5 Things I Learned While Driving to Big Bear Lake (2023)

Millions of people visit Big Bear Lake, California every year for skiing, tubing, fishing and relaxation. I recently had the opportunity to take my first trip up the mountain, and as a person who used to live in the mountains of Virginia, I felt prepared for the trip.

I was wrong.

As I made my way around the first few bends, I realized I was in much more of a mountainous adventure than I originally expected. I learned a lot about personal confidence during the conversations I had with myself as I climbed, climbed and climbed some more. No two mountain trips are alike and I realized that a little preparation would have better equipped me for what to expect. Here are five things I learned while driving to Big Bear Lake.

(Video) Roadtrip Big Bear: 5 Facts You NEED to You

5 Things I Learned While Driving to Big Bear Lake (1)

You’re Going to Be Driving for Awhile

You don’t truly realize how big the mountain it is until you cruise around the first curve and the surrounding mountains reveal themselves. The 29 mile drive takes about 45 minutes to an hour to conquer on a non-snow day and may take hours when snow is on the ground and chains are on your tires.

You will be traveling among drivers that take the mountain daily and cruise along with ease. I found myself questioning the patience they channel when they find themselves behind a newbie like me, who’s driving the speed limit and constantly checking my GPS to see how many more miles I have left to go. Thankfully there is a solution when you get tired or need a break. Turnouts. Use the turnouts to pull off of the road and regroup. This is also a good opportunity to switch drivers or get some fresh air.

Traveling Tips:

(Video) Is driving to Big Bear dangerous?

  • If traveling with kids, it may be best to stop for a potty break just before you start up the mountain.
  • You may experience areas where you have no cellular reception.
  • Get gas before you start up the mountain. (I didn’t notice any gas station directly on the road until I reached Big Bear.)
5 Things I Learned While Driving to Big Bear Lake (2)

The Curves Are Real

The drive up to Big Bear is not for the faint of heart. After the first three curves you may think you have it under control but the highway is full of windy, sudden and sharp turns. As you pass the 3,000-foot elevation sign, things get real. If you love race car driving, this is not the moment to try out your Daytona qualifying speed, as many of the curves may sneak up on you. When traffic seems to be approaching faster than you from behind, this is another time you should use the turnouts. It’s ok to allow the turnouts to become your new BFF.

It’s best to try not to hug the center line when handling the curves, as the person coming around a corner from the opposite direction may be doing the same and cause a disaster if both parties attempt to over correct. Keep your eyes on the road and limit distractions. This is important to remember as you take in the views around you.

The Views are Amazing

The road to Big Bear offers some amazing views. The mountain peaks and deep valleys will be something you will never forget. If you become distracted by the views, pull off of the road at the next turnout and take in the moment. The turnouts are the perfect place to capture pictures of breathtaking snowcapped mountains, streams and rivers you encounter on the way up the mountain. On a clear day you get mountain views as far as the eye can see. If you look closely you will also notice houses tucked away on the side of the mountains.

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Note: If taking photos, don’t wander too close to the edge, several of the turnouts don’t have railings.

You’ll Encounter Other Towns

While Big Bear may be your destination, the drive up the mountain surprises you with the appearance of a few other small mountain towns on the way.

The most prominent you’ll encounter will be Running Springs, shortly after reaching the 6,000-foot elevation mark. Running Springs is a resort town that offers activities like skiing and snowboarding in the winter and fishing during the spring. Running Springs is the home of Snow Valley Mountain. Much like Big Bear, Running Springs is a tourist destination.

(Video) 58° ( HOT) Does Big Bear have any snow left? Lets cruise through town and Fawnskin to see. 2/10/2023

5 Things I Learned While Driving to Big Bear Lake (3)

You Can’t Be Afraid to Go Above the Clouds

There is no doubt that the drive up to Big Bear Mountain is beautiful, but for those not accustomed to driving the mountain, you may have a misunderstanding of exactly how high you may be traveling. While most of the actual climb is gradual, you will experience moments of ear pressure and popping. If you have a fear of heights, try not to fret as you casually drive past the 3,000-, 4,000- and finally 7,000-foot elevation signs on the way up.

On a good day, you will be able to experience the mountain from above the clouds. Literally! Clouds can settle between the mountains and may cause some limited visibility but also provide the perfect photo opportunity once you get above them.

There were times on my drive that I contemplated turning back and trying again the next day but I’m so glad I didn’t. The drive up the mountain is well worth the white knuckles and sweaty palms when you get your first view of Big Bear Lake. The crisp air and beautiful surroundings will quickly replace any other thoughts you had about the 29-mile drive to get there.

(Video) Top 5 things to do in Big Bear Lake, California | Famous Things at Big Bear Lake

Now that you’re prepared for your trek up the mountain, it’s time to make your reservation for a cozy cabin or hotel room at Big Bear Frontier. Make your reservation today!


How do I prepare for driving to Big Bear? ›

Bring chains and other items.

Even with 4-wheel drive, it is important to carry chains with you at all times when driving in Big Bear during the winters months. If they are checking for chains and you don't have them with you, you may have to drive all the way back down and buy some.

What is the easiest drive to Big Bear? ›

  • Hwy 18 – Lucerne Valley. The shortest and quickest way for visitors coming from Los Angeles, Orange County, and other points west is Hwy 330 / Hwy Hwy 18 is the quickest way to/from Barstow, Las Vegas, and other high desert locations. ...
  • Hwy 330 / Hwy 18 – Running Springs. ...
  • Hwy 38 Redlands.

What is Big Bear famous for? ›

Located in the heart of Southern California - and an easy drive from Phoenix and Las Vegas - Big Bear Lake is the jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest and known for excellent fishing, snowboarding and skiing, hiking, mountain biking and so much more!

How long does it take to drive around Big Bear Lake? ›

Check out this 35.7-mile point-to-point trail near San Bernardino, California. Generally considered an easy route, it takes an average of 16 h 11 min to complete.

Is driving to Big Bear Lake Easy? ›

Big Bear Lake is located in the San Bernardino Mountains and is an easy drive from most areas in southern California. It is about 93 miles northeast of Los Angeles, an approximate 2 hour, and 10 minute drive depending on traffic and road conditions.

Is driving to Big Bear Lake hard? ›

The drive up to Big Bear is not for the faint of heart. After the first three curves you may think you have it under control but the highway is full of windy, sudden and sharp turns. As you pass the 3,000-foot elevation sign, things get real.

Is Big Bear for beginners? ›

Ski Big Bear at Masthope Mountain is a great place to learn to ski or snowboard. We have patient and fun instructors who work hard to help you succeed.

Are tire chains required in Big Bear? ›

Real-Time Road Updates

There are 3 ways to and from Big Bear Lake, CA. During the winter months of November - April, motorists may encounter traction chain controls in the mountain areas within California. By law, snow chains or cables must be carried in your vehicle at all times during winter months.

What is the least curvy road to Big Bear? ›

Hwy. 38 (through Redlands) is a relaxing route that meanders through the national forest. This route has the least amount of curves and turns and beautiful backcountry scenery.

What is special about Bear Lake? ›

Bear Lake has been called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for its unique turquoise-blue color, which is due to the reflection of calcium carbonate (limestone) deposits suspended in the lake. Its water properties have led to the evolution of several unique species of fauna that occur only within the lake.

Why is Bear Lake so popular? ›

Bear Lake has become famous for the surrounding valley's crops of raspberries and for the annual Raspberry Days festival held in Garden City to celebrate the harvest of raspberries, generally during the first week of August.

What celebrities have homes in Big Bear? ›

This is a list of notable people who were born in, or who have lived in, Big Bear Lake, California.
  • Mel Blanc – voice of Bugs Bunny.
  • Noel Blanc – voice actor.
  • Ryan Hall – long distance Olympic runner.
  • Ralph Hodges – child actor.
  • Shirley Jones – actor.
  • Taran Killam – actor from Saturday Night Live, Wild 'n Out, MADtv.

Is Big Bear Lake Clear water? ›

If you're looking to have some fun in the sun, you'll definitely enjoy Big Bear Lake swimming. There's nothing more refreshing than cooling off in the clear water! We know that our customers deserve the very best vacation possible, so we've listed out our favorite spots to get in the water.

Is it worth it to go to Big Bear Lake? ›

Big Bear Lake is the heart of the San Bernadino National Forest and is worth visiting. Whether you're looking for a quick getaway or want to spend the weekend exploring nature, there are plenty of places near Big Bear Lake that will make your heart happy.

Can you drive all the way around Big Bear Lake? ›

It is a great drive around the entire lake to see how the" natives". live. Loved the homes built on top of the rocks.

What are the three ways to Big Bear? ›

3 Main Routes

The three main roads to Big Bear Lake are Hwy 330 (through Highland), Hwy 38 (through Redlands) and Hwy 18 (through Lucerne Valley). If you're driving to Big Bear Lake from your home in California or from an airport, study these routes and see what freeways they connect to.

What is the best time to visit Big Bear Lake? ›

Spring and Fall are usually the best time to come and avoid crowds. During these off peak seasons, there are still plenty of events and things to do in Big Bear. Fishing season starts April 1st, you can take a hike, walk the Alpine Pedal Path, go horseback riding and check out the petting Zoo.

How do I spend my day at Big Bear? ›

These are my recommendations for things to do in Big Bear.
  1. Try Some of the Water Sports on Big Bear Lake. ...
  2. Or Any of the Other Adventure Sports & Activities. ...
  3. Hike Around Big Bear Lake. ...
  4. Cycle or Ski at Snow Summit. ...
  5. Eat Out & Enjoy Big Bear's Nightlife. ...
  6. Stay at a Cozy Cabin.
Oct 29, 2022

Will Big Bear Lake ever fill up? ›

Since the lake's modern dam was built, 110 years ago, Stephenson said Big Bear Lake has gone through a series of steady cycles. Every 10 years or so it fills to capacity from rain and snow melt-off, then drops five or 10 feet during drier years, then fills back up. But the last time the lake was full was 2011.

Why is Bear Lake so clean? ›

Algae are limited in the lake because the water contains little of the key nutrients algae need to grow. Specifically, a lack of nitrogen and phosphorous severely limits algal growth in Bear Lake, keeping its water clean and blue.

Why is Big Bear Lake so cold? ›

In contrast to most of southern California, the Big Bear Lake region normally receives significant winter snow because of its high elevation.

How much money do you need to go to Big Bear? ›

The average price of a 7-day trip to Big Bear Lake is $1,609 for a solo traveler, $2,890 for a couple, and $5,418 for a family of 4. Big Bear Lake hotels range from $57 to $261 per night with an average of $80, while most vacation rentals will cost $240 to $560 per night for the entire home.

Is Big Bear hot or cold? ›

Big Bear weather offers summers that are warm and mostly clear and winters that are very cold, dry, and partly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 22°F to 81°F and is rarely below 14°F or above 88°F.

What clothes do I need for Big Bear? ›

Warm clothes are a must!

Layer up with thermals and sweaters or hoodies. A warm, waterproof jacket and snow pants are also best for snow play or sports. Snow boots and thick socks are great if you plan on snowshoeing or tubing. Also, be sure to protect your hands and ears with gloves and hats.

What is the best month to go to Big Bear for snow? ›

There can be snow in Big Bear as early as October and as late as March. February is the snowiest month, with an average snowfall of 18.1″ and an average low temperature of 22.1°F. Typically, after a day of snowfall in Big Bear, an inch or more of fresh snow can be expected.

How cold does Big Bear get at night? ›

So you have a nice, wide window to enjoy the snow in Big Bear! During the day, you can expect temperatures to reach the high 40s, but nighttime temperatures can drop to the 20s.

Does Big Bear plow roads? ›

Our crews plow each street twice and usually more during a large storm. Our main goal is to ensure that City streets are cleared of snow in order to allow Fire, Paramedic, Sheriff and Utility response vehicles access.

What is the scariest road? ›

To make it worse, weather conditions such as fog, dust clouds and rain reduces visibility to almost zero, along with mudslides and waterfalls. The North Yungas Road, also known as the Death Road, was labelled as the 'world's most dangerous road'.

How deep is the bottom of Bear Lake? ›

Bear Lake is the 2nd largest natural freshwater lake in Utah at 20-miles long and 8-miles wide, with nearly 70,000 acres of water! When the lake is full it covers 109 square miles (280km2) with an average overall depth of 94-feet and 208-feet at the deepest point.

Which Big Bear mountain is better for beginners? ›

The best place to find beginner slopes is at Snow Summit Ski Resort. With a vertical drop of only 1,200 feet, the mountain is a great place to learn how to snow plough without getting in the way of an expert skier. 55% of the area is designed for beginners, and is one of the most fun Big Bear Mountain things to do.

What are 3 facts about Bear Lake? ›

Bear Lake is over 250,000 years old. It was formed by fault subsidence that continues today, slowly deepening the lake along the eastern side. Originally named "Black Bear Lake" by Donald McKenzie, an explorer for the North West Fur Company who explored the lake in 1819, the name was later shortened to Bear Lake.

Why should I go to Bear Lake? ›

Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge

One of the best places to spot wildlife in this area is at the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It is a great place for hiking and looking for animals. This area is home to moose and lots of different kinds of birds like owls, peregrine falcons, and osprey.

Why is it called Big Bear Lake? ›

As they entered the valley, they found it crawling with grizzly bears. Nope, not a misprint, they were indeed grizzly bears! It was with this discovery that Big Bear Lake got its' present day name.

Does Bear Lake have snakes? ›

A few reptiles roam the preserve, including the Great Basin rattlesnake, garter snake, striped whipsnake, and sagebrush lizard, but they are rarely seen.

How deep is Big Bear Lake? ›

Is Bear Lake swimmable? ›

Swimming off the nice, gentle beaches of Bear Lake is fun for the whole family. Be sure to bring a sun umbrella, a picnic lunch and a beach ball!

How much does it cost to stay in a cabin in Big Bear? ›

What is the price range for Big Bear Lake cabin rentals? Cabins in Big Bear Lake cost from just $55 a night to $197 a night for that something truly special. Prices and availability are subject to change. Additional terms may apply.

What famous person has the biggest house? ›

1. Bill Gates' $125million house. After seven years in the making, Bill Gates' mega-mansion 'Xanadu 2.0', takes the top spot at a whopping $125 million!

Where in California do the most celebrities live? ›

While plenty of celebrities can be found in other parts of the city, or even elsewhere in California, the highest concentration of famous people is in Beverly Hills, Bel Air, and the surrounding neighborhoods in the Hollywood Hills.

Why can't you swim in Big Bear Lake? ›

The lake is large and there are many areas where swimming is not allowed. Boaters often create large waves that can make it difficult (and dangerous!) to swim near the shore.

Is tap water drinkable in Big Bear? ›

Big Bear's only source of water comes in as rainfall and drops into our lake or gets absorbed by the ground. This groundwater then becomes safe drinking water and tap water for our homes and businesses in Big Bear.

Is it OK to swim in Big Bear Lake? ›

From the Big Bear Municipal Water District: In the summer months, swimming is permitted in Big Bear Lake at your own risk! There are NO lifeguards on duty and swimmers must stay within 50 feet of the shore or within 20 feet of a private dock.

Do I need chains to drive to Big Bear tomorrow? ›

R-3: Chains required on all vehicles, no exceptions.

Do you need snow chains to drive to Big Bear? ›

Requirement 1 (R1): Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle.

Do you need snow tires to drive to Big Bear? ›

R-1: Chains are required on all commercial vehicles (trucks or buses). All other vehicles (cars, pick-ups, vans, etc.) must have either snow tread tires or chains on the drive axle.

Do you need a 4x4 to go to Big Bear? ›

4x4 is always best, but if chain controls in effect, even 4x4 need chains. Don't just follow your navigation system. Check the traffic, often the shortest miles (through running springs) is the longest trip time with traffic and longer mountain driving.

Which road to Big Bear is less windy? ›

Hwy. 38 (through Redlands) is a relaxing route that meanders through the national forest. This route has the least amount of curves and turns and beautiful backcountry scenery.

What is the best time to go to Big Bear? ›

Spring and Fall are usually the best time to come and avoid crowds. During these off peak seasons, there are still plenty of events and things to do in Big Bear. Fishing season starts April 1st, you can take a hike, walk the Alpine Pedal Path, go horseback riding and check out the petting Zoo.

Can I sleep in my car in Big Bear? ›

The San Bernardino National forest allows “Dispersed Camping” meaning you can stop and camp anywhere at all as long as you're more than 1 car length off the road. There's limitations on campfires.


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