This Mountain Lake Escape Is the Winter Wonderland Reset You Need
Cozy mountain vibes, just two hours outside of LA.
The area now known as Big Bear Lake was called Yahaviat (“pine place”) to the native Yuhaviatam (“people of the pines”). They lived among grizzly bears, which were revered by the Indigenous tribe and considered to be reincarnations of their ancestral spirits. Though there are only black bears here now, the little town named after the Californian carnivores has become one of Southern California’s most popular destinations—for good reason. The gold rushers are long gone, but the movie crews, hikers, bikers, fishermen, skiers and snowboarders visit the mountainous abode year-round to take in its beautiful tree-laden scenery with each breath of pine-scented air. Here are the essential stops you’ll want to put on your winter itinerary:
COVID-19 advisory: Be sure to read up on the Big Bear Lake mandates and each business’s pandemic operations before you plan your trip, so you’ll know who you can travel with, stay with, what’s open when you want to go and where you can (or cannot) dine outdoors.
Head to one or both hills for some leisurely snow carving, whether you’ve got one plank or two. For the more family-friendly resort, head to Snow Summit. Young terrain park riders will want to lap Big Bear. The two summits are, well, two miles apart—but lift tickets are good for entry to both on the same day. This year, you’ll want to buy lift tickets and reserve your rentals and lessons in advance so you’re assured your spots due to a reduced capacity for pandemic protocols.How to book
: Buy your tickets online
and download the Big Bear Mountain Resort app
onto your phone for easy scanning.
Warm up with some toasty cocktails
You’ve got your choice of some lively bars in Big Bear for a drink or two to acclimate your body to the elevation, starting with Club Bombay
. It’s a wood-ensconced bar with an extensive whiskey selection and live music on the weekends. It’s currently open Friday through Sunday nights during the pandemic. For a more extensive food menu (served ‘til 2 am, to boot) to hold your own with the drinks, try Murray’s Saloon & Eatery
—a popular joint with the locals complete with bikers, TV screens, and karaoke. Feeling like some local beer brewed at 6,700 ft elevation? Big Bear Lake Brewing Company
has just that—but also craft cocktails for mixed drink aficionados.How to book
: Check bar hours before going.
Ziplining is a great way to get the perfect vantage point of Big Bear’s beautiful scenery while enjoying some adventure. Strap in for nine whole runs of speeds of up to 35 mph, zooming above the treeline while feeling the wind blow in your face. The entire tour is three hours of fun, and you can also rent a go-pro camera to record footage for a keepsake video of your daredevil tour. Tack on a wine or beer tasting at Barrel 33 in the village for a perfect way to wind down.How to book
: Buy tickets
in advance online.
You’ve got a few options to catch that exhilarating feeling sliding down a hill in Big Bear. Take a bobsled down the Alpine Slide, where you’ll get to steer your own individual sled on two different quarter-mile tracks. You can also go tubing at Snow Play, where they have the longest hills in Southern California. Both are open, with safety precautions, and Snow Play is even open at night on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays.How to book:
Tickets are $35 for adults and $20 for children. Buy at the ticket window.
A trip to Big Bear wouldn’t be complete without a hike to appreciate all its glory and wonder. Oak Knoll Lodge rests off the beaten path and has been owned by the same family for 100 years, with many scenic hiking trails just across the street. You can rent snowshoes at one of the sporting goods retailers, then head to one of the trailheads. For a couple hikes out of the way, head east to Baldwin Lake to pay homage to the Eye of God, a quartz dome that was a sacred tribal landmark for the Yuhaviatam people. On another interesting trail south of the area, scout the largest Lodgepole pines by Bluff Lake on the Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail
.How to book
: Book your standalone cabin with contactless check-in directly with Oak Knoll Lodge
. For snowshoe rentals, head to Bear Valley Bikes
, Goldsmith’s Sports
, TC Ride Shop
and North Shore Trading Company
Enjoy the winter wonderland from the vantage point of one of the best cardio workouts that exist: Cross-country skiing. Next to hiking, it’s one of the most affordable activities around. You’ll need to head five to ten miles west from Big Bear Lake to the Rim Nordic Ski Area
, the only place for cross-country skiing in Southern California. Beginners can start out with a quarter-mile loop called the Deep Creek Loop. Intermediate skiers can hop on the Lower Country Road Trail that’s about two miles long. How to book: The Rim Nordic Ski Area
is open only when there’s snow on the ground and costs $22 per adult.
Relive Big Bear’s gold rush of the 1860s at Gold Rush Mining Adventures, where no one goes home empty-handed. Pan for gold, crystals, and gemstones. You can also harvest pearls straight from the oyster or excavate fossils. They’ll also calculate your numerology and personalize your gemstone. And while you’re there, take a stroll in their ghost town called Glitter Gulch. How to book
: Gold Rush Mining Adventures is open every day and taking proper social distancing precautions during
COVID-19. When you arrive, book the packages you want for the adventure you seek.
Get some coffee “with altitude” by stopping by Big Bear Roasting Company for a cup of joe. They take coffee roasting seriously with each varietal, offering samples of them for customers to try. Offering over 50 flavored blends, this is a place you’ll want to keep coming back to try each flavor. The variety of specialty drinks available to order from the bar is unmatched, so this is a coffee house you’ll want to get some beans for the road as well as a fancy flavored latte.How to book:
The coffee shop is open daily except Wednesdays and Thursdays. They’re also able to ship coffee beans directly to you.
Stop by this top-notch donut shop for yeast-risen treats in a wide variety of flavors. They’ve got crullers, twists, bear claws (of course), cronuts, fritters, cinnamon rolls, vegan options, and more. If you’re feeling extra savory, go for their breakfast burrito—but they sell out fast so get there early. How to book
: Dank Donuts is open daily.
Feast on excellent Indian food
A mountain town in the San Bernardino Mountains is probably the last place you’d expect to find great Indian cuisine, but Big Bear has not only one, but two such places—two blocks away from each other. Himalayan Restaurant
is located adjacent to the aforementioned Club Bombay bar. Masala Craft
is the newer of the two and just completed a remodel, but both are heavily favored as the top restaurants in town, which essentially has Indian fare cornering the market on comfort food made for the mountains.How to book
: Both restaurants have take-out, delivery, and outdoor dining available.
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Esther Tseng is a freelance writer based in Silverlake. She's also a winter weekend warrior snowboarder who shreds Mammoth Mountain and Northstar, her second and third home.