Big Bear Lake is a popular mountain escape destination in Southern California known for its ski resorts and outdoor activities. Home to miles of hiking trails, beautiful cabin stays, and plenty of that fresh mountain air, Big Bear is a great destination for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers, and has something to offer visitors of all ages all year-round.
Below I’m sharing 15 of the best things to do in Big Bear Lake, to help you plan your next getaway to the Southern California mountains.
- Getting to Big Bear Lake, California
- 15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear
- Hiking near Big Bear Lake:
- Activities & Attractions in Big Bear:
- 6. Big Bear Discovery Center
- 7. Big Bear Alpine Zoo at Moonridge
- 8. Picnic at Boulder Bay Park
- 9. Bike Alpine Pedal Path along Big Bear Lake
- 10. Dining & Shopping in Big Bear Village
- 11. Water Activities on Big Bear Lake
- 12. Helicopter Tours over Big Bear Lake
- 13. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
- 14. Ski or Snowboard at Big Bear Mountain Resort
- 15. Stanfield Marsh Wildlife Preserve
Getting to Big Bear Lake, California
Big Bear Lake is a small town located in the San Bernardino mountains and is easily accessible from most of southern California. It’s about a 2-hour drive to Big Bear from Los Angeles (96 miles), but depending on the weather and road conditions it could also take you much longer.
The one main highway (Highway 18) that takes you up and down the mountain from LA is only 1-lane each direction. During the winter months in the snow the drive can even take 4-8 hours – I’ve been stuck on this road myself for 6 hours before while heading home to San Diego.
Always check the weather and road conditions before heading out to Big Bear, and before any of your road trip adventures.
Also note: If you plan to travel to Big Bear Lake during the winter months, you must bring snow chains with you even if there’s no snow present during your drive there. If you’re stopped by a highway patrol officer and they find you without snow chains, you’ll be asked to turn around and purchase some before getting back on the road.
15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear
Hiking near Big Bear Lake:
Big Bear Lake and the hiking trails listed here are all found within San Bernardino National Forest – which means there’s fees involved for parking at some of these trailheads. It’s $5 for a Day Pass, or $30 for the annual National Forest Adventure Pass. However, if you plan to hit up some other national parks or forests later on in the year, I recommend getting the America the Beautiful annual pass, which is also honored within National Forests.
You can learn more about the National Forest Adventure Pass and all other national recreation pass options for San Bernardino National Forest here.
1. Castle Rock Trail
Castle Rock Trail is Big Bear’s most popular hike and leads you to beautiful views of the lake. It’s just under 3-miles roundtrip and has about 800 feet of elevation gain, and the panoramic views at the top are definitely worth the trek up.
2. Pine Knot Trail (Adventure Pass Required)
Pine Knot Trail is another one of Big Bear Lake’s more popular hikes. It’s a moderate 6-mile roundtrip hike on a well-maintained trail and leads you to Grand View Point, which offers beautiful views of the mountains.
3. Woodland Trail (Adventure Pass Required)
Woodland Trail is a 1.5-mile interpretive loop in San Bernardino National Forest along Big Bear Lake’s north shore.
4. Cougar Crest Trail (Adventure Pass Required)
Cougar Crest Trail is another one of Big Bear’s most popular trails – It’s a moderate 2.4-mile hike that actually intersects with the famous Pacific Crest Trail. The trailhead can be found along North Shore Drive, just west of the Big Bear Discovery Center.
5. Day Trip to Deep Creek Hot Springs
If you’re feeling adventurous and are looking for hot springs near Big Bear, take a day trip out to the desert to Deep Creek Hot Springs Trail. Deep Creek Hot Springs is located near Hesperia, California, about 1.5 hours (46 miles) northwest of Big Bear Lake. It’s a challenging 3.6-mile out-and-back hike (the return being all uphill), but these natural hot springs are truly one of a kind and worth the trek.
Parking at the trailhead costs $10/person (not per vehicle), and since the trailhead and campgrounds are located on privately owned land, your Adventure Pass is not honored here.
Activities & Attractions in Big Bear:
6. Big Bear Discovery Center
Big Bear Discovery Center is a great first stop for anyone visiting Big Bear Lake, California, or the San Bernardino National Forest in general. It offers plenty of information about the region’s flora and fauna, as well as all the local camping, hiking, and biking trails. You can also purchase your Adventure Pass for parking at the trailheads here.
7. Big Bear Alpine Zoo at Moonridge
Big Bear Alpine Zoo (previously known as Moonridge Animal Park) was founded in 1959 by Dr. Charles M. Moonridge. The zoo takes in orphaned and injured animals, and is home to those otherwise unfit to survive in the wild. A lot of these animals are only temporary guests who eventually make their way back to their natural habitats.
Among some of the animals you can find at the zoo are: mountain lions, grizzly bears, bobcats, lynx, otters, deer, and more.
8. Picnic at Boulder Bay Park
Boulder Bay Park is located about 2 miles away from Bear Valley Dam and offers beautiful mountain views right along the lake. It’s a great spot to enjoy a relaxing afternoon picnic, or to get out on the water for boating, kayaking or canoeing.
9. Bike Alpine Pedal Path along Big Bear Lake
The Alpine Pedal Path is a paved trail running along the north side of Big Bear Lake. It starts at the Stanfield Cutoff and goes all the way to Serrano Campground, stretching 3.2 miles along the lake. It passes by the Big Bear Solar Observatory and the Big Bear Discovery Center.
10. Dining & Shopping in Big Bear Village
The Village is the heart of Big Bear Lake and offers plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment. You could easily spend a day here exploring the local shops and restaurants or unwinding from your last hike.
Some of the top-rated restaurants in The Village:
- Grizzly Manor Cafe – for breakfast & lunch
- Peppercorn Grille – for seafood, steaks & Italian
- Tropicali – for Hawaiian and poke bowls
11. Water Activities on Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake definitely has no shortage of water activities. Among some of the most popular ways visitors can spend a day out on the lake are by kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, boating and fishing.
12. Helicopter Tours over Big Bear Lake
I didn’t have enough time during my last trip to Big Bear to check out these helicopter tours, but it’s high on my list for the next time I’m up in the mountains! Helicopter Big Bear offers a variety of tour options ranging from 7-45 minute rides (the quickest ride being only $35). What better way to get a view of the lake than from up in the air!
13. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
I got to tap into my inner child again in Big Bear at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain – a fun and family-friendly outdoor park with a variety of attractions. One of the most popular activities here is the Alpine Slide, which is a cross between an outdoor slide and a rollercoaster. Riders take a ski lift to the top of the mountain and get to control the speed going down the track to the bottom. A single ride costs $9, and the park only accepts cash – However they do have on-site ATMs available.
Among some of the other popular attractions here are The Soaring Eagle (which is similar to a zip line except riders sit in a chair), and the Mine Shaft Coaster, which most closely resembles a roller coaster that riders can also control the speed of.
You can learn more about the attractions at The Magic Mountain Recreation Area in Big Bear Lake on their website here.
14. Ski or Snowboard at Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months in Southern California. Snow Summit is the more family-friendly of the slopes, while Bear Mountain is more popular among snowboarders.
When snow is not present, there’s also a variety of other outdoor activities in Big Bear available year-round, including mountain biking, hiking, and golfing. You can learn more about the recreation options at Big Bear Mountain Resort on their website here.
15. Stanfield Marsh Wildlife Preserve
If you’re a nature enthusiast, the Stanfield Marsh Wildlife Preserve is a great place to see birds and other animals in Big Bear. The march has a wooden boardwalk which allow you to explore the nature preserve by foot, and makes this an excellent spot for birdwatching. You can also spend the afternoon here having a picnic with the family underneath the preserve’s wooden gazebo and relaxing while enjoying the scenery.
Have you ever been to this beautiful mountain retreat destination in Southern California? Let me know what your favorite spots and outdoor activities are in Big Bear Lake in the comments below!
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