Just two hours from Los Angeles, the San Bernardino Mountains offer a cool, pine-scented escape. At an altitude of 6,759 feet (2,060 meters), Big Bear Lake is a hub for alpine recreation. Known for its famed Snow Summit and Bear Mountain resorts in the winter and its seven-mile lake in the summer, Big Bear serves as a year-round Southern California escape.
“We are known for skiing and snowboarding, but there’s a lot to do up here in the summertime as well,” says Clayton Shoemaker, the marketing director for Big Bear Mountain Resorts. “Whether you’re a hiker or a biker, you can access 60-plus miles of cross-country trails.”
When the snow melts, Snow Summit’s Scenic Sky Chair transforms into a mile-long ride to 8,200-foot panoramic views. Whether you’re seeking single-track climbs or flat lakeside paths, .2-mile strolls or rugged 15-mile loops, Big Bear offers a collection of recreational trails for every level—many of which offer incredible views of the lake below.
Surrounded by towering peaks and lined by Ponderosa pine forests, the shimmering Big Bear Lake is a popular playground for motorized- and people-powered watercraft. You can rent equipment of all kinds, including paddleboards, kayaks, or boats for waterskiing or fishing.
Looking for a unique perspective of this alpine town? Fly over mountain lakes and the Mojave Desert on a helicopter tour, get behind the wheel to take on rugged terrain on a Big Bear Jeep Experience, or glide among the treetops on a zipline tour with Action Zipline Tours. You’ll soar as high as 85 feet above the forest floor—the sweeping views of the snowy scenery are unbeatable as you slice through the brisk mountain air. If you prefer to stay earthbound, choose from the many trails for mountain bikers and hikers. The lake is also home to nesting bald eagles in winter, which you can see on tours offered by Big Bear Discovery Center.
If you’re looking to anchor your trip to a specific occasion, there’s no shortage of events throughout the year, ranging from fishing tournaments and fireworks to the annual Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest, where you can test your strength at the stein-holding competition and sample German food throughout consecutive weekends every fall.
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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