Big Bear is one of Southern California’s favorite vacation destinations. Located up in the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains, it’s comprised of Big Bear Lake and the communities that surround it – collectively, they all make up “Big Bear.”
This place was named by the people of the Serrano tribe, who were the first to settle here, who gave it its name based on the grizzly bears that seemed to be its only other residents. Nowadays, it’s popularly known as the “four-season destination” for tourists, and for the right reasons.
The warm months bring all kinds of water sports on the lake and outdoor activities in the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains – swimming, fishing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are just a few. When it gets cold, the snow-covered slopes become world-class skiing and snowboarding grounds, and the pine trees and lake views couldn’t be more picturesque.
For all these reasons, Big Bear is a great year-round destination for families, couples, relaxers, and adventurers alike. There’s a ton to do here, so use our below advice to plan the best Big Bear trip possible.
Show Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Big Bear, California
- 1. Spend a day on Big Bear Lake
- 2. Hit the Slopes of Big Bear Mountain Resort
- 3. Bear Mountain Golf Course
- 4. Castle Rock Trail & Bluff Lake Reserve
- 5. Big Bear Alpine Zoo
- 6. Alpine Pedal Path
- 7. Cougar Crest Trail
- 8. Big Bear Off-Road Experience
- 9. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
- 10. Big Bear Snow Play
- 11. The Big Bear Solar Observatory
- 12. Explore Big Bear Lake Village
- 13. Baldwin Lake Stables
- 14. Gold Rush Mining Adventures
- 15. Go Ziplining
- 16. Big Bear Discovery Center
- Is Big Bear Worth Visiting?
- What are the top things to do in Big Bear during the summer?
- Where can I go skiing or snowboarding in Big Bear?
- What are some good hiking trails in Big Bear?
- Most significant landmark – Big Bear Lake
- Best park – Boulder Bay Park
- Best free activity – Alpine Pedal Path
- Best activity for kids – Big Bear Alpine Zoo
- Best activity for adults – Hiking Castle Rock Trail
- Best food – Teddy Bear Restaurant
- Best nightlife – AV Bar & Nightclub
- Best place to stay – Lagonita Lodge
Things to Do in Big Bear, California
1. Spend a day on Big Bear Lake
Big Bear’s most iconic attraction is surely its lake, featuring sapphire-blue waters and beautiful landscapes. Note that the town on its southern shore is also named Big Bear Lake, and it’s definitely worth a visit, but in this case, we’re talking about the actual body of water!
The lake is a product of a dam constructed in the 1880s for the purpose of watering citrus farms. It created Southern California’s largest recreation lake, which brought tourists looking for fun and relaxation shortly after. The lake is lined with coves, beaches, and a few resorts and rentals – like the Lagonita Lodge, a waterfront hotel with an indoor pool.
Big Bear Lake fishing is one of its most popular activities, with an abundance of bass, trout, and catfish that are fun and easy to catch. Swimming is great when it’s hot out, and boating, canoeing, kayaking, and picnicking are popular when it’s at least mild. Boulder Bay Park on the south shore is a popular place for all this, but there are spots all along the lake, as well as places to rent equipment from.
Don’t leave the Big Bear Lake activities out just because you’re visiting outside the summer season. In the fall, the reds and oranges of the foliage make for beautiful photos; the spring brings brighter colors as the surroundings become covered in flowers. Kayak, hike, or bike around the shores to enjoy the views and get great pictures.
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2. Hit the Slopes of Big Bear Mountain Resort
Addresses: 43101 Goldmine Dr, Big Bear Lake, California 92315 and 880 Summit Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
While enjoying the lake at the bottom of Big Bear Valley is one of the warm-weather favorite things to do in Big Bear, the mountainsides above it are a top winter destination for Southern California as well. Skiiers and snowboarders will be in heaven at the Big Bear Mountain Resort, where they’ll find two separate mountains, each packed with lifts and trails – Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.
Bear Mountain has three main peaks: Goldmine, Bear Peak, and Silver Mountain. With an elevation of 8,805ft, Bear Peak is the highest lift-served peak in Southern California.
And with nearly 200 acres of developed slopes and over 500 acres of undeveloped terrain below, there’s plenty of space to zip around to the bottom. Beginners can make use of lower-elevation, easier courses.
Snow Summit, just two miles away, has an additional 31 trails and 240 acres of skiable terrain from its maximum elevation of 8,200 feet. This mountain has more developed slopes as opposed to the more undeveloped terrain of Bear Mountain. Still, there are plenty of off-piste and expert opportunities, as well as beginner-friendly areas below.
Tickets for the mountains of Big Bear Mountain Resort are combined, allowing you to hit any slope you want for half, full, or multiple days. Night passes are separate for those who want to experience the fun of gliding across the snowy mountain under the night sky. Rental facilities are available at the bottom of each chair lift.
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3. Bear Mountain Golf Course
Address: 43092 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake, California 92315
The slopes of the Big Bear Mountain Resort don’t close when the snow melts – this reveals one of the region’s most beautiful golf courses! Bear Mountain Golf Course is a nine-hole, par 35 experience at a 7,000-foot elevation.
Needless to say, golfers take in magnificent views of Big Bear Valley and Lake, thousands of Ponderosa pine trees, and the community below while they play the course. There’s also a driving range, a clubhouse grill, and a pro shop. Lessons are available for those not experienced but curious to learn.
The course is open from mid-May to October, and the pro shop has club rentals available, so there’s no need to pack your own. And if you’re not a golfer or need something to do before or after your tee time, the rest of the resort’s mountains are packed full of hiking trails.
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4. Castle Rock Trail & Bluff Lake Reserve
One of the area’s most popular hiking trails isn’t found at the ski resort, but instead towards the western end of the lake. Castle Rock Trail will take you from Big Bear Lake’s shores up about 500 feet into the wilderness of the San Bernardino National Forest.
At a little more than 2.5 miles round-trip, and with moderate rocky surfaces and elevation gains, this hike is not necessarily for beginners, but it’s not the most difficult either. At its most famous viewpoint, several very large boulders create more opportunities to climb higher and catch even more panoramic views of the lake.
You have the opportunity to continue past this viewpoint and continue higher to the Bluff Lake Reserve – a tranquil spot even more secluded in the forest. This small lake is very picturesque, surrounded by nothing but pine trees and prairies, and with a small island in the middle. Hikers love stopping here for a picnic or a simple water break in the shade.
In fact, there’s a whole network of mountain trails around Bluff Lake that are often overlooked by tourists and locals alike. This guided jeep and hiking tour will take you on a dirt road to the lake and to some of the most beautiful off-the-beaten-path trails in the region, with choices suitable for anyone from expert hikers to total beginners with young kids.
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5. Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Address: 42801 Moonridge Rd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Animal lovers will be in heaven at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, formerly known as Moonridge Animal Park, which is not your typical zoo experience. Animals that are injured or sick are brought here to recover, to later be released back into the wild – so if you are against captivity, know that this place does it right.
More than 90% of injured animals go on to return to the wilderness around Big Bear, but some that are too friendly with humans or who will not recover completely will stay as permanent residents. Species that live or pass through the zoo include bald eagles, grizzly bears, black bears, and snow leopards, among many more. Therefore, a visit here is a great way to see some of Big Bear Lake’s other inhabitants without getting too close – you wouldn’t want to come across a mountain lion on a hike.
Plus, Big Bear Alpine Zoo is one of only two alpine zoos in the United States, meaning it’s one of the few opportunities to see a facility that specializes in alpine species. Tickets are very affordable, and it’s minutes from the Bear Mountain resort – halfway between it and the Best Western Big Bear Chateau, a popular place to stay.
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6. Alpine Pedal Path
Address: 740 Stanfield Cutoff, Big Bear, CA 92314
Speaking of alpine things and wild animals, there’s another place that’s great for both – the Alpine Pedal Path. This paved trail runs along much of Big Bear Lake’s less-developed northern shore, making it a great spot for nature lovers.
In fact, it’s known specifically for spotting bald eagles. This area of the San Bernardino National Forest hosts the largest wintering population of these birds in Southern California, and they can be seen from November through April when they visit for the season.
The trail is about 2.5 miles long and has an asphalt surface, making it accessible for non-hikers, parents with strollers, and wheelchair users as well. There are plenty of great beaches to stop at along the way, as well as two picnic areas. The use of the latter requires the purchase of an Adventure Pass, an inexpensive ticket for certain parts of the San Bernardino National Forest that helps keep it pristine, available for purchase on the Forest Service website.
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7. Cougar Crest Trail
Another great use of your Adventure Pass is to hike the Cougar Crest Trail. This hike is also located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake, but rather than running alongside it, you’ll be headed up the mountains on this one.
The trail starts near a parking lot next to the Big Bear Discovery Center. For the first mile or so, it may just seem like a moderate uphill climb; this climb will become a bit more obvious for the final mile-and-a-half. Through breaks in the forest, you’ll see how much elevation you’re gaining as a result of the great views along the way.
At the top, the hike joins up with the famous Pacific Crest Trail – a 2,650-mile behemoth that makes the moderate-to-difficult Cougar Crest seem like nothing! However, most hikers will call it a day here and go back the way they came, maybe to cool off in the lake afterward.
If all this hiking sounds nice, but you don’t feel comfortable venturing out on your own, there’s a fantastic guided nature hike around Big Bear Valley with a local expert. It’s family-friendly, goes to great spots, and shows you some of the most beautiful flora and fauna along the way.
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8. Big Bear Off-Road Experience
Address: 42011 Big Bear Blvd A, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
All of the rocky and undeveloped terrains around the Big Bear Valley are heaven for off-roaders. Whether you’re experienced with this type of driving or just curious about it, a tour from Big Bear Off-Road Experience is a unique experience for visitors to the area.
Formerly known as Big Bear Jeep Experience, this team owns a fleet of jacked-up jeeps and off-road vehicles made for the type of trails through Big Bear’s rugged wilderness. And while you can opt to take the back seat and let an expert do the driving, their tours allow you to get behind the wheel of your own jeep. Experiences range from easy, beginner-friendly backroad courses to advanced rock crawling trails suited for seasoned off-roaders.
Along the way, you’ll get tour commentary and guidance from your guide ahead via a two-way radio. Be sure to book in advance, as their jeep fleet isn’t endless and fills up quickly. Their team also offers wakeboarding experiences on the lake if you want to hit the water after hitting the land.
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9. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
Address: 800 Wildrose Ln, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
The Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain is one of the most amusing things to do in Big Bear. While the slide of the same name is the main attraction, there are several more exciting activities for sharing laughs, making unforgettable memories, and taking in the excellent view of Big Bear Lake.
The Alpine Slide is one of the world’s longest slides, and it features two different quarter-mile-long luge-like bobsledding tracks. Your sled glides across the cement track like a jet, across long straightaways and sharp curves, but you can control the speed with brakes at any time. Riders can go alone or take their kids on a sled with them.
The Mineshaft Coaster is another thrilling option with cars that run on rollercoaster-like track – first up the hill, allowing you to take in views and the fresh air, and then back down, at which time you’ll control the speed and navigate twists and turns.
Other summer activities at the park include go-karts, mini golf, water slides, and the Soaring Eagle skyride. The park stays open over the winter and adds snow tubing to the list of fun! This is a great stop on any Big Bear trip, especially because it’s convenient to reach from Big Bear Village and many of the town’s great hotels – like the Holiday Inn Resort, The Lodge at Big Bear Lake, one of the popular ones just minutes away.
10. Big Bear Snow Play
Address: 42825 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Another great year-round family fun center is Big Bear Snow Play, located at the lake’s eastern end and just next door to Motel 6 Big Bear Lake. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Big Bear if you want to have fun in the snow but aren’t a skier or snowboarder.
That’s because the snow tubing runs here are some of the longest in Southern California, and you don’t even need to carry yours to the top – just ride the magic carpet lift, a covered conveyor belt that allows you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! The slopes don’t shut down at nightfall, either. Instead, the place lights up with different colored lights for glow tubing.
There is also a go-kart speedway for more high-speed action when there’s no snow. Plus, an exciting ropes course, with more than 30 obstacles to navigate while up to 35 feet above the ground, adds to the adventure.
If you need to warm up from the snow or cool down from the sun, the Base Lodge is a place with snacks, bathrooms, and even video games. Note that you’ll need to bring cash to Big Bear Snow Play, as credit cards are not accepted.
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11. The Big Bear Solar Observatory
Address: 40386 N Shore Ln, Big Bear, CA 92314
If you’re interested in solar astronomy and are looking for one of the best free things to do in Big Bear, be sure to stop by the Big Bear Solar Observatory. The Observatory was established by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in 1969, and the University continues to operate the building as a specialized facility for studying the sun.
The complex was constructed on a small peninsula on the north shore of Big Bear Lake because it offers a clear sky view and a cool lake that reduces ground movement and helps capture more balanced pictures. There are four solar telescopes inside that are specially designed for capturing phenomena of the sun, and a small resident team to operate them.
Solar system fanatics will surely want to get a glimpse of this unique place and can do so on guided tours offered by the staff scientists. However, note that these tours generally only take place one day a week, so you’ll need to plan your visit properly.
It is totally free, but donations are welcome. Alternatively, if you’re a scientist yourself, you can actually get in touch with the team to arrange a working visit.
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12. Explore Big Bear Lake Village
Big Bear Lake is the main town of the valley, and Big Bear Village (or Big Bear Lake Village) is the name for its downtown area, right in the central part of the south shore. In the spring and summer seasons, the lush green trees and colorful blooming flowers give a sense of serenity to the visitors. The leaves turn orange, yellow, and gold during fall; the winter season transforms the village into a snow paradise with holiday lights shining bright in the trees.
It’s a great place for finding local places to dine. Teddy Bear Restaurant is a locally-famous spot with more than an 80-year history of homestyle cooking – the recipes for its soups, chilis, machacas, bread, and pies haven’t changed. Don’t miss this one if you want one of the best meals in Big Bear, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
While Big Bear is a bit quiet and sleepy, there are places to have after-dark fun. AV Bar & Nightclub is one of the best spots in town for music, dancing, and drinking. Bowling Barn and Mountain Room Escapes are great places to share laughs and competition with your group.
There’s some great shopping in Big Bear Village, too. Besides local clothing and souvenirs, you can find beautiful artwork like paintings, sculptures, and wood crafts to take home. One of the best places to shop for it all is the famous Brown Bear Gift Shop – don’t miss it before leaving.
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13. Baldwin Lake Stables
Address: 46475 Pioneer Town Rd, Big Bear City, CA 92314
Big Bear is a great place to retreat to the mountains and escape city life, and what better activity to complement that than horseback riding? The Baldwin Lake Stables is your equestrian place in the Big Bear area and can arrange rides for both first-timers and experienced riders.
These stables are located in the hills above eastern Big Bear, among other vast ranches and pure countryside. While resident goats, pigs, turkeys, and other animals are happy to greet you, it’s the stables’ fleet of horses that will provide your main experience. Choose from one to three hours of riding, or a half-day experience, depending on where you want to go and how long you want to be exploring.
Several trails and routes are available based on duration, experience, and preference. You’ll be shown some of the most beautiful ridges and vistas in the San Bernardino Mountains and experience the wilderness in true Western style. Winter rides are just as spectacular as the snow blankets the trees and ground.
Kids aren’t left out – hand-guided pony rides are a ton of fun back at the stables. Reservations for all experiences are highly recommended, so be sure to call in advance.
14. Gold Rush Mining Adventures
Address: 40016 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Want even more of a true Wild West experience when you visit Big Bear? Gold Rush Mining Adventures is a place that has it all – gold panning, gem mining, a ghost town to explore, and all kinds of set-ups and souvenirs based on a frontier experience.
You’ll find this trip back in time on Big Bear Boulevard, just minutes away from Bay Meadows Resort. You should be able to easily find it, thanks to the old-style log cabins and country-western wooden buildings scattered around. It’s in these that kids and adults alike can reach a pan into an old trough and sift through sand for real gold, minerals, and gemstones.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Other experiences include digging for fossils, harvesting pearls from oysters, and going on pirate treasure hunts. The ghost town is tons of fun to explore, especially during Halloween season evenings!
While this may all seem like some very kid-oriented enjoyment (and it is), you’d be surprised just how much fun panning for cold and crystals can be for adult groups of friends. Plus, the gift shop here sells a wide variety of real crystals, geodes, and jewelry.
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15. Go Ziplining
Of all the adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities you can do in Big Bear, the most exciting of all has to be ziplining. A fantastic course with nine runs allows you to soar high above the trees and see everything from a bird’s view.
Action Tours California will start your zipline tour from their central location in Big Bear Lake. From there, you’ll be driven up to the launch point in a Pinzgauer – a jeep-like safari vehicle made for off-roading – which is cool. You’ll stop using ground transportation at a point high above the Johnson Valley.
From there, you’ll be zipping across lines ranging from 140 to 860 feet in length. Above the trees, valley, and lake, you’ll get views of Big Bear that not everyone experiences, along with the exhilarating rush of flying at 345 miles per hour.
If you’re a bit nervous about all of this, know that the guides are professionals who work on this equipment daily, ensuring that it is totally safe. Your fear will quickly turn into excitement as your feet leave the ground. Lockers are available to store your belongings, and you can rent a GoPro to capture the experience!
16. Big Bear Discovery Center
Address: 40971 North Shore Drive/Hwy 38, Fawnskin, CA 92333
Finally, be sure to stop by the Big Bear Discovery Center at some point during your stay. This place is somewhere between a visitor center and an attraction itself and is a great place to get information and tips as well as learn about Big Bear.
You’ll find the Big Bear Discovery Center on the lake’s north shore, in a quiet spot near the mountainside, close to the Cougar Crest starting point. There are exhibitions on the various nature of Big Bear, including flora, fauna, and history. Outdoor concerts, performances, and live programs take place in its amphitheater – check out the events page to see what’s happening during your trip.
Other things hosted by the Big Bear Discovery Center include guided hikes, children’s story-telling time, and snowshoeing. Even if you’d rather explore on your own, it’s a great idea to stop by here and talk to a local expert about your plans to get the most out of Big Bear.
Is Big Bear Worth Visiting?
Yes, Big Bear Lake, California, is a fantastic place to visit if you’re a nature lover seeking serenity in the woods or an adventurous soul wanting to experience fun activities. Nature lovers can hike or ride a bike on several trails around Big Bear Lake, while thrill-seekers looking for an exhilarating experience can go jeep riding, alpine sliding, or enjoy solving riddles in an escape room.
The lake provides the ideal environment for a number of summer activities. Big Bear Lake fishing is some of the best of the freshwater variety in Southern California.
Rainbow trout is the most popular variety here, along with carp, catfish, and bass. Fishing fans will not be disappointed and should definitely put this lake on their list.
There are plenty more Big Bear Lake activities than fishing alone, though. Rent a paddleboard, kayak, canoe, or other water toy to explore from the surface.
Don’t hesitate to dive right in, either, as the lake water is one of the most refreshing parts of the summer. If you’re not a water sports fan, renting an e-bike or taking a simple hike is a great way to explore the lakeside.
Winters are ideal for winter sports, including skiing and snowboarding. With some of the highest peaks in the region and some excellent slope conditions, people come from near and far to spend even just a few hours in the Big Bear snow. Thanks to all this, Big Bear has a reputation as a year-round destination.
What are the top things to do in Big Bear during the summer?
Summertime is when the focus shifts from fun on the snowy slopes to Big Bear Lake activities on and around the water. Fishing, boating, swimming, and paddling are some of the funniest activities on the water. In the wilderness surrounding, visitors love to hike, mountain bike, go horseback riding, and golf in the warm weather.
Where can I go skiing or snowboarding in Big Bear?
The main place is Big Bear Mountain Resort, which encompasses two mountain resorts – Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. There are over 400 acres, 26 lifts, and 55 runs spread across the mountains, meaning even regular visitors to Big Bear can usually find something new to try. The slopes are nearly evenly spread among beginner, intermediate, and expert levels.
What are some good hiking trails in Big Bear?
Tons of hiking trails and forest service roads are spread around Big Bear Lake, including Castle Rock Trail, Cougar Crest Trail, Pine Knot Trail, and the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail. Like its ski slopes, Big Bear’s hiking routes offer all kinds of difficulty, ranging from very easy to extreme.
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a seasoned traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers find their next adventure, whether it’s exploring new places or revisiting old favorites.
He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wonderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). He loves listening to people’s stories from around the world as well as sharing his own experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.