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These are the best things to do in Big Bear, California. With the San Bernardino Mountains providing the highest peaks in Southern California, it’s a year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts. You can go skiing in the winter and have abundant hiking opportunities in the summer and fall.

But the mountains are just the beginning. There are also forest and desert landscapes, as well as Big Bear Lake, the heart of the area, and an endless source of activity, from fishing to tubing to pontoon boating.

I recently got the chance to explore this area for the first time and have nothing but good things to say. Read on for my recommendations on the 15 best Big Bear things to do.

Getting to Big Bear, California

Los Angeles is famous for its traffic, and it’s definitely a factor to consider when traveling to Big Bear. While the 100-mile trip can take as little as 2 hours, it can also take much longer depending on how busy the roads are.

Luckily, there are a few different options for getting there, and I recommend considering all three before making a decision. Highway 330 tends to be the most popular and gets heavy traffic on weekends, particularly around holidays, so you’ll need to leave extra time to take this route.

Highway 18 is safest during snowy weather and gets busy on weekends and after snowstorms. Highway 38 is a little less direct, but it can be a good alternative when other roads are facing heavy traffic.

Remember that chains are required when traveling to Big Bear in the winter months, so make sure to have these on you at all times.

Planning a Trip to Big Bear? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Big Bear:

  1. The Marina Riviera, for the best lakefront hotel
  2. Noble + Proper, for the best boutique hotel

15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear Lake, California

1. Rent a Pontoon on Big Bear Lake at Holloways Marina

If you’ve never rented a pontoon boat before, Big Bear Lake California is the perfect place to try it. Holloways Marina’s boats are spacious, making them a great pick for a family or group of friends to enjoy a day out on the lake, and you can also use them for activities including waterskiing and fishing. There are several rental options around the lake, so you won’t have trouble finding one. Book a boat here.

2. Experience the Ultimate Zipline Tour & Suspension Bridge

credit: Visit Big Bear

This 3-hour zipline tour takes Big Bear visitors on 9 high-speed zipline runs that get longer, faster, and higher as you go—eventually taking you up to 35 mph! You’ll also cross a mountain suspension bridge and travel in off-road vehicles as part of the tour, so you’ll definitely be able to get the adrenaline pumping. The tour offers unbeatable views of Johnson Valley and Mt. San Gorgonio, SoCal’s highest peak. Book the zipline tour here.

3. Hike Up Castle Rock Trail

15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear, California

Castle Rock Trail is a steep one with 820 feet in elevation gain, but the views are well worth the effort. The popular 2.7-mile out-and-back journey through the San Bernardino National Forest will bring you to a viewpoint with sweeping vistas over Big Bear Lake and the surrounding mountains. Leashed dogs are welcome to join you on the trail.

4. Stroll Around Big Bear Village

Things to Do in Big Bear

While the emphasis in Big Bear is on nature, the area also has a charming commercial district called The Village. Stroll through for shopping, sightseeing, dining, and nightlife—especially if you happen to be in town during a holiday season like Halloween or Christmas. Wintertime in this area is particularly captivating, with the whole village decked out in twinkling lights.

5. Go Skiing at Big Bear Lake

credit: Visit Big Bear

With two mountain ski resorts in Big Bear—Snow Summit and Bear Mountain—the area is the capital of skiing and snowboarding in Southern California. Between them, they boast more than 400 acres of terrain, with runs for skiers of all levels. Altogether, 26 lifts provide access to 55 runs, and a free intermountain shuttle allows you to connect between resorts throughout the day.

6. Ride California’s Only Authentic Bobsled Experience at Magic Mountain

Southern California Road Trip Guide

For something you won’t find elsewhere in California, check out the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. After taking a scenic chairlift with panoramic lake views, you’ll navigate your own bobsled down one of two quarter-mile cement tracks filled with twists and turns. Magic Mountain also offers a host of other activities, including go-karts, mini golf, and a roller coaster.

7. Pick a Water Activity on The Lake

15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear, California

Boating, paddle sports, fishing, inner tubing, jet skiing, you name it—all are available on Big Bear Lake. Several marinas around the lake open between April and May each year to offer a wide range of rentals that will suit whatever fun you have planned on the lake. Some even offer lessons in activities like wakeboarding and waterskiing. If you’re looking for something a bit less active, a scenic lake tour is a good option.

8. Rent a Bike To Go Biking Along the Alpine Pedal Path

credit: Visit Big Bear

The Alpine Pedal Path is an asphalt path that meanders along Big Bear Lake’s north shore, from the Stanfield Cutoff to just west of the Big Bear Solar Observatory. The 5.2-mile out-and-back takes between 1.5 and 2 hours, and it’s a relatively easy route.

9. Explore the Endless Hiking Trails in the San Bernardino National Forest

Hikers will be in paradise in the San Bernardino National Forest, which offers some of the best hiking trails in the world with access to the coast, desert, and the highest mountains in Southern California. Less experienced hikers shouldn’t worry; tram rides can lead you up to trails in the mountains without the steep climbs.

10. Spend the Afternoon At Boulder Bay Park

 credit: Visit Big Bear
credit: Visit Big Bear

Two miles east of Big Bear Dam is Boulder Bay Park, a newer park constructed in 2010. It’s a hub for picnicking and outdoor recreation like fishing and canoeing in summer and sledding and snowball fights in winter. A bandstand in the park hosts a summer concert series.

11. Go for a Sunset Walk in Stanfield Marsh Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve

Things to Do in Big Bear

The Stanfield March Wildlife and Waterfowl Preserve is a perfect place to go for a sunset walk. It has a beautiful boardwalk along the lake and is also an excellent viewing spot for wintering bald eagles between late November and early April.

12. Check Out the Big Bear Solar Observatory

 credit: Visit Big Bear
credit: Visit Big Bear

Owned and operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Big Bear Solar Observatory has been dedicated to the study of the sun since 1997. The observatory partners with the Big Bear Valley Astronomical Society to provide docent-led tours for the public, but they are small and limited in size, so do your homework before you plan a visit!

13. See the Animals at Big Bear Alpine Zoo

credit: Visit Big Bear

For a family-friendly activity, hit the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. Grizzly bears, gray wolves, and foxes are just a few of the more than 85 animal and bird species that call the zoo home. The zoo helps animals recover and many are released back into nature when they are ready to go.

14. Take the Scenic Sky Chair Lift

Things to Do in Big Bear

There’s no better way to score panoramic views of San Bernardino National Forest than taking a mile-long chair lift up to Snow Valley or Snow Summit, which are each close to 8,000 feet up. Once at the top, you can hike, take pictures, or picnic. Snow Summit even has a taphouse restaurant at the top for the ultimate in dining with a view. This is one of the can’t-miss activities in Big Bear.

15. Consider Summer Camping in Big Bear

In the warmer months, Big Bear is a fantastic place to pitch a tent, with several options available. Serrano, Pine Knot, and Holcomb Valley Campgrounds are for tents. Holcomb Valley Ranch offers unique boutique camping.

Where to Stay in Big Bear Area

The Marina Riviera

Things to Do in Big Bear

The Marina Riviera, located on Big Bear Lake, was originally built in 1968 as a Viking-themed lodge. It has been hosting guests for over 50 years. The recent renovation used the natural surroundings as inspiration. It incorporated wood colors and classic ski lodge design into the updated interiors. All 42 rooms feature stunning lake views, and Big Bear Village is under 5 minutes away. Book the best rates here.

Noble + Proper

Noble + Proper is a collection of 8 cabins, each lovingly named for a member of the family that owns the business. Each comes with amenities including a full-size refrigerator, freezer, and microwave, as well as smart TVs and Wi-Fi. There is a shared space with BBQs, picnic tables, a hammock, horseshoes, and 8 bikes for guests to use. Book the best rates here.

Frequently Asked Questions About Big Bear Lake

Is Big Bear California Worth Visiting?

Big Bear is definitely worth visiting if you like the outdoors. It offers gorgeous vistas, challenging hikes, and endless opportunities for water recreation. Plus, it’s a great family destination, with plenty of fun activities to keep kids entertained.

Why is Big Bear so Popular?

Big Bear is an exceptional place to get out into nature. With its diverse landscapes, it’s great for outdoor activities like hiking, boating, fishing, and more.

Is Big Bear Close to Los Angeles?

Big Bear sits about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. But how long it takes to get there can vary wildly based on traffic. It can be doable in about 2 to 2.5 hours, pending conditions, but it can also take much longer.

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15 Best Things to Do in Big Bear Lake, California

PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


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