Big Bear Lake, California, is truly a magical destination to visit. With breath-taking scenery, year-round activities, mountains and lots of cute places to stay, Big Bear is the perfect place to visit. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hoping for a romantic getaway, family fun, or you’re a single explorer; there’s something here for everyone.
The area may be known as “Big” Bear Lake, but actually, it’s quite a small place, which makes finding things less complicated. Big Bear Lake’s well known for its small-town charm, with cobbled streets, cozy coffee shops, quaint boutiques, and restaurants galore, all within what’s known as “The Village.”
Just a two-hour drive from Palm Springs (where the nearest airport is) and Los Angeles, Big Bear averages roughly 75 inches of snow each year. So, as you can imagine, it’s popular with skiers. So it’s hardly surprising that Big Bear Lake’s busiest during ski season (late December through to late February).
It’s also buzzing during Oktoberfest- a fun, annual event, but more on that later.
On average, Big Bear boasts 300 days of sunshine each year, so look forward to clear blue skies, whenever you come.
So, with all that being said, what can you do in Big Bear Lake? Let’s take a look at what the area offers during each season. That way, you can decide what time of year best suits you. Let’s dive in!
It seems fitting to start with Big Bear’s busiest season. During the winter this small town turns into an enchanted winter wonderland, where skiers, whether they’re beginners or experts-take to the award-winning ski resorts located in Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.
Big Bear Mountain Resort
This is where beginners can learn how to ski. The lessons at the Adventure Academy are fabulous for newbies. Plus, you can also hire rental equipment to start your fun on the slopes.
In addition to skiing gear, you can also rent snowshoes to enjoy the forest trails. The North Shore trails in particular offer stunning, panoramic views of both the lake and the ski slopes.
Don’t fancy walking; how about biking? Lease a mountain bike to explore the area. If you’ve never tried mountain biking before, treat yourself to a few lessons and learn the ropes. Or, if you want to revive your skills, there are classes for that too.
If none of that sounds like your type of fun, how about zooming down the slopes on a brightly-colored snow tube? Snow tubing is another popular activity in Big Bear, which offers heaps of fun, without overly exerting yourself.
What about a tour?
Tours are a magnificent way to experience the local surroundings and landscape in Big Bear. The guides are informative, fun, and always know the best views. So, have your camera at the ready! Alternatively, you can take in the snowy surroundings in a Jeep tour, or perhaps see The Village and forest on a two-hour Segway tour.
Want a better view? How about trying a helicopter tour? Savor the spectacular winter landscape as your fly across Big Bear Lake. Or, for the more adventurous reader,s why not sweep through the trees on a zip-line tour?
Top Tip: Look up safety advice for both exploring on foot during the winter, and driving. Specific equipment may be recommended, or even necessary for your safety.
To see Big Bear during Spring is a glorious thing. Expect to hear the sweet chirp of birds singing in the pines. Not to mention, wild rainstorms creating seasonal streams that rush through the rocky creeks.
In April, the Pebble Plains burst with wildflowers. It’s here that rare species can be found exclusively to the Big Bear area. Tours are available on weekends at the Discovery Centre.
Wherever you go in Big Bear, you’ll see patches of color and wildlife. But, if you hike along one of the mountain trails or stroll along the lake, you may still come across spots of snow.
Why not pack a picnic full of your favorite goodies and head for an off-road adventure? The Gold Fever Trail offers a 12-mile, self-guided adventure, where you can learn about the gold mining history of the area.
Big Bear Lake is over 6,700 feet above sea level, making it perfect for elevation training. Athletes looking to-up-their-game in endurance sports should definitely pay a visit during the Spring.
After you acclimatize to the altitude levels, take to the Pine Knot Trail for a six-mile hike that’ll get the heart pumping. Alternatively, jump on your mountain bike and follow the 16-mile Skyline Trail. This is undoubtedly more of a challenge, but the views are worth it!
Of course, exposing yourself to high-altitude can cause health problems, so don’t do too much too soon. Allow your body to acclimatize to the lower oxygen levels properly.
Big Bear’s fabulous for any traveler craving a nature-filled escape. With clear blue skies and crisp mountain air, what could be better? That’s not including the seven-mile lake that’s overflowing with activity. It’s positively the perfect place for a summer alpine adventure.
The wildflowers that are famous in Spring adorn the forests and hedgerows until late July. Thunderstorms and sudden showers can be expected, particularly in late July and early August, however, these tend to pass through the valley pretty quickly.
Summer is the perfect time of year for a day cruising on the lake in boat rental. Or hop on a lake tour, grab a drink and enjoy the beautiful scenery, all from the comfort of the upper deck.
A guided 90-minute cruise on Big Bear Lake is available. Ideal for anyone wanting to learn a bit about the area’s history, gaze at the mountains or hear about the celebrities who’ve made Big Bear Lake their second home.
Relaxing not your thing? How about taking some wakeboarding lessons, or water-skiing lessons from experienced and licensed pros? These lessons are for anyone and everyone. Be it a first-timer or an advanced thrill-seeker.
Adrenaline-junkies should try sky-high parasailing, or make shapes on the lake with a couple of jet-skis. For those who prefer easy-going thrills, try knee-boarding or tubing. Both of which are a real laugh!
Family-fun is in abundance too, with water activities and lessons available for all ages.
Big Bear has six marinas, where you can hire virtually any water toy you can imagine. From kayaking and canoeing, to pedal boats and paddleboards, or even take a ride on a pirate ship!
There’s loads of fun to be had away from the water. Like any other season in Big Bear hiking, mountain biking, and coastal drives offer spectacular views. As we’ve already said, trails abound here, and there’s something to suit every ability.
Be sure to pay the Big Bear Discovery Centre a visit. They provide tourist info on all things forest-related and maps. They also offer loads of activities during the summer, like nature walks, nature crafts, ranger campfires, just to name a few!
The Big Bear Alpine zoo is an absolute must-see. It’s one of two alpine zoos in the whole of the United States. For 65 years this organization has rescued, rehabilitated and released animals brought in from the forest. For animals not well enough to return to the wild, they’re given a forever home here.
Alternatively, pay a visit to the Big Bear History Museum where the area’s rich history is preserved. The museum offers tours, featured speakers, and holds an extensive collection of artifacts and exhibitions on the indigenous Serrano Indians, the gold mining era, and much, much more.
For science enthusiasts, the Big Bear Solar Observatory is a must-see. The observatory is free to enter and open all year round.
For family-friendly summer activities, head to Magic Mountain Recreation Area. With waterslides, go-karts, and mini-golfing, you’re sure to find your fill of fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. Don’t forget to check out Big Bear Bowling Barn for a fabulous evening of glow bowling. Search for treasure at the Gold Rush Mining Adventure, or check out Mountain Room Escapes for a challenging escape room puzzle.
Fall at Big Bear is a photographer’s dream.
As summer melts away, the mountain air turns crisper, and a warm hue casts a glow over Big Bear Lake. Dense forests of pine and fir offer deep backdrops to the amber, yellow and orange leaves that begin to emerge.
Take part in the annual Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest, where you can enjoy authentic German food, imported brews, traditional dances, and Bavarian bands. Big Bear Oktoberfest runs every Saturday and Sunday until November 3rd. You don’t want to miss out on this fun!
Fall is the perfect time for family fun. From old-fashioned hayrides to action-packed tours, to flashlight safari at the zoo, you’re sure to find something to make beautiful family memories.
For outdoor enthusiasts, long hikes or mountain biking down the Alpine Pedal Path offers some breath-taking views. For the best paths to view the colors of fall, try the following trails: Castle Rock, Pine Knot, and Town. You can find all these on the South Shore.
Alternatively, you can drive, hike or cycle up Mill Creek Road or take the Skyline Trail to Bluff Lake Reserve. This is the place to be for a quiet walk through beautiful autumnal scenery. For enthusiastic campers, Pineknot Campground is open until late October and Serrano Campground is open until the end of November. Bring marshmallows, smores, and your best campfire stories!
To see Big Bear in all its autumnal beauty, you could also take a tour. Jump aboard the Miss Liberty, or the Big Bear Pirate Ship, to see splashes of color lining the shore. Or fly over the forest in a helicopter and view the colorful kaleidoscope of trees below. You could also glide up the mountain via the Scenic Sky Chair or take a guided tour in a Jeep or Segway. Whatever your style or preferred mode of transport, Big Bear has you covered!
Of course, it’s no surprise that in October, everything in Big Bear gets a little spookier with the Big Bear Scare. Brave the Haunted Hayrides when ‘Scare Valley Farms’ comes alive with the ‘undead.’ For little ones, how about taking them to Boo at the zoo so they can show off their costumes, or take them to the Village for a traditional Trick-or-Treat experience.
If that’s not enough for you, The Big Bear Village Scarecrow Festival runs from mid-September to early November. As you may have already guessed, this is where The Village displays its creative-looking scarecrows, which only adds to the rustic charm of the place.
We’ve mentioned The Village several times already, but what exactly is it? The Village is the central hub for shopping, entertainment, and dining, situated in the heart of Big Bear Lake.
Here you’ll find an array of restaurants where both gourmet and home-style food is available. Pubs, eateries, and coffeehouses offer visitors a chance to feast and satisfy the appetites they’ve worked up from all the mountain air, excitement, and activities.
The charm of The Village spans the seasons. Winter turns the Village into a frosty wonderland, where holiday lights twinkle in the trees which give the impression of delicate ice sculptures.
Firepits are located throughout, so if you get chilly while browsing the shops and restaurants, you can warm yourself up. In contrast, The Village is also lined with plenty of leafy trees which offer shade during the summer. Rock-walled planters add a burst of color and joy to the area, as you peruse the shops or menus.
If shopping is on the agenda, The Village provides a unique and fun experience. Many gifts reflect the mountain motif, as well as the rich history of the area.
If you want to purchase your own summer or winter recreational equipment, you can do so at one of the many shops here.
Alternatively, if you’re an art enthusiast, the galleries capture Big Bear’s stunning surroundings wonderfully. Crafts and craftsmanship are essential to this area. So, if you want to find unique gifts, elaborate décor or artwork, never fear. There’s plenty to be found. Or even if you’re going to buy crafting items like yarn to create your own masterpiece, The Village has you covered.
One-off boutiques and unique designs are sure to be had. During the fall, you’ll find many autumnal prints and coats to tempt you, and in the Spring, the shops stock all the latest styles. Seasonal apparel is available too- from fashionable snow boots to winter jackets, to colorful tees and swimwear. You name it, you’ll find it in The Village.
Big Bear has it all
Big Bear Lake truly offers something for everyone. With such a vast array of activities, be it for the adrenaline-junkie, the outdoor adventurer, or the relaxing couple, you’re sure to find plenty to do.
Choose from numerous trails, depending on the challenge you want, or the scenery you want to take in. Fill your lungs with bracing mountain air as you hike, bike, or boat around the area.
Each season offers beautiful surroundings and fun activities and events for all. Whatever season you decide to come in, you’ll be sure to build many precious and lasting memories in this idyllic and enchanting area.
Have you ever paid a visit to Big Bear? If so, we’d love to hear what you got up to in the comments box below. Let’s kickstart the conversation. Speak soon!
Rosie Greaves is a professional freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in all things lifestyle and business. You can also find here work on Reader's Digest, Cake and Lace, and Love You Tomorrow. Budapest is hands down the favorite place she's traveled to.