Big Bear is located 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. While it is a four seasons community, it is best known for its ski resorts during the winter season.
My friends and I were looking for a weekend road trip escape from the heat.
Somewhere with water
We all agreed.
We were having a fun time scanning google maps for lakes and rivers within a couple of hours from our hometown of San Diego. Somehow, after a bit of debate, we ended up choosing Big Bear Lake. None of us had been in ages (or at all), and definitely not during the summer, so we weren’t sure what to expect. All we knew was that there were some hiking trails and an inviting looking lake, and by golly, we were going to get in it.
Big Bear during the offseason was everything and also nothing like what I expected. Here are a few of my takeaways from a weekend around the lake.
Snow Summit Trails
While doing some research on cool hikes to do in Big Bear, I came across a hike at Snow Summit (one of the local ski resorts). What I read mentioned you can hike a trail there to the top of the mountain or you can take the ski lift to the top and bike down. I don’t know why I pictured this so much differently in my head, but I was imagining that we could rent a bike and leisurely bike down the mountains. When we arrived at Snow Summit, I was immediately caught off guard. We pulled in the parking lot and felt like we had made the wrong turn. Surrounding us in every direction were trucks filled with expensive mountain bikes and thrill seekers covered head to toe in protective gear. My girlfriends and I were wearing your average run of the mill workout wear. We did not fit in at all. Turns out in the summer, Snow Summit becomes a haven for extreme mountain bikers. Who knew? Well probably every local, but definitely not us.
We asked for a map at the ticket booth and were told to start with the Log Chute Trail. The trail starts to the left of most of the other biking trails, so as we climbed the 1.4 miles trail through the forest and meadows, we actually didn’t encounter much of anyone but a couple of locals hiking down.
The hike was a bit strange at first. The trail markers were few and far between and we definitely felt weird hiking what is normally a mountain covered in snow during peak season. The trail wasn't well worn, probably because it is covered up for months out of every year. Every few minutes we would turn around and look back at the incredible views of Big Bear Lake. Everything was so peaceful on the trail and we loved having it all to ourselves.
Reaching the top was an interesting experience. The trail met up with a bunch of other trail heads and a chair lift. So immediately we were bombarded with bikers zooming past us headed down their respective trails. A very different feel from our quiet and serene hike up. There is a restaurant and a food stand at the top where you can eat and grab a beer, but it was a bit early for us and hot dogs didn’t exactly sound appealing.
After resting a bit and checking out the wonderful views at the top, we hopped on the chairlift and rode it a mile back down.
A helpful hint if you plan to visit Snow Summit during the offseason. If you are planning to hike the Log Chute Trail but also want to ride the ski lift, be sure to hike up and take the ski lift down...in that order. Why you ask? For one, you will be rewarded with incredible views as you hike. The second reason is that it makes your trip to Snow Summit free! Prices to ride the ski lift to the top started at $24 (for a single ride). There is no payment system in place at the top of the hill so we rode back down for free. You can also choose to hike back down if you want the extra exercise.
Another longer trail that I didn’t get to take this time around is the Grandview Trail. This 5.5-mile hike is certainly a bigger commitment, but you are rewarded with stunning views.
Castle Rock Trail
This trail is probably the most well known. It is a pretty quick hike, about one mile. Parking is pretty limited in the area, so try to find a spot on one of the turnouts or park on one of the side streets.
About halfway up the trail opens up and there is a viewpoint. I recommend stopping here and snapping some photos because the end of the trail is really crowded and you’ll have a harder time getting a shot without other people in it. My friends and I enjoyed checking out the views of Big Bear Lake for a while before making our way up to the top. This trail involves scaling a few rocks in order to get the best views. Since this trail is pretty crowded, you may have to wait your turn if you want to climb up the highest boulders.
Between the two trails I hiked, I actually think I preferred the Snow Summit trail a bit more. The viewpoint was of the middle of the lake with no obstructions, whereas the Castle Rock Trail view was from the westernmost end of the lake and rocks or trees dotted most viewpoints (if you don't climb all the way to the top of the rocks). The view from the Castle Rock Trail was much closer to the lake than the Log Chute Trail however. While the Log Chute Trail was a bit more unconventional, I felt I got a better workout (earned my skyscraper badge on FitBit - hey-o!) and liked the fact that it wasn’t as crowded as Castle Rock.
Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
20 years ago I rode the Alpine Slide and that memory still sticks with me today. So when we drove by this on the way into Big Bear and my friends spotted the sign, I immediately knew we would have to make a stop there.
What exactly is an alpine slide? Well, you are taken to the top of the mountain on a chair lift. When you reach the top you are handed your yellow plastic sled. You’ll mount your sled and travel down a ¼ mile cement track through twists and turns until you reach the bottom of the hill. Pretty fun for adults and children alike. Remember Cool Runnings? Kinda like that.
The sled is outfitted with a place for you to sit on and extend your legs. You’re given instructions on how to control the sled with the use of a hand control. Push the handle forward and the wheels come out and increase your speed, pull the handle back and the wheels retract while the Teflon runners help you brake.
There are two lanes, one is for faster riders and one is for slower. You’ll get the same experience on either track, but if you’re looking to fly down the hill, you’ll want to stay in the fast lane. There was quite a line getting up to the top and waiting to sled down, so if you’re wanting to go fast make sure the lane in front of you is pretty cleared out so you don’t get stuck behind someone going slower than you. Otherwise your long wait was for nothing. My takeaway from this last ride is to always go faster on the Alpine Slide. Always.
Each ride costs $6 but you can buy a discounted pass for 5 rides.
Bonus tip: Wear your bathing suit and buy tickets to the waterslide too! There are a few other activities here including Go-Karts and mini golf if sledding isn't your thing.
Spend time on the lake, but not necessarily IN it
My friends and I didn’t rent a boat, but I highly recommend it if you want to get out on the water and maybe jump in from time to time. Instead, we grabbed our funny inflatable pool inner tubes and walked through all sorts of mucky slimy mossy substances to get out onto the water. But the stuff didn’t leave us alone! It was everywhere we swam. Getting tangled on our arms, brushing up against our backs. It was not pleasant.
The water was incredibly warm, which was a bit disturbing, but also welcome. If we had to deal with gross green slime we at least wanted to be warm and “comfortable.” After a few minutes of finally relaxing in semi-deeper waters, my friend touched a dead fish and that was that. Out we went.
The following day we rented tandem kayaks (individual kayaks are hard to come by in Big Bear, we discovered) and hit the water again. This time, the water felt cool and was less stinky since we weren’t on the outer edges. Another plus: no green stuff in sight!
We rented the kayaks for an hour and were able to paddle across the lake to see the Observatory up close and then back within that time. Although the memories of the prior day were still fresh, we had a much better experience kayaking the lake and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Although my friends spotted two more dead fish that day, at least it was from the "safety" of their kayak.
Visit The Village
The Village is the shopping and entertainment district of Big Bear. There are a few streets of restaurants and shops to check out in the area. Your stay in Big Bear isn't complete without wandering the streets of The Village.
I recommend grabbing a beer on the small balcony at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company or dining outdoors at 572 Social. Oddly there aren’t many restaurants with views of the lake, but if you’re looking for a view while you eat, you can check out the patio at Evergreen Restaurant.
When you’re done with your meal, grab a gelato at An Ran Ju Gelato and Teahouse or check out a movie at Village Theaters.
Don’t forget to lace up your bowling shoes and bowl a few games at the Bowling Barn.
Stay walking distance from The Village
You can stay in all sorts of accommodations in Big Bear. From hole in the wall motels to luxury cabins, Big Bear has a mix of everything. Arguably the nicest resort in the area, The Club at Big Bear Village, is located in the heart of downtown Big Bear.
Stay at one of the three or four bedroom villas which have that quintessential mountain town decor and plush bedding, perfect after a day exploring the outdoors. Each villa has a fully equipped kitchen, state of the art appliances, balconies, a grill, fireplace, washer, and dryer so you’ll feel right at home.
Staying in the Village means that you only walk a short distance to most things in town!
What are you favorite places to visit in and near Big Bear?