Classic Roads: Rim of the World Highway

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith

Assigning such a grandiose title to 
California’s Highway 18 may smack of Hollywood hyperbole. But with its magnificent vistas and the overlooks toward San Gorgonio Mountain—the highest peak in Southern California—you could be forgiven for thinking you really were riding the rim of the world.

Rising steeply from the Santa Ana Valley, the San Bernardino Mountains provide some of SoCal’s most popular weekend getaways, including Big Bear Lake and the communities of Lake Arrowhead and Silverwood Lake. 

Most weekend commuters would probably 
take Highway 330 from San Bernardino to access Big Bear Lake, missing the high mountain passes—and some of the area’s best views. Instead, exit Interstate 10 in Redlands and follow the signs for Big Bear Lake on Highway 38. Here you’ll begin a steady, tightly winding climb through the towering pines of the San Bernardino National Forest before plateauing at 8,443-foot Onyx Summit, the tallest highway pass in Southern California.

Highway 38 rambles over the high country before joining 18 at the eastern end of Big Bear Lake. The outdoor resort sprawls along the lake, beneath the steep slopes that become its ski runs in winter. Continuing west, the road climbs tortuously past Butler Peak before cascading down again into Running Springs. This is the core of the Rim of the World Highway, as 18 snakes along the contours of the sweeping San Bernardino Range through Skyforest and below Lake Arrowhead. A detour on California 173 takes you to this tiny tree-lined resort. Take a moment to hop off, stretch your legs, and walk to the lake’s scenic shores. 

SR 18 continues its serpentine cliffhanging course to Crestline, before a final precipitous descent into San Bernardino through an exhilarating series of looping bends and fast, sweeping turns. This classic road guarantees exhilarating riding and eye-popping mountain views.