I didn’t think my almost-new economy car rental could look like it had climbed out of a quicksand pit– this is the cool mountains for gosh sake!—but it did in the name of history.
Holcomb Valley is one of those secret, hidden treasures offered by Big Bear Lake, CA. And I mean treasure literally… well, about a hundred years late.
The employee at the Discovery Center seemed momentarily stunned I was asking about Holcomb Valley—this freakin’ TOURIST from the Disney state is asking about HOLCOMB VALLEY??—but became a flood of information and tips once she handed me the self-tour guide.
Technically, you can hike throughout the old town formerly known as Belleville (I guess it’s labeled as a “ghost town” now), but Milkshake and I had just stepped off a plane, drove up a dizzying mountain road, four hours of sleep in the past 36 hours… we didn’t want to hike. We wanted to DRIVE through Holcomb Valley’s gold mining past from one historical marker to the next.
We quickly realized:
– 99% of the road is sand and dirt with the occasional violent pot hole or rock
– The guide’s map is barely helpful. A 1st grader with a measuring tape could’ve done better
– It’s easy to miss the road signs.
Our car was a slow-moving, bumpy wooden roller coaster ride throughout this off-roading experience. Now I can see why the locals were joyriding the opening roads in their Jeeps.
The first marker (designated by a green sign) led Milkshake and I on a short hike to get a great view of the valley. Grab your cameras!
The 2nd stop wasn’t as impressive—we’re still debating whether that shallow pit containing shrubs surrounded by a fence is the placer mine.
Afterwards, we become horribly lost for 30 minutes. Many roads branch from the main road, but none are shown on the map. When our path suddenly became strewn with rocks and burnt trees from a past wildfire, we said “screw it this is scary” and u-turned.
During our hasty retreat we noticed the small brown sign directing us in the correct direction. We were sleepy and discouraged from the road signs but decided to continue with the tour.
There was no sign of human life as we parked and hiked the dirt trails to see the remnants of a log cabin once thought to be a saloon (now only a mess of a dozen logs) then later on an ore mill (now just a single, rusted, machine-y piece). We were too scared (I’ll just say we were too tired) to get out of the car and walk the 20 feet to “Hangman’s Tree” a tall, looming tree used in the past for the execution of criminals.
Although there were at least six more markers to see (including a cabin and an old mine) time and vehicle type weren’t on our sides. We wanted to see the old gold mines but were already warned at the Discovery Center that a regular, little car like ours wouldn’t be able to handle the rocky road to the mines.
The road getting to and around the valley is peaceful with barely any human sightings and beautiful through nature. Sometimes you’ll wonder whether two cars can pass each other on the narrow path without one falling off the mountainside. Sometimes you’ll stare at the remnants of Belleville’s past and wish there was more to see… if you’re even looking at the right thing. But if you’re in the Big Bear Lake area after the snow has melted, I recommend visiting the Holcomb Valley—experience something off the beaten tourist path.
Stay tuned for more entries helping you to enjoy Big Bear Lake after the skis have been stowed.
Visit Holcomb Valley with us by clicking on any photos
Belleville at Holcomb Valley
Get self-tour map at Discovery Center (40971 N Shore Dr, Fawnskin, CA 92333 )
Around 12 miles round trip (if your car can handle the road)