was put it all in the truck super quick, hit the grocery store and we were on our way. Erica had a small break from school, so she was able to join Kaia and I this time.




We began our journey to Pioneer town and then were lead to Burns Canyon RD (N2N02). You basically stay on that road all the way up into the San Bernardino Mountains. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on the dirt road, so I aired down a bit to make for more traction and a smoother ride. The road had a couple minimally challenging spots; serving desired the purpose of practicing my off-road skills. It had been a while, so this was a great way to ‘dust the dirt off’ as they say. The truck did GREAT! I was in and out of 4-wheel drive and never had to use any of the crawl control or rear locker features. The road twisted, turned and climbed from the desert landscape up into the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains. A few hours and a few photo stops later, we were descending down with beautiful Big Bear Lake in our view. What a breathtaking vista of nature and all her beauty this was!


We hadn’t quite planned out a campsite yet — after-all we were trying to be IN nature and really “rough it” so to speak. After conversing with my wife and looking at options on All-stays, we decided to hit a decent campground for the night. The idea of bathrooms, showers and the lake being walking distance from our camp won us over.


Although not the original plan, we were more than happy we chose Serrano campground, especially after the long day of off-road driving! We pulled up to the check-in station and spoke to a nice lady who recommended a few good spots and let us drive in to go check them out. We landed on site #118. It was perfect.




The level asphalt pad for the truck made it super simple and clean for camp. Not to mention, great for some pictures! The site had a large picnic table, fire-ring and locking food box to keep the pesky critters out. We set up camp, had a snack and then walked down to the lake to let Kaia run around. Lord knows she has so much energy, so this helped wear her out a bit. She chased some birds, dragged some sticks out of the lake and of course ran hot laps as fast as she possibly could. After that, we headed back up to camp to grill some dinner that we had prepared before we left the house. Both Erica and I were beat from the day, so we ate and headed to bed around 9pm. The campground was quiet and most of the people went to bed fairly early.


There was just one group that for some reason had to get in and out of their car what seemed liked 20+ times. And of course, they had to lock and unlock it every time; what an awful noise every 5 minutes. Kaia slept in the truck, as she isn’t allowed in the tent when Mom is around. Erica and I slept great in the tent, minus the few times we were woken from the howling Coyotes. Man what a sound! It seemed like there were hundreds of them surrounding the camp. Once one started, all of his furry friends started out too. Each session usually only lasted for a minute or so, but boy are those things loud. The temperature did drop quite a bit. I’d guess it was in the mid 30’s. Our Tepui tent and Teton zero degree sleeping bag kept us warm and cozy though. As we laid there falling asleep, I wondered and planned out what tomorrow’s day would hold; more exploration and another campground was for sure on the list!


Joshua Tree to Big Bear – Day 2


When? April 27th, 2018

Destination: Serrano Campground Big Bear to Holcomb Valley Campground

Temp: 75 at noon

Vehicle Configuration: 2017 Tacoma TRD Off-Road & Tepui Rooftop Tent

Purpose: Overland Rig Testing & exploration

Thought of the hour: So glad we came up higher.

CG description: Mid-sized, developed campground with 20-30 spots or so. Not many people, very nice camp host. Sites have tables, fire pits and there are toilets.




We awoke to birds chirping and critters scurrying. I enjoy getting up early and getting the day going — you know, make a fire, get some coffee on and take the pup for a walk. So that’s exactly what I did. I was up and going about 6am, while I left Erica sleeping peacefully in the RTT. After all her recent tests she just finished and the off-road adventure we had yesterday, some rest was well deserved! I snapped some photos of our scenery and just sat relaxing by the morning fire, writing and contemplating what route we should take for the day. We had quite a few options, so it was time to do some research and figure out what was on our agenda.


After some digging around looking for where we would head next, we decided to hit the road and make our way to Holcomb Valley Campground. It was a short drive up into the mountains on a dirt road off of the main road from Serrano campground, taking us about 30 minutes in total duration. The road was somewhat maintained and a much easier drive than the day before; Erica liked that. Upon entering the campground, we could tell that it was going to be a much more primitive spot than the night before. It was still a developed campground with numbered spaces, fire pits, tables and men and women’s toilets. We did our normal drive by — scoping out the scene and the available spots. There were lots of options, especially since there was only one site taken at the time. We decided on spot #9, as it seemed pretty level and was in the corner away from other sites for the most part. It was also in close proximity to the trail leading out of camp, and the restrooms, so it was a no-brainer! The camp host met us at our site to check us in and collected the $23 owed for our night’s stay. We chatted about safety while Kaia and his English Lab buddy played for a bit. He warned of a large pack of coyotes that roam the area, as well as the frequent bear sightings in camp. That said, we made sure camp was more than packed up that night, as well as put Kaia in the truck once the sun had set.




After our chat, we continued to set up camp and began to take in our gorgeous setting. The weather was warm, sunny and breezy! Erica and I set up the hammock and had a nice rest after unloading and setting up our gear. We then turned on some tunes, made some lunch and I cracked open a good old NA (non-alcoholic beer). After lunch we played a game of Exploding Kittens and then a couple rounds of Yahtzee; Erica won all of them (I suck). We continued to enjoy ourselves on a couple brief hikes with the pup, repeated hammock lounge sessions and of course snacks… lots of snacks! With a nice breeze rolling through camp and Erica taking a siesta, I decided it would be a good time to jump on the computer for some quick notes and some long overdue spreadsheet work. What better place to work on budgets and numbers than in the mountains, chillin’ in the hammock! I sat peacefully working (loosely speaking) watching as awesome truck after awesome truck drove past on the dirt road right outside of camp. There seemed to be a lot of 4×4 vehicles frequenting the area for a little weekend off-road excursion.


Erica soon woke up and it was time to get dinner to get moving. We ended up eating in the dark last night due to our late arrival to camp from our off-road trail day. Not tonight though! We prepared our gourmet meal of hot dogs and pre-made chicken bowtie pasta, scarfing it down. Unfortunately, the cheesecake with strawberries I brought for dessert got a little wet in the ice-chest; major bummer. We relaxed by the fire, watching the sun go down on another epic day out in nature. We are beyond lucky to have this stuff in our backyard, as well as the means to be able to get out and explore it. We woke up the next morning, packed up camp and headed back to San Diego in time for the renter picking up my truck and Tepui tent Sunday morning. It was a short 2-day trip, but we got to see so many beautiful areas, enjoy our time together relaxing in nature and made it back safe and sound. Until next time, remember to find your freedom!


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