Big Bear is located in southern california and is nestled in a valley within the San Bernardino Mountains. This small, quaint town is a wonderful destination for those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living but it also makes for an extremely scenic playground for those living the adventure lifestyle. Big Bear is popular year round but sees a peak in activity during the fall and winter seasons when snow starts to cover the mountain peaks. After visiting this location several times this past year, we wanted to share our ideal 3-day itinerary, which we believe encompasses the best experiences in Big Bear, California.

Activities to do: 

What’s exciting about Big Bear is the endless amount of hiking trails. Many of them are short and easy but if you want to break a sweat you can still find a trail that can give you a good challenge. Some of our favorites are the Towne Trail (2.5 Miles) and the Pine Knot Trail (6 Miles). They’re both pet and family friendly and if you want to test your biking skills, you can ride on these trails too. 

Like we mentioned earlier, Big Bear is popular in the fall and winter seasons, mainly because of the large amount of snow that can cover the area. Coastal Californians have a big appreciation for this weather change and take advantage of the several snow sports this town can offer. From skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow angles, you can have something fun for everyone.  Check out the slopes here

 If you love Rainbow Trout then this is the lake for you. During the warmer months, fishing is a popular activity for those who like to just sit out on a pier and relax or for those who want to get a little deeper in the lake. To learn more about the best locations and fishing times, head on over to Big Bears Fishing Website and get all the inside information. 

The Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve is a safe haven for many animals and it can give you a new appreciation for waterfowl and fish. The best time to visit the preserve is in the early mornings when both are actively looking for food. Try to keep the noises at an appropriate volume as this is their home and loud voices can cause a disturbance to the wildlife. 

Passes & Permits: 

While you can access most of the park without any permits, you may need to pay for a National Forest Adventure Pass. This pass will help maintain, protect, and conserve the park so that we can continue to enjoy it for years to come. For up to date information on the parks permit status, check out the Parks and Recreation website for Big Bear.   

A view of Big Bear Ski Slopes over the lake. Big Bear Weather

When planning your trip to Big Bear, the most important factor to consider is the weather. Along the coast you may still be able to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt but as you make your way up to the mountains, temperatures will drop and you can expect an even bigger change in the winter and spring season. The elevation soars at 6,700 feet, so you are bound to feel the chill and fresh air. 

Summer –  This season you can expect daily temperature highs to be in the 80s and overnight lows to be in the 50s. When you’re looking to escape the classic west coast summer heat, here’s one place to make for your perfect getaway. Lake activities are popular so try and rent a boat in advance and reapply your sunscreen often. Even on a day of cloud coverage you can still get some serious burns. 

Fall – Crimson, Amber, and Golds are painting the trees in a beautiful way. A fall season in Big Bear is one to be appreciated and one you certainly can’t miss. During the day you can expect comfortable temperatures in the 50s and 60s but temperatures drop into the freezing range over night. 

Winter – Is there snow in Big Bear? The answer is YES! This time of year, Big Bear’s weather sees highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s which means plenty of snow. While these temperatures are cold, it can still get warm enough during the day to start melting the snow only for it to freeze again overnight. This can cause black ice so practice safe driving, eliminate distractions and keep warm clothes with you in case you have to bundle up!

Spring – A quieter season for the mountain as its winter visitors have come and gone, this time of year can make for a more peaceful time to explore the mountain. With temperatures starting to rise and snow beginning to melt, the greenery comes back to play. If you’re planning your trip for this time of year, don’t forget your camera as you’ll have plenty to capture during the day and night.   

Photo Ops

Many visitors love Big Bear Lake because of the countless year round activities but the landscape that varies from a lake, to mountains, to pine trees is what gets photographers excited here. We listed some of our favorite spots as they are not only great for photos but you get to go on an adventure for each one. These spots will give you a story to tell!

  • Castle Rock
  • Bluff Lake Reserve 
  • Snow Summit Bike Park 
  • Big Bear Dam
  • Cougar Crest Trail

Remember, be mindful of those around you and keep the park clean & pristine so we can continue to share it with others

Big Bear Dam and view from Castle Rock Hiking TrailAmenities 

With Big Bear being as popular as it is there will be plenty of amenities for you to choose from so your options won’t run dry. Being a ski resort town there are wonderful activities and restaurants for you to stop out but we made sure to cover the important amenities below.

There are tons of Gas Stations throughout Big Bear so this is a shortage you won’t have to worry about. However, it’s important to try and keep a full tank and fill up when you can.  

The Cell Phone Service throughout Big Bear is excellent. You won’t have any trouble following Google Maps or searching for the best place to eat here.  

Luckily you won’t have any trouble grabbing Firewood up in Big Bear. There are several supplies from locals, stores, and suppliers, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. Just be sure to be safe when building your fire’s and follow the campground regulations. You can expect these rules: They must be built inside a fire pit or ring and not on the ground as this can damage the ecosystem around you.

Big Bear has two main Grocery Stores, Vons and Stater Bros, and several convenience shops available for you to grab your food and any other necessities for the weekend. 

There are several campsites where you can Dump Waste and it’s typically free for guests on the campground or you can expect to pay a $10 fee to use their facilities. For a list of each campground and their fees visit the Sanidumps website. 

Dogs

There are 19 dog friendly activities for you and your pup to enjoy in Big Bear. From several hiking trails, beaches, and restaurants, you will be able to experience Big Bear to its fullest extent. If you’re choosing to stay in a hotel on your trip, check out this list of dog friendly accommodations in the area. 

Where to stay 

Camping 

Whether it’s a tent or a van you’re looking to stay in, you have plenty of campsites to choose from. You can be deep in the woods or right on the lake so if you ‘re up for it, you could feel like you were sleeping somewhere new each night. To check out some of Big Bears most popular campgrounds, head on over to their Places To Stay website.  

Hotels  

If you didn’t feel like roughing it you can stay in one of many hotels in the area. With at least 10 to choose from, you can pick one that matches your lifestyle and getaway vibe a little bit more closely. Check out the list of accommodations here

Day #1 Itinerary 

Big Bear is amazing because of its accessibility and versatility throughout the entire year. Depending on the season, you can find yourself standing in snow, skiing at one of Big Bear’s many resorts, or paddleboarding on the lake.  This is a destination that will get you excited about being so close to town which is why we put together an itinerary that serves both those that love a walk through the trees and down a city street. 

Morning: Your drive to Big Bear will be a quick one which means you get to enjoy most of your day exploring the town or getting your campsite all set up so that you can just sit back and relax. When you stop in town, which we highly recommend, grab a coffee at The Copper Q for an excellent brew and walk through the town’s many cabin feel shops. 

Afternoon: If you’re looking for a little bit more adventure, head out on the Alpine Pedal Path. This is a 5.2 mile out and back, heavily trafficked trail that offers great views of the lake and a great way to get a taste of Big Bear before your full day of exploring tomorrow. 

Evening: If you’re not ready to head back to camp, then stop at Boulder Bay Park for an afternoon picnic and even catch a sunset. The cool breeze off the lake is one you’ll want to come back for. 

Day #2 Itinerary

Morning: For those looking to get off the beaten path and want to get a little dirty, we have an off-road adventure for you! Holcomb Valley is an off-road trail that features beautiful wild flowers, dispersed camping, as well as biking and hiking trails throughout. We recommend heading straight to Holcomb Valley Campground which is a first-come-first-serve campground with 19 single-family sites that can accommodate a maximum of 8 people. Head there in the morning to claim a site, cook some breakfast and start your day. 

Afternoon: If you have a 4×4 vehicle there are plenty of beginner to advanced trails to take it and some world renown trails! One of the most popular 4WD trails is the road to Butler Peak Fire Lookout. It’s a fairly easy route, but only 4WD vehicles are recommended! At the end of the trail you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Southern California. If off-roading isn’t in your plans, we suggest driving around this area to do some other outdoor recreation – Mountain biking and hiking are both great ways to enjoy these trails. However, Holcomb Valley Pinnacles is notorious for some great climbing routes. This area is a moderate mecca with 75% of the 500+ routes being 5.10 and under in difficulty.

Evening: After a long day of exploring we recommend staying up late for stargazing. With minimal light pollution and an elevation of 7,000 feet, you’ll have a front seat to the one of the best shows around. If you can, try and plan it around a meteor shower

Day #3 Itinerary

Morning: For the final day, we have a few recommendations that will be great for the whole family. If you love to fish, head out on the lake this morning and try to catch a handful of trout and bass at Windy Point. 

Afternoon: For your last afternoon here, head on over to Action Zipline Tours where you can choose to walk on a suspension bridge, zipline, or go off roading if you didn’t get the chance to do so yet!

Evening: It’s time to head home but your adventures in Big Bear are not over! Come back next season and take part in all the snow sports the mountain has to offer, or come back during the summer when the lake is warm enough to swim in.  Stop at the visitors center on your way out to learn exactly what you can do each season. 

Sunset over Big Bear Lake with an overcast of clouds in the sky.