Roughly 100 miles east of Los Angeles is an alpine community of pine and oak woodlands, dense swaths of San Bernardino National Forest, and a pristine mountain lake seven miles in length. Once the domain of grizzly bears and prospectors, Big Bear Lake is now an epicenter of outdoor recreation—a city that enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine each year for fishing, boating, hiking, and mountain biking.
So hop in the car and head for the San Bernardino Mountains—these are our favorite things to do in Big Bear this summer!
With summer daytime temperatures that linger comfortably near 80 degrees, it’s little wonder that life in Big Bear revolves around the lake. Simply purchase a boating permit at any one of the marinas on the 22-mile shoreline and you’ll be in for a summer of sailing, pontoon boating, canoeing, and kayaking (visit Big Bear Marina or Designated Wakesports for rentals or charters). Looking to cool off in this manmade wonder? Rent a paddleboard, take out a jet ski, or test your skills at wakeboarding and water skiing.
Keep one eye open for boats flying a white flag from their stern—it’s a symbol among anglers that they’re trolling for local rainbow trout. Hook up with an experienced guide from Big Bear Charter Fishing or choose to supply your own boat, fishing license, and rods and tackle (all of which are available at local marinas). Either way, you’ll find healthy populations of trout, largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish swimming in depths of up to 72 feet.
It’s always a good time to stargaze in Big Bear, thanks to the atmospheric transparency and image stability that come with altitudes of up to 9,000 feet. But each May, the city plays host to the annual StarLight Festival, an educational celebration of science and astronomy. If you’re looking for free things to do in Big Bear, it’s hard to beat a tour of the Big Bear Solar Observatory and demonstrations and lectures by NASA scientists and astronauts.
You need not be a thru-hiker to spend a day on the Pacific Crest Trail, a portion of which traces the eastern and northern reaches of Big Bear Valley. But the PCT is only one of many Big Bear hiking trails, which range from gentle nature walks to strenuous rocky climbs. Begin the morning with a trail map and an Adventure Pass (for national forest parking) from the Big Bear Discovery Center, and you’ll be all set for a hike depending on your chosen difficulty level:
Whether you’re an experienced mountain biker or brand new to the sport, you’ll find something to suit your needs on 100 miles of bike trails and Forest Service roads. Take the Snow Summit Scenic Sky Chair to admire views of the lake and Mt. San Gorgonio on the 15-mile Skyline Trail, or opt for the nine-mile Grand View Loop from the top of the lift. Traveling with a novice? Help them find their confidence on the Woodland Trail before moving on to the thrilling single track of the six-mile Pine Knot Trail.
In a valley that was named for a roaming pack of grizzly bears, it seems only fitting that visitors would take time to mingle with the local fauna. Today, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo is home to more than 160 animals and 80 different species, including a family of grizzlies, two mountain lions, and a three-legged bear named Hucklebeary. You’ll get even closer to nature eight miles east at the Baldwin Lake Stables & Petting Zoo, where you can visit with goats and sheep before joining a spectacular sunset ride on horseback.
The mid-19th century was a colorful time in the history of Big Bear. In 1860, a hunter named William Holcomb tracked a trail of bear blood to a creek, only to find it sparkling with gold flakes. Before long, Holcomb had sparked a gold rush—the largest in all of Southern California—that would sustain until 1875. You’ll find this rich regional history on display at the Big Bear Historical Museum—the perfect place to keep in your pocket for the occasional rainy day.
No matter if you’re young in years or young at heart, you’ll rejoice in turning back the clock with a bit of innocent family fun.
But hiker or mountain biker, beach-goer or angler—you’ll find that this list is just the beginning of the sun-splashed summer activities in Big Bear.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo image courtesy of Brian Fox.