Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear Lake, CA

  • Published 2022/05/12

The tiny tranquil city of Big Bear is a tourist hotspot located in Southern California, within the embrace of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Did you know how this laid-back city got its name?

The native people of the Serrano tribe were the first inhabitants, and they only had the grizzly bears to keep them company, thus giving the city its great name.

Famous for skiing, fishing, snowboarding, hiking, and biking, this serene getaway is filled with must-visit places.

So where should you visit first?

Here are the 15 best things to do in Big Bear Lake, CA:

Enjoy the Waters of Big Bear Lake

Trees surrounding the Big Bear Lake

NikTheMechanic /

Big Bear Lake is a vast bright blue expanse of soothing water located at the heart of the San Bernardino National Forest.

This artificial lake appeals to every adventure seeker out there as it provides the opportunity for any water sport imaginable.

Aerial view of Big Bear Lake

WJ Media Design /

You can ride a canoe, have a nice swim, go kayaking, rent a Jet Ski or boat, go fishing, and enjoy the picturesque beauty and the warmth of sunshine.

For those wanting a more thrilling adventure, you can enjoy the unique experience of single and tandem parasailing and a fun flyboarding experience.

There are even charter fishing expeditions and prime picnic locations for those who want a more relaxing California excursion.

Sunset sky reflecting on Big Bear Lake

Angel La Canfora /

Visit the Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Formerly known as Moonridge Animal Park, Big Bear Alpine Zoo has helped wildlife rehabilitation since 1959.

It isn’t a typical zoo as it only hosts wounded, injured, or orphaned animals and other animals unable to fend for themselves in the wild.

Many zoo animals are temporary guests released into the wild once rehabilitated.

The zoo provides a permanent home for the animals who cannot survive in the wild alone.

Zoo residents representing 80 species include grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, eagles, and about 160 more animals.

No human-animal interaction happens within the zoo except with the zookeepers who bring in an animal every day to the amphitheater for an educational presentation.

Any animal lover would not want to miss this!

Enjoy a Picnic at Boulder Bay Park

Welcome sign of Boulder Bay Park

Steve Cukrov /

Boulder Bay Park is about 2 miles away from the Big Bear Dam and provides a magnificent view of Big Bear Lake.

This place is best for family and friends to gather around and have a nice picnic listening to the soft waves of the lake and lush greenery everywhere.

Kayaking, canoeing, and hiking are also favorite activities at Boulder Bay Park.

The waters of Boulder Bay Park

Bruce Grubbs /

The park is a nice relaxing getaway that is less crowded.

Boulder Bay Park occasionally hosts events, and you might be able to check out some live concerts and other sporting activities.

If you plan to stay for a night, many cabins and rental homes are available by the lake.

Sunny afternoon at Boulder Bay Park

bon9 /

Spend a Day at the Big Bear Snow Play

Filled with soft snow, the Big Bear Snow Play is a fun and exciting recreational spot packed with activities for people of any age.

Once a ski resort, it is now a popular hub for downhill snow tubing.

Are you too bored to climb up the hill again?

Getting back up the hill is very easy with the magic carpet lift.

This is the longest tube run in Southern California; the snow tubing season typically runs from mid-November through Easter.

When there isn’t enough snow, snowmaking systems create artificial snow, so you don’t miss any action, no matter what season you visit.

You can try out the rope course that rises 35 feet above the ground in summer!

Hike the Castle Rock Trail

Castle rock sign on a tree along Castle Rock Trail

Gabriel P Magana /

The top of California’s Castle Rock Trail is one of the most beautiful places to visit.

It provides a stunning view of the grand Big Bear lake with a covering of the lush green forest.

The Castle Rock Trail is a relatively short path with just 1.3 miles of length, but it is challenging due to the steepness and rocky landscape underfoot.

Starting point of Castle Rock Trail

Kit Leong /

This trail offers one of the finest hikes in the area.

After an exhausting climb, the scenery around you will wash away all your woes.

If you are a hiker or a fitness freak, try this adventure!

Bike along the Alpine Pedal Path

The Alpine Pedal Path is a great bike trail that extends approximately 3.2 miles and is a trendy site for fun.

The route is relatively flat and provides access to people of various walking abilities.

This path is quite famous for cyclists with a breathtaking view of mountains and lakes.

Cyclists, rollerbladers, and scooters accompany the hikers, and on sunny afternoons this route can get a little crowded.

With plenty of benches to relax along the way, this is the ideal location for an afternoon stroll.

Try the Big Bear Jeep Experience

A jeep on the sandy road of black bear

Wirestock Creators /

Big Bear Jeep Experience offers everything from beginner touring excursions to cutting-edge rock crawling trips.

You can hire a jeep, and an expert off-road guide will narrate the trip via two-way radio while teaching you about the unique flora and fauna.

You will get the opportunity to learn the history of mining, the valley’s history, including its unique plant and wildlife, and many off-road techniques.

The guides will capture your Big Bear Jeep experience with a camera so you can share this unique adventure with your friends.

You can choose this experience from a range of difficulty levels; smoother drives for families with kids and more challenging drives for the adrenaline junkies.

Visit the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum

The Big Bear Valley Historical Museum is one of the best places to visit if you want to learn about the rich culture and history of the area.

The museum is packed with historical artifacts depicting the ancient legacy of the first inhabitants of Big Bear.

You can take an educational tour through the museum and learn about the days of the gold rush and also about the indigenous population.

A brief look at life during the ancient days will engage and amuse even the younger members of your family.

The archives, relics, and photos would tickle your curiosity.

So if you are a young learner, don’t miss this tour.

Stop by the Big Bear Discovery Center

Exterior of Big Bear Discovery Center

Steve Cukrov /

The Big Bear Discovery Center, near the lake’s north shore, is the first stop for anyone starting a tour of Big Bear.

Here, you can find all the information you need regarding hikes, campings, biking, and facts about the San Bernardino National Forest.

There is a fun Nature Discovery Zoo outside the center for the young ones.

Outdoor education area of Big Bear Discovery Center

Steve Cukrov /

You can also get adventure passes and book tours with experienced naturalists.

Discovery zone of Big Bear Discovery Center

Steve Cukrov /

The center conducts evening presentations at the outdoor amphitheater as the day winds down.

The Big Bear Discovery Center occasionally hosts unique events that you won’t want to miss.

Sip Cold Beer at the Big Bear Lake Brewing Company

If you want to spice up the tour with some alcohol, the Big Bear Lake Brewing Company is just the spot to hit.

Both a brewery and a restaurant, this company brews the finest beers and serves them alongside tasty meals.

If you are not the typical beer fan, fear not, as the company has an assortment of spirits and seasonal craft cocktails that are bound to tickle your taste buds.

This is an excellent calm location to enjoy a meal with your friends and family with some authentic and top-notch beer.

Don’t forget to knock on their doors if you ever find yourself thirsty after all the action.

Enjoy Nature at Bluff Lake Reserve

Spanning 7,600 feet, Bluff Lake Reserve has tall pines, a 20-acre lake, and a lawn in a pleasant soothing environment.

Its meadows fill with trees, flowers, and outcrops of rock and are home to an extensive array of rare fauna and flora.

It is an ecological reserve and a must-visit place if you are a true nature lover.

Insects, amphibians, and birds roam this vast nature reserve, the ideal location to enjoy a tranquil and soothing experience with family and loved ones.

You can pack stuff for a nice picnic, pick up your camera for photography, your binoculars for bird watching, and drive to this beautiful place.

Hiking paths are also available around the lake for those who seek adventure!

Ski and Snowboard at Big Bear Mountain Resort

Daytime view of Big Bear Mountain resort

Eiko Tsuchiya /

Big Bear Mountain resorts provide the most breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains.

Southern California’s best snowboarding and skiing is at Big Bear Mountain Resort, just minutes from the south shore of Big Bear Lake.

Snow Summit, with a peak of 8,200 feet, and Bear Mountain, with an elevation of 8,805 feet, provide the best snow and riding conditions in Southern California.

Chair lift at Big Bear Mountain resort

Ocean Image Photography /

Winter activities are typically from November to April, and full, half, and multi-day tickets are available for same-day use at both the mountains.

This provides access to over 400 skiable acres, 19 lifts, and more than 58 runs.

This resort offers a lovely retreat for Southern California skiers and snowboarders with excellent terrain for every ability level, from beginners to pros.

Snowboarder at Big Bear Mountain resort

Erik Clegg /

Join the Action Zipline Tours

Specially made for adrenaline junkies, the zipline tour at Big Bear combines thrill with beauty.

There are nine zipline runs, and you can fly through the forest, getting faster and higher off the ground as you progress, reaching a maximum speed of 35mph.

As you whizz through the cables, you can take in a gulp of fresh air with an eyeful of gorgeous landscapes.

The zipline follows all San Bernardino County building and safety codes, with certification from the state of California.

So, don’t worry about embarking on this thrilling activity.

The ziplines remind us that the bears aren’t the only thrill here.

Take a Hike on the Pine Knot Trail

Trailhead sign of Pine Knot Trail

Rachel Wren /

One of the best-kept trails in the Big Bear area is the Pine Knot Trail.

The Pine Knot Trail, which starts at the Aspen Glen Picnic Area and continues until it approaches Grand View Point, is abundant with oaks, flowers, pines, thick verdant forests, and breathtaking views of Big Bear Lake.

Forest along Pine Knot Trail

Paul A Smith /

A round trip on this trail lasts about 6.2 miles and is a great way to hike, cycle, or even ride a horse for the more adventurous.

While hiking, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Big Bear Lake right up to the Grand View Point.

You’ll need an adventure pass to access this secured area where you can also have a nice picnic with your friends and family.

Go on the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain

Open year-round, Magic Mountain’s Alpine Slide is Southern California’s unique bobsled adventure.

A beautiful chairlift with breathtaking views of the Big Bear Lake and magnificent mountains begins the tour.

Riders can navigate their sleds and even take their young ones on this thrilling ride.

The complete ride from the peak of the magic mountain to the base lasts approximately one and a half minutes.

You can enjoy the lush scenery while going on an adrenaline-packed ride down the mountain.

Final Thoughts

Big Bear Lake is a must-see for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

With its dazzling scenery and diverse wilderness, the area offers something for everyone.

Whether you’re a hiker, cyclist, snowboarder, skier, adrenaline junkie, or a nature enthusiast, you should add this city to your travel bucket list!

Come and enjoy Big Bear Lake!

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