Big Bear, a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, is a popular destination for adventure and vacation in Southern California. At a height of nearly 6,700 feet, the town is surrounded by the San Bernardino Mountains and enjoys four different seasons. The winter brings an abundance of snow, a Southern California rarity, which feeds Big Bear Mountain Resort’s downhill activities.
Every year, millions of tourists go to Big Bear and Big Bear Lake. In Big Bear, there is no such thing as a “off-season,” with each month bringing fresh opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous terrain. With over 300 days of sunshine each year, every visit involves both vital Vitamin D and the necessity for sunglasses.
Big Bear Lake is a popular destination for visitors visiting the area. Several marinas dot the 22 miles of shoreline, providing a variety of ways to enjoy the sea. Other lake-related activities include concrete roads that follow the shoreline and public parks with stunning views of the boulders.
With this list of the best things to do in Big Bear, you’ll always find something new to discover.
1. Take in the beauty of Big Bear Lake’s water.
Big Bear Lake is a popular tourist attraction in the San Bernardino National Forest. This man-made lake offers about every water activity imaginable, including boating, fishing, and swimming. Many of the area’s hiking and walking routes, like the Alpine Pedal Path on the north side, benefit from the lake’s picturesque beauty.
There are around six marinas along the 22 kilometres of shoreline. These gas stations also hire kayaks, pontoon boats, Jet Skis, and outboard fishing boats. These marinas circle the whole lake, with Big Bear Marina and Pleasure Point Marina being popular sites on the south coast. The north shore is home to places like Captain John’s Fawn Harbor and Paddles and Pedals.
There are also charter fishing trips available on the lake. Other unusual water adventures include solo and tandem parasailing, as well as a thrilling flyboarding experience. Boulder Bay Park near the Bear Valley Dam is one of the best places on the lakeshore for a picnic.
2. Snowboard or ski at Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort, located just minutes from Big Bear Lake’s south shore, offers the best skiing and snowboarding in Southern California.
The resort is divided into two mountain areas: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. These mountains each have distinct characteristics and base areas that are less than three miles apart. Lift tickets are valid for use on the same day at both mountains, providing access to over 400 skiable acres and dozens of terrain features.
Snow Summit is a premier mountain resort that offers a complete vacation experience. Aside from a wide range of runs for all abilities, the mountain is brimming with extra amenities such as lodging, restaurants, and après ski entertainment.
The skateboarding and surfing culture of “SoCal” is well represented on the slopes of Bear Mountain, which is not far away. This terrain park has jumps, rails, and the only winter halfpipe in Southern California.
3. Discover Something New at Big Bear Discovery Center
One of the first stops on a Big Bear vacation should be the Big Bear Discovery Center, located near the lake’s north shore. There is a wealth of information available here, including valuable resources about the nearby San Bernardino National Forest. It’s also a good place to get an Adventure Pass, which is required to park at most trailheads.
The Discovery Center is filled with exhibits about the ecosystem and wildlife. In addition, the facility hosts evening performances in an outdoor amphitheatre. The same well-kept outdoor area also houses a new Nature Discovery Zone for children aged two to seven.
Finally, the Discovery Center educates visitors on how to be good stewards of the San Bernardino National Forest. Users can put their newfound knowledge to use at the nearby Cougar Crest Trail, which is less than a mile to the west.
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4. Get Up Close and Personal with Wildlife at Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Since 1959, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, formerly Moonridge Animal Park, has assisted in the rehabilitation of wildlife. Unlike traditional zoos, Big Bear Zoo only houses orphaned and injured animals, as well as those who are otherwise unfit to live in the wild. Many of the zoo’s residents are temporary visitors who eventually return to their natural habitats.
Visitors to the zoo have the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with several wild animals. Black bears, snow leopards, and foxes are among the more common species. The zoo also has a number of large bird species, including golden eagles and great horned owls. American badgers, grey wolves, and flying squirrels are among the other animals of interest.
Except for trained zookeepers, there are no physical interactions between animals and humans at the zoo. A keeper, on the other hand, brings an animal to the amphitheatre every day around noon for an educational presentation. The zoo also offers limited-entry Saturday night tours.
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5. Go on a hike to Castle Rock.
Hiking trails abound in Big Bear, which is surrounded by the stunning acres of the San Bernardino National Forest, as do spectacular views. Castle Rock Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the area, is well-traveled by both local and visiting families. The trailhead is less than a mile from Boulder Bay Park in town, near the lake’s southwest shore.
The hike up to Castle Rock is just over a mile one way, with an elevation gain of about 800 feet. The steepness of the trail gives it a moderate rating, but the trail’s short length makes it manageable for most skill levels. And the view of Big Bear Lake from the top is well worth the effort.
Castle Rock is only one of several fantastic hiking paths in the region. Another popular route on the other side of the lake is the Cougar Crest Trail, which connects to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
The Skyline Trail is another recommended hike for those looking for a more challenging adventure. This 15-mile route, which also serves as a mountain biking trail, traverses the high-mountain region above the lake’s southern shore.
6. Take a boat ride at Boulder Bay Park.
Boulder Bay Park provides a postcard-perfect view of Big Bear. The scenery here includes water, mountains, and massive rock islands that are visually appealing. This lovely public space, located two miles east of the Bear Valley Dam, provides year-round recreation.
During the summer, the park is popular for activities such as picnicking and admiring the panoramic views. Non-motorized, hand-carried vessels are also very popular in the summer. Boaters can paddle out to the park’s namesake boulder islands and climb around at their own risk. There is also plenty of green space in the park for lawn activities.
When the seasons’ colours add impressive hues to the environment, spring and autumn provide a new appeal to Boulder Bay. The month of April is ideal for viewing wildflowers throughout the park and surrounding mountainsides. During the winter, activities such as snow-pal building and other snowbound activities encourage people to spend time outside.
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7. Take a ride on the Alpine Pedal Path.
The Alpine Pedal Path is a beautiful bike trail that runs along Big Bear Lake’s north shore. This approximately 3.2-mile path connects the Stanfield Cutoff to the Big Bear Solar Observatory and is one of the most popular free things to do in Big Bear. The Big Bear Discovery Center is also accessible via this route.
The path is relatively flat and suitable for people of all walking abilities. Bicyclists enjoy the trail as well. Every step of the way, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking view of the lake and mountains. Several wildflowers line the route between May and July.
All modes of non-motorized transportation are permitted on the Alpine Pedal Path. Expect to see walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, strollers, and scooters on any given day. On sunny afternoons, visitors should expect to see some crowds.
8. Get Some Food
While many people come to Big Bear for the four seasons, the area’s restaurants also draw people back. Big Bear has developed dining traditions as a result of the influx of tourists. Eating out in Big Bear is often a fun part of the visiting experience, with everything from classic breakfast joints to casual cafés and classy eateries.
Teddy Bear Restaurant and Grizzly Manor Cafe are two classic Big Bear breakfast spots. These breakfast staples serve far more than breakfast entrees, but have the longest morning waits. Dank Donuts, a new bakery in town that specialises in handmade morning pastries, is a good option for those who want something sweeter.
Big Bear’s lunch and dinner menus are nearly limitless. Get the Burger in Big Bear is the place to go for burgers with a side of Americana. The atmosphere at Peppercorn Grille is ideal for a romantic date seeking a more upscale dining experience. To dine internationally, the popular Himalayan Restaurant serves Nepalese cuisine.
9. Big Bear Snow Play’s Snow Tube
Big Bear Snow Play, located near the lake’s southwest shore, is the best place for family fun in the winter. This ski resort-turned-snow-tube-paradise has the longest tube runs in Southern California. At the facility, a convenient magic carpet eliminates any uphill travel.
Typically, the snow tubing season lasts from mid-November to Easter. Big Bear Snow Play adds snowmaking machines near the start and end of the season. A single pass to Big Bear Snow Play provides all-day access to the fun. Glow tubing is also available in the evenings on weekends and holidays.
There is also an indoor heated lodge with a snack bar at the facility. Big Bear Snow Play is also not dormant in the winter. When the snow melts, Big Bear Speedway comes alive with fast-paced and family-friendly go-karts. During the summer, a ropes course is also available, with visitors navigating obstacles up to 35 feet in the air.
10. Meet Some Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hikers
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) winds through the San Bernardino Mountains on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. Long-distance hikers, or thru-hikers, can reach the city via a 2.5-mile side trip on the Cougar Crest Trail. Big Bear is mile 266 on the approximately 2,650-mile journey northbound from Mexico.
Because of its proximity to the PCT, Big Bear is a popular trail town for hikers. Thru-hikers can be identified by their large backpacks, hiking poles, and, more often than not, a little dirt caked onto their clothing. Northbound hikers arrive in the area around May, and many thru-hikers are eager to share details about their journeys if asked.
More importantly, the close proximity allows visitors to access the PCT on their own. The Cougar Crest Trail begins a half-mile west of the Big Bear Discovery Center and ascends 800 feet to the PCT. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely day hike or an overnight trip on one of the country’s most well-known hiking trails.
The trail connects with the PCT for a quarter-mile to complete the Cougar Crest experience. It then continues for another 0.8 miles to Bertha Peak on its own. The view of Big Bear Lake from here is spectacular.
11. Spend the Night in a Cabin
Big Bear has a number of vacation rentals where you can spend the night. The several cabins available near the lake are arguably the cosiest accommodations. These rustic getaways complement the adjacent San Bernardino National Forest.
Big Bear also has a number of larger cabin rental providers. Big Bear Cabins and Big Bear Cool Cabins both have a number of properties close and on the lake.
The Big Bear Hostel is a nice and tidy location to stay with amazing value for people searching for more economical accommodations and dorm rooms. Private rooms and cabins are also available at Big Bear Hostel.
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