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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Don GrahamBig Bear Lake

The 13 best things to do in Big Bear

Hike, ski, bike and explore your way through SoCal's mountainous frontier with the best things to do in Big Bear

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
&
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
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The skiing opportunities in Big Bear may not be able to compete with the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but it’s all about location—specifically that this location is within a two-hour drive of both Los Angeles and Palm Springs. But there are more things to do in Big Bear than winter sports. Indeed, the mountain region’s focal point, Big Bear Lake, is perfect for a summer dip, and the many hiking, biking and kayak routes lend themselves to Southern California’s lengthy warm-weather seasons.

While you're there, be sure to make the trip over to nearby Lake Arrowhead as well, Big Bear's less-crowded neighboring reservoir (hot tip: make friends with someone who owns a boat). Lake Arrowhead Village is full of lakeside shopping and dining options with stellar water views.

Both towns have an elevation of around 6,000 feet, which means your drive there will be full of steep curves and gradual inclines. Plan accordingly if you typically get car sick - or if you have an electric vehicle that will quickly lose mileage as you begin the vertical climb. Scenic views along the way will help distract you, but don't be surprised if the valley below is socked in with fog. There aren't many places to stop along the way, so be sure to pack snacks and drinks for the ride! 

So go ahead and book some cozy accommodations, take a stroll through Pine Knot Village and tackle these 13 things to do in Big Bear.

  • Things to do
  • Sport events
  • Big Bear
  • price 3 of 4

Walk across a suspension bridge and zoom across nine separate zip lines that range from 140 to 860 feet long. Expect to soar up to 85 feet above the forest floor and at speeds up to 35mph—hopefully not too fast to distract you from the surrounding mountainous scenery. You’ll have to book an experience through Action Tours, which includes an off-road ride to and from the zip lines. The entire tour lasts about three hours.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Big Bear

If you embark on one hike in Big Bear, let it be this moderate but approachable trail. The dog-friendly forest hike is no more than a couple of miles round-trip, but the first half-mile involves a 500-foot elevation gain. Put in the effort and you’ll be rewarded with sparkly views of the lake. The trailhead is located right along the highway; look for a limited number of parking spots just east in a turnout on the north side of the road.

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  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Big Bear

What started as a 1950s rehabilitation center for injured animals has morphed into a mountaintop zoo (located at an elevation of 7,140 feet!) that provides a home to 85 species, both native to the San Bernardino National Forest and beyond. Expect to see deer, eagles, bears, foxes, wolves, coyotes, big cats and more. The large majority of animals brought to the zoo for rehabilitation are successfully released back into the wild once they've recovered.

Lake Arrowhead
Courtesy of Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa

4. Lake Arrowhead

Thirty miles east of Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead is a charming resort town that's definitely worth a visit while you're in the San Bernardino Mountains. The private, man-made lake (which is much smaller and less crowded than Big Bear Lake) is great for boating, fishing and water sports. Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa is the best spot for lakeside accommodations, with direct (private) lake access, an outdoor pool and jacuzzi with unobstructed lake views, plus a walking path over to Lake Arrowhead Village for shopping and dining. Their onsite restaurant Bin 189 is one of the few upscale eateries on the lake, offering contemporary American fare all day long. Get out on the water with a 50-minute narrated boat tour aboard the Lake Arrowhead Queen, grab a bite at Jettie's Waterfront Kitchen + Drink (dog and kid-friendly), and sip local craft beers at Lake Arrowhead Brewing Co.

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  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Big Bear
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For a drink with the locals, head to karaoke night (which is pretty much every night) at Murray’s Saloon, the town’s self-proclaimed “five star hole in the wall.” Opened for more than 25 years, the eatery serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus daily specials and late-night grub. Try a local or regional craft beer on draught here, or come hungry for a burger or fried seafood plate. Stay awhile and play a game of free pool.

 

  • Things to do
  • Big Bear

Snow Summit (peak 8,200 feet) is one of the larger ski areas in Southern California, and is especially popular with nearby Angelenos. A majority of the runs here are groomer blues, but the small beginner area is perfectly good for anyone who’s just learning, and a full quarter of the mountain is black diamonds. A lift ticket here will also grant you access to Snow Summit’s sister mountain, Bear Mountain (peak 8,805 feet). Snow season typically runs from November to April.

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  • Things to do
  • Big Bear

Bear Mountain was purchased by neighboring mountain Snow Summit back in 2002. Some say this was a calculated move to entice snowboarders to Bear Mountain, leaving Snow Summit to the skiiers. In fact, Bear Mountain has been nicknamed “The Park” for its irregular terrain, and established one of the first freestyle parks way back in the early ’90s. Bear Mountain boasts three main peaks, including Bear’s Peak, Southern California’s highest peak served by a lift at just over 8,800 feet.

  • Things to do
  • Inland Empire

Tucked away just west of Big Bear, Snow Valley Mountain Resort is the oldest continually-operating ski resort in Southern California. Back in the 1920s, the site was developed as a lumber mill and roadside resort, and by the 1930s slopes were developed for tobogganing and skiing. Snow Valley featured one of the first overhead cable ski lifts, and today it has one of the area's best beginner slopes and SoCal's only sledding area serviced via chairlift. 

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  • Attractions
  • Theme parks
  • Big Bear
  • price 1 of 4

Scoot down a hillside no matter the season on this pair of high-banked slides. Pilot your sled down a concrete track at your own speed (stick with the right-hand track if it’s your first time), and make sure to take in the scenery during the minute-and-a-half ride. The area also features a water slide in the summer and snow tubing in the winter, and is home to SoCal's only bobsled experience. 

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Big Bear

Pedal a 3.2-mile (each way) pathway along the northeast edge of Big Bear Lake on this paved traila much more approachable option compared to the area’s more rugged, off-road expeditions. You’ll find the midpoint near the Discovery Center, and the western terminus just past the Solar Observatory. Look out for bald eagles from the late fall through early spring. Dogs are welcome on the trail but must be kept on a leash. 

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  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Big Bear

Stare at the sun—safely, of course—via the data collected at this world-class solar observatory. Though docent-led public tours are offered all year round, swing by during summer for the most frequent offerings. Come during daytime, since solar telescopes are specifically made to observe the sun. Note: you'll need to walk down and back on a gravel road (about 1,000 feet), plus up and down three flights of stairs to get to the telescope. But it's worth the trek! 

  • Museums
  • History
  • Big Bear
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This seasonal history museum celebrates the area’s legacy and inhabitants over the years, including indigenous populations, gold miners, ranchers and winter sports enthusiasts. Look through archival photos and relics inside, and find old cabins (available for touring) and equipment outside. The museum’s centerpiece general store dates back to 1929; it was moved onto the eventual museum parkland in the late ’70s. The museum is operated by the Big Bear Valley Historical Society and admission is free.

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  • Attractions
  • Sightseeing
  • Big Bear

Temporarily Closed

Consider this your first stop before venturing out into the wildnerness of San Bernardino National Forest. This visitors center provides information on hiking, biking and camping, and it also hosts naturalist-led eco tours, entertainment (think concerts and theater productions) and nighttime programming. Note: they are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

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