Big Bear Lake in Winter
Courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resorts

5 surprising reasons to visit Big Bear Lake in winter

With plenty of groomed runs and terrain parks at Big Bear Lake’s two alpine resorts, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, it’s easy to see why skiers and boarders head here when the snow flies. But this appealing alpine destination in the San Bernardino Mountains, the easy escape for Southern California snow lovers, also has plenty of off-slope ways to get out and play. “It’s really magical here when the snow falls, and there’s plenty to do beyond the ski mountains, inside and out,” says Dan McKernan of the Big Bear Visitors Bureau. Here are his top picks of things to do at Big Bear Lake in winter.

—Harriot Manley

A wintering bald eagle at Big Bear Lake
Amanda Richter/Getty Images

See Bald Eagles

See Bald Eagles
Join a guided eagle walk to spy these regal birds

“People are so surprised when they come to Big Bear Lake and see bald eagles flying around,” says McKernan. But the majestic birds of prey are a fairly common sight here during winter, migrating from Alaska and Canada as storms increase. To learn more about them, visit the Big Bear Alpine Zoo at Moonridge, which houses two rescued bald eagles, Alaska and Valentine. 

If you really like the idea of seeing eagles, consider joining a winter bald eagle count, a volunteer-supported effort that’s been held at Big Bear Lake and other San Bernardino locations since 1978. Volunteers are stationed at select vantage points for one-hour stints, recording bird sightings and any observations about the birds’ behavior. See a bald eagle dive for fish in a snowy wonderland, and you’ll never forget it.

Zip line ride near Big Bear Lake
Courtesy of Action Tours Big Bear

Ride a Zip Line

Ride a Zip Line
Zoom over and through snowy forests

For over-the-top outdoor playtime, take flight on a zip line high above the forest floor, for sweeping views of the snowy scenery. The safari-style ride offered by Action Zipline Tours lets you clip in, then zoom along nine separate lines ranging from 120 to 860 feet. By the end of your three-hour experience, you’ll be a zipping pro. You’ll also get an extra boost of adrenaline crossing an above-it-all suspension bridge. All gear and instruction is provided. Weather conditions have to be right for zip-lining, so be sure to call ahead for reservations, and get details on what to wear. 

A snowshoer in Big Bear Lake

Take a Snowshoe Trek

Take a Snowshoe Trek
Discover winter beauty in the San Bernardinos

Pack a picnic lunch (think hearty sandwiches and hot chocolate in a thermos) and trek on snowshoes on the region’s network of beautiful trails—the easy Town Trail is a local favorite. (Try Goldsmith’s Boardhouse for gear, maps, and trail recommendations.) If you’re new to the sport or just like to explore with an experienced guide, consider joining a trek with Action Tours Big Bear. Three-hour snowshoeing tours, best for ages 10 and older, are customised to match your interests and abilities. All gear is provided. 

Innertube Racing at Big Bear Lake
Courtesy of Greg Zook Photography

Race Inner Tubes & Sleds

Race Inner Tubes & Sleds
Snow parks offer lift-assisted sledding and tubing, day and night

For a lot of people, the winter scene around Big Bear Lake may be the first snow they have ever seen—and the first chance to go tubing and sledding. You’ll see every shape and size person, from little kids to grandparents, whooping and hollering as they bounce down the region’s snow-park hills on inner tubes or swoosh down in sleds. Chairlifts and Magic Carpet lifts make it easy to ride back up to the top and do it all over again.

At Big Bear Snow Play, zoom down a hill that used to be the Rebel Ridge ski area, and is now the site of the longest snow-tubing runs in Southern California. For after-dark fun at Snow Summit ski resort, try the Grizzly Ridge Tubing Park, with lighted runs and tubes labeled as “high-speed”—if that’s a good thing! At the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, whoosh bobsled-style down a winding flume; there’s a tubing hill too, open for daytime and nighttime sessions.

Himalayan cuisine at Big Bear Lake
Liz Clayman/Offset

Try Big Bear's Himalayan Cuisine

Try Big Bear's Himalayan Cuisine
Warm up with authentic dishes and homemade spices

Mountain cuisine of the highest order is served up at Himalayan Restaurant, one of the most inviting and popular restaurants in Big Bear Lake. Tables fill up fast at this well-established place, and it's little wonder: dishes from the Nepalese and Indian Himalayan regions such as palak aaloo (silky pureed spinach leaves and bite-sized potatoes sautéed with onions, ginger, garlic and homemade spices) and lamb makhni (tandoor-cooked lamb prepared with tomato-saffron and a curry cream sauce) are outstanding and come in rapid fire out of the small kitchen. It's a homely, relaxed setting—ski parkas and snow boots are welcome—and the staff are friendly and will happily guide you through the menu and suggest dishes. If you or members of your group are vegetarian or vegan, this is the perfect alternative to the burger and pizza places in Big Bear Village, as many of the dishes are vegan- and vegetarian-friendly.

Make sure you order a selection of naans (garlic, onion, cheese and more), which receive especially enthusiastic reviews, and don’t miss the mo-mo, Tibetan flour dumplings stuffed with meat or vegetables and served with a homemade achar dipping sauce and chutney. The house lemonade is also not to be missed—made with ginger for an extra twist, it’s perfect for imbibing on the outdoor patio in the summer. Indian beers and mango lassis (yogurt shakes) are also offered, which complete the authentic Himalayan vibe. And do strike up a conversation with your server; some of the staff have summited Everest.