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After spending two weeks in peaceful Big Bear Lake in summer, I came to realize pretty quickly that this beautiful place is worth spending some time in. Another few days spend there in the fall confirmed this.
Less than a two-hour drive from both LA and San Diego, Big Bear gets a lot of visitors from both cities but not a lot from anywhere else. Despite its proximity to two of the largest cities in the United States, Big Bear is somewhat of a hidden gem.
Big Bear is made up of the resort city of Big Bear Lake, which is on the south shore of the lake of the same name, and Big Bear City, which is unincorporated and sits just east of the lake.
While much of Southern California, including Palm Springs, is dry with super hot temperatures and a desert landscape, Big Bear is a cool refuge from the heat, centered on a deep blue lake and nestled in the pine-scented forests of the San Bernardino mountains.
Large granite boulders pocket the mountainsides and stick out from the lake. Pine needles carpet the forest floor. Sunshine abounds.
Big Bear Lake is a year-round vacation destination with snow sports at its two resorts during the winter, stunning displays of fall foliage in autumn, burgeoning cherry blossoms and early hiking in spring, and fishing, hiking, and mountain biking during the hot, dry summer months.
This small mountain community sits at 7,000 feet in elevation and is home to approximately 5,500 residents year-round, with numbers sometimes swelling to upwards of 100,000 during weekends and school holidays. If you can visit during the week. You may find you have the place to yourself.
With a big focus on adventure and getting back to nature, there is no shortage of things to do in and around Big Bear in the summer.
The sky really is the limit. Unless you want to skydive, then there is no limit at all.
Ultimate Guide to Big Bear in the Summer
Check out my interactive map for the best things to do, eat, drink, and where to stay in Big Bear Lake in Summer.
Things to Do in Big Bear in Summer
Explore Big Bear Lake Village
Big Bear Lake Village is the heart and soul of Big Bear. This cutesy alpine mountain village is home to attractive half-timbered storefronts, tidy paved sidewalks, artistic wood carvings, small well-tended gardens, and fireplaces spaced throughout the village for the colder months.
There is a lot to check out in the village including numerous cafes and restaurants, a dynamic brewery, souvenir shops, boutiques, art and photography galleries, a great bookshop, an old-fashioned sweet shop, and much more.
It’s a beautiful place any time of year but I think the village is especially nice during a Big Bear summer and fall.
Get Out on Big Bear Lake
One of the best things to do in Big Bear in the summer is to get out on the deep blue waters of the lake itself, and you have many options to do so.
With numerous operators offering fishing charters, boat rentals, wake-boarding and water skiing, kayak and canoe rentals (with kayak outriggers being an option if you aren’t a confident paddler), and guided sightseeing tours by boat – you really are spoilt for choice.
If it is an extra hot day you may even want to swim, but I warn you – the water is freezing!
Chill Out by the Water at Boulder Bay Park
A picturesque park right by an especially scenic spot on the lake, Boulder Bay Park is a great place for a picnic or to read a book in beautiful surroundings.
There are some interesting rock islands in the lake here and the luxurious cabins around this part of the Big Bear are especially worth ogling.
Hike in the Mountains Around Big Bear
One of the reasons that Big Bear attracted me was its close proximity to many hiking trails, and I got out hiking every chance I had. It is my top pick for Big Bear summer activities!
The trails offer lake and village views from the top of the mountains, peaceful walks through forests of conifers, and challenging ascents to rocky precipices.
It is so easy to get back to nature in this place – you are literally surrounded by it.
I wrote about the hikes in the Big Bear area in more detail in the next section.
Bike Around Big Bear Lake
A great way to experience the beauty of a Big Bear summer is to bike around the lake. Although there isn’t one trail that leads around the lake, you can follow the existing trail sections and cut up to the road in between, making it easy to bike the circumference of the lake.
It is approximately 20 miles round trip and you will pass tranquil wooded neighborhoods, gorgeous viewpoints, picturesque parks, and sandy beaches along the way.
Take a Thrilling Ride on an Alpine Slide
If you haven’t been on an alpine slide or luge before, then this is your chance! Kinda like a bobsled on small wheels that you drive on a cement half-pipe down the side of a mountain, the alpine slide is ridiculously fun and addictive.
The Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain in Big Bear also offers go-karts, waterslides in summer, and a snowy hill in winter to slide down. If it are thrills you are wanting during your time in Big Bear in summer, then this is where you want to go.
Mountain Biking One of the Many Trails
Big Bear is a world-class mountain biking destination with over 100 miles of trails and offerings for all skill levels. Snow Summit Ski Resort features southern California’s best lift-served bike path and also has a rental shop with the latest bikes and equipment.
If it is a challenging ride barreling down a mountain or a peaceful pedal along a level tree-shaded path – you will find what you are looking for on one of the Big Bear bike trails.
Make sure to try mountain biking in Big Bear Lake in summer!
Day Trip to Deep Creek Hot Springs
One of my favorite Big Bear summer activities was day-tripping to the hard-to-find Deep Creek Hot Springs.
It is a challenging hike through desert scenery into a deep canyon, where you will find one of the most beautiful and peaceful settings for any natural hot springs I have ever seen – and I have been to a lot.
Small, tiered rock pools sit above the river and offer a peaceful soak in various temperatures – from super hot to mildly warm. These pools are as natural as you can get and look virtually undeveloped.
Nudity is prevalent here and the springs are on the Pacific Crest trail so are popular with through-hikers. I loved the eclectic vibe at the springs and met some cool people during my short visit.
It is very much worth the one-hour drive to get to the trailhead from Big Bear, and make sure to check out pretty Lake Arrowhead while you are in the area too.
Hiking Trails in Big Bear
There are a number of hiking trails around Big Bear, all offering an escape into the forested surrounds of the lake and easily accessible from town. This is the perfect Big Bear summer activity if you are on a budget.
Castle Rock Trail
Distance: 2.4 miles/4km return
Trailhead: One mile east of Big Bear Dam on Highway 18. You can park at the turnout.
One of Big Bear’s most popular trails, the Castle Rock trail is short but strenuous, quickly gaining in elevation to take you to a granite outcropping with excellent views over the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Distance: 1.5 miles/2.5km loop
Trailhead: The turn-off to the trail is a mile east of the Big Bear Discovery Centre on the north side of the lake.
A gentle hike through the forest along an interpretive nature trail with twenty points of interest. You can pick up a pamphlet guide at the entrance.
Alpine Pedal Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles/4km one way
Trailhead: Starts at Stansfield Cutoff and ends at Solar Observatory on the north side of the lake.
Technically a bike path rather than a hiking trail, the alpine pedal trail is the best trail to get close to the lake. Situated on the quiet north shore, the trail is a peaceful place to wander the shoreline and paddle in the shallows.
Cougar Crest Trail
Distance: 4 miles/6.5km return
Trailhead: 0.6 miles west of the Discovery Centre on the lake’s north shore
The Cougar Crest trail is a gradual uphill hike along a forested trail with lake and town views. The trail ends at a junction point with the iconic Pacific Crest Trail and if you feel like hiking a bit along the PCT, tack on the summit of Bertha Peak, approximately another two-three miles return.
Distance: 6 miles/9.5km loop
Trailhead: Aspen Glen Picnic Area
One of the longest hikes around Big Bear, the Pineknot trail takes you uphill to Grand View Point with spectacular views of the surrounding mountain range on the other side of Big Bear.
Bradford Ridge Trail to Deep Creek Hot Springs
Distance: 5 miles/8km return
Trailhead: About 7 miles north of Lake Arrowhead on CA-173.
A trail through desert landscapes into a steep canyon with natural hot springs. I personally loved this hike but it is very steep and slippery to get down into the canyon (and tough work climbing out again).
The Hot Springs at the end definitely make it worth it though.
Make sure to search for “Bradford Ridge Path / Deep Creek Trailhead” on Google maps to find the correct starting point for the hike – we got really lost to start with.
How to Get To and Around Big Bear
Big Bear is a two-hour drive from Los Angeles or a three-hour drive from San Diego.
If you don’t have a car, the best way you can reach Big Bear is to take the Greyhound Bus from either LA or San Diego to San Bernardino or take the Metrolink train from LA to San Bernardino.
From San Bernardino, you can catch a Mountain Transit Bus to Big Bear, which runs a couple of times every day.
The bus stop in Big Bear Lake is just under two miles from Big Bear Lake Village on Fox Farm Road. You can connect with another bus to take you to the village from there, or it is about a 35-minute walk.
For getting around once you are in Big Bear, you can catch one of the regular Mountain Transit buses or you can hire a bike from one of the numerous bike and e-bike rental places in Big Bear.
Where To Stay in Big Bear Lake in Summer
There are lots of hotels, cabin rentals, a hostel, and a number of camping options in Big Bear. I have included the more budget-friendly accommodation options below.
There are so many incredible cabins, cottages, and guest houses to rent in Big Bear. Here’s my pick of the most highly-rated, affordable, and well-located options:
- Chic cabin with fireplace
- Sugarloaf Cabin
- Serenity in the Tree Tops Cabin
- Rustic Cabin with Hot Tub
- Baby Bear Cabin
- Tree Top Cottage
ITH Big Bear Retreat Center & Hostel
An awesome old lodge with dorm and private room options right by Big Bear Lake Village, the ITH Big Bear Hostel offers free family-style breakfast and dinner each day for guests. I volunteered here for two weeks and loved the lodge chill mountain lodge vibe.
There are organized group activities daily that are also free for guests if you choose to take part, or you could just chill on the front porch or in the impressive Great Room with its massive stone fireplace.
There is also camping available.
Holloway’s Marina and RV Park
Located right on the lake and about two miles to Big Bear Lake Village, Holloway’s Marina and RV Park offers hookups, hot showers, laundry facilities, and a playground. You can rent kayaks or take a guided boat trip on the lake right from the marina.
A basic camping ground in the forest at the base of Snow Summit Mountain, Pineknot Campground is located a couple of miles from Big Bear Lake Village.
Pineknot is best for tent camping but also offers some spots for RVs. There are flush toilets but no hookups or showers.
Black Forest Lodge
Black Forest Lodge is one of the more affordable lodges in Big Bear and offers an outdoor seasonal swimming pool and hot tub, free WiFi, and rooms with fireplaces and spa baths. It has a fun Bavarian theme and has a fantastic location right by Big Bear Lake Village.
We stayed here in the fall and loved it.
Where to Eat and Drink in Big Bear
Big Bear has all the usual fast food joints along Big Bear Boulevard, but there are also a few local places in and around the village that are definitely worth checking out.
Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
A lively spot to partake in a few locally crafted beers, Big Bear Lake Brewing Company is a great choice for a night out or an afternoon sitting on their sun-drenched patio during a hot Big Bear summer. A varied and delicious food menu tops off the experience.
Teddy Bear Restaurant
Well-known for its awesome breakfast menu, the Teddy Bear Restaurant is popular with locals as well as out-of-town visitors. Lively atmosphere and big portions.
Murray’s Saloon & Eatery
Murray’s is a fun spot for a night out – calling itself the “Best Five Star Hole in the Wall you will ever go to”. This is a great spot to meet locals, the drinks are cheap, and they have regular karaoke evenings.
Big Bear Mountain Brewery
Another local brewery, the friendly Big Bear Mountain Brewery offers great local brews and pub grub close to the village.
Grizzly Manor Cafe
Serving the Big Bear Lake community for over twenty years, Grizzly Manor Cafe is a popular breakfast spot with loads of choices. There are also delicious burgers, sandwiches, and soups on offer.
If you are feeling like something a bit different, head to the Himalayan Restaurant which offers dishes from India and Nepal including numerous curries, salads, soups, and even momos – Tibetan dumplings filled with meat or vegetables.
One of the classier restaurants in the village, the Peppercorn Grille has a varied menu of inventive American dishes. I absolutely loved the macadamia nut-crusted Halibut fillet with black cherry and Maui onion marmalade and garlic mashed potatoes. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Big Bear Lake in Summer Travel Tips
- A Forest Adventure Pass is required if you are parking at any of the National Forest car parks. But honestly, I never had one and never got any tickets when I was parked up. But if you do decide to forgo the pass – do so at your own risk. You can purchase the passes from the Visitor’s Centre in the village and at 7-Eleven.
- There is a large Vons Supermarket on Big Bear Boulevard, two miles from Big Bear Lake Village. There are also numerous small grocery stores that are scattered around Big Bear.
- There are many ATMs located at banks and in stores along Big Bear Boulevard
- If you are planning on camping, keep in mind that Big Bear can still receive snow as late as May and as early as October. Check the weather forecast before heading up there.
- Big Bear boasts approximately 300 years of sunshine every year.
- Make sure to wear sunscreen – it’s easy to burn here because of the elevation.
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Thank you for the most up to date review of Big Bear Lake. I know you said the water is cold for swimming but is it safe? TIA
Thanks Linda! It’s safe if you stay close to shore and avoid boat traffic.
I here the water in the lake is extremely low leaving most boat docks on the land? Is there a continuous drought these past years? Planning a trip in July…
There is a drought, and the docks have been moved further down to the water. This has been a problem since 2012 but there is still water in the lake and water activities are still happening.
Thank you for the article. What is the best spot to get to the water? I am staying near the Village, and it’s sort of hard to get to the lake?
Hi Vivian, if you don’t have a vehicle I would recommend taking bus #1 to Boulder Bay Park – it’s one of the prettiest spots on the lake. It’s only a 5-minute bus trip with 5 minutes of walking. Alternatively, you could walk there. It would take about 45-50 minutes.
Thank you so much for being so helpful. We did make it to Boulder Bay Park and enjoyed the beautiful view.
I’m glad you enjoyed it Vivian 🙂
Coming to Big Bear the and of April 2021.
I hope you enjoy it Ewa!
Looks amazing – beautiful scenery
It’s a beautiful place