When you think of Big Bear Lake, you may think of a skiing, hot chocolate and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But I can assure you that Big Bear has thrills for all seasons. I recently had the pleasure of exploring this beautiful Californian adventure land. A place so filled with the spirit of the Wild West and natural beauty, it was unlike anywhere I’d ever been before.
As we drove towards Big Bear, I frequently felt like I was in an old western movie. Visions of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood dancing in my head. Later I discovered that Big Bear Lake was in fact a Hollywood favorite during the 30’s and 40’s. The likes of Lassie, Elvis, and Andy Griffith have all graced the streets of this beautiful mountain town.
Once we got outside of the hectic freeways we found ourselves on the picturesque road along California 330 North. As we drove further up the winding road nestled alongside the San Bernardino Mountains, the views kept getting more spectacular. It was hard to believe we were only an hour from Los Angeles and two hours from San Diego.
When we pulled into the town of Big Bear Lake you could feel the pace change. Knowing that we had climbed 6,700 feet above sea level, the sky felt wider and time seemed to slow down just a bit. Cozy cottages and rustic wood cabins replaced the sprawling landscape. When we reached Big Bear Lake the merging of the sky, the mountains, and the lake felt seamless and limitless. An oil painting brought to life.
We stayed at the Bear Creek Resort. A charming, cottage-like setting just walking distance to the village. A big bed, stone fireplace, flat screen tv, and kitchenette greeted us when we stopped briefly to drop our bags. The room felt snug and homey, perfect to cuddle up in as the nights grew a bit chilly. Though we didn’t partake, the property also boasted a pool, jacuzzi, and dog friendly rooms.
For our first adventure we opted for zip lining. The Action Tours Big Bearstaff were friendly and accommodating while we signed in. We arrived 20 minutes prior to the scheduled time as the welcome email had stated to complete the needed paperwork. Action Tours Big Bear also hosts Segway tours, tree rope climbing, and aqua flight tours. Covering all of your bases for an adventure filled visit in Big Bear.
The process felt very professional and organized, which is an important factor if you’re about to be strapped into a harness and dangled above the forest. After a quick video and review of safety guidelines, our group of 14 boarded a couple of vans and took the 30 minute drive up the mountain.
Once we arrived we all hopped into an off-roading, military vehicle and rode the rest of the way to the activity area. All of the guys working the area were welcoming and eased any nerves we might have had. They all seemed like they were enjoying their jobs, joking with each other and the guests. The staff took extra care to make sure everyone was comfortable and able to land properly. After a brief lesson on how to brake and position our legs, we were off.
On 9 runs of different lengths and heights, we glided from tree to tree through the forest. Whizzing along the zip lines, past trees and over bluffs.It was a great start to the weekend packed with outdoor adventure.
Next, we headed to Snow Summit Mountain Resort for a mountain biking lesson. I had expected to show up and be intimidated by diehard, professional cyclists. But, that was not at all the case. The parking lot was packed, the atmosphere was fun and lively. A DJ was set up at the bottom of the mountain. We saw people of all ages and backgrounds. Kids with their parents, couples, groups of guys, groups of girls. I relaxed a bit. I was trying not be self conscious of the fact that I hadn’t been on a bike in several years, let alone having zero experience biking down the face of a giant mountain.
Snow Summit Downhill Bike Park is the only of its kind in Southern California. So I knew, no matter how nervous I was, I would not let this singletrack experience go to waste. There were several runs to chose from, downhill and cross country. Luckily my instructor, Jiles, chose to take me down the easiest run available.
After getting fit for the bike and Jiles giving me some basic pointers, we hopped on the chair lift and headed towards the top. Jiles was an excellent instructor, patient and encouraging. Admittedly, I took a spill. From that point on I let the groups of adolescent boys fly by me and I took the mountain at my own pace. Leaning into turns, wind in my face, speeding down the trail. It was a totally exhilarating experience, one that I am eager to try again.
When we finished with the runs, we kicked back and had a beer, enjoying the beautiful afternoon in the mountains. There were activities for the non-bikers; rock wall, trampoline with bungees and a harness, a scenic trip up the chairlift to the restaurant at the top. Snow Summit Mountain Resort was filled with activity.
The next morning we woke bright and early to take on the off roading jeep adventure, with Big Bear Jeep Experience. I had imagined a controlled environment that we’d be able to bop around on, maybe some little hills, but mostly G Rated.
My expectations were totally exceeded when I realized that we were legit going to be driving up the side of a mountain, boulders and all. An exciting and unique experience, this company is one of three in the country that allow you to drive yourself. After a few minutes of driving along Highway 18, which gave us sweeping views of the Mojave Desert, we reached the Jacoby Canyon.
Our tour guide, Jesse, gave instructions and encouraged us to participate via the radios in our Jeeps. He was friendly and informative, frequently reminding us that we could pull off to snap pictures whenever we felt compelled.
Ghosts of the Gold Rush abound as we explored Holcomb Valley. You could see and feel the history all around as we journeyed up the mountain, passing original gravestones, a log cabin, the hanging tree were outlaws met their demise. The worn and rocky trail we traveled on was the original road that led into Big Bear during the Gold Rush days.
Sporadically we would pass mounds of dirt along the creekbed, which Jesse explained were remnants from the miners sifting for gold. It was an eerie feeling knowing that we were traveling the same road cowboys and gold miners frequented 150+ years ago. We came across the wooden relics of the . A crumbling wooden frame from the 1930’s sits atop the mountain range overlooking the valley below.
Being out in the fresh mountain air, sun shining above, and the thrill of climbing boulders along the side of the mountain was the perfect way to round out our weekend. The experience was at once heart pounding and peaceful.
When asking around Big Bear for dining recommendations, the name Ron Arteaga’s Bone Side Down Barbecue & Grill came up more than once. The first two times we drove by the roadside BBQ stand we were saddened to see a ‘Sold Out’ sign out front.
So, post jeep adventure, my singular goal was to hit Bone Side Down before all of the goodness was consumed. The menu was packed with plenty of BBQ staples; ribs, brisket, sausage, cornbread. The woman behind the counter punctuated her sentences with ‘sweetheart’ and ‘honey’. The smokers out back were manned by the legend himself. We feasted out of Styrofoam containers on picnic benches. Bone Side Down felt like a genuine barbecue experience, it did not disappoint. The meal was finger licking good.
With all of our high flying, mountain trekking, and off-roading we engaged in, we barely scratched the surface of what Big Bear Lake offers for summertime activities. The mountains and lake hold so many adventures and stories. I can’t wait to head back and experience hiking trails, lake activities, and dive further into the history rich mountain town.
Laura Ferguson is a traveler, blogger, and digital media enthusiast living in sunny SoCal. Check out more of her work here: lauraferguson.org