A short drive from the surf and sand of Southern California, an entirely different landscape emerges: the mountains, lakes, and scenery of the Inland Empire. Head east from San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles, and take a California road trip along the 110-mile-long Rim of the World Scenic Byway, nicknamed for its stunning views along the cliffs of the San Bernardino Mountains. Here are five great stops to make along the way, culminating at Big Bear Lake.
Embark on the Rim of the World
The Inland Empire byway begins at Cajon Pass, on State Highway 138 between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. You can take this California road trip year-round: You’ll want tire chains during the snowy winter, but that’s also when you can make snow angels in the Snow Play Area. Make the most of photo-op-ready turnouts, like Silverwood Lake Overlook off State Highway 138, which offers a view of the sparkling lake.
Recharge at Lake Arrowhead
Take a detour on State Route 173 to relax at this deep-blue mountain lake and the quaint town that neighbors it. Stay the night at Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa, just outside the village, where you can kayak across the lake, roast s’mores on the shore, or get a massage. While you’re here, hike a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail—about seven miles from the lake—or take a steamboat ride on the Arrowhead Queen to ogle lakefront homes and learn about the movies filmed here over the years. Stop at Shop Road Trip and pick up some hand-crafted pottery, sun-catchers, vintage rugs, and native-tribe-made sweaters.
Play at Big Bear Lake
Get on State Route 18 and head toward Big Bear Lake Village. Embrace the Alpine scenery on the western side of the Rim by staying in a modern version of a mountain cabin. The cottages of Noon Lodge, which first opened in the 1950s, have been renovated with cedar detailing, kitchens, fireplaces, and cheeky-cabin decor (as well as TVs and WiFi). For a great breakfast or lunch, stop at Big Bear Local, owned by pro surfer Sanoe Lake Eaton and her husband, where they serve California-meets-Hawaii cuisine like teriyaki, poke, and açai bowls, along with marshmallow-laced lattes.
Zipline Between the Trees
Skis, snowboards, and hiking boots may be the classic ways to enjoy Big Bear, but they’re not the only way to get a head rush around here. Action Tours offers outings with snow shoes, Segways, and even tree-rope-climbing gear. Or, take one of their zipline tours, a three-hour adventure with nine runs amid the trees and mountain scenery.
Hike Castle Rock Trail
Get one more awesome view in the Big Bear area on the popular Castle Rock Trail, a sometimes-steep three-mile hike. The forest-lined walk takes you past huge granite boulders as you ascend through Ponderosa pines, white firs, and incense cedars to get a panoramic view of Big Bear Lake. Come in spring or summer to see a waterfall, and keep an eye out for herons, hawks, and even bald eagles.
With its inviting destinations and uncrowded wilderness, this region feels like an insider’s secret amid the bustling excitement of Southern California.
Mount San Gorgonio—nicknamed “Old Grayback”—is the tallest peak in Southern California, at 11,502 feet/3,506 meters.
Surprising alpine scenery around Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear beckons, with pine-scented trails in summer and winter sports when the snow flies. If you’re into action, get the adrenaline rush of seeing the world’s best NASCAR racers compete at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. For a dreamier escape, float in a hot-air balloon above rolling Temecula Valley wine country.
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