If you are looking for a great summer destination that affords cool temperatures and more outdoor opportunities than you would expect in any town, consider pointing your wagon toward Big Bear Lake, Calif.
Located about 3½ hours southwest of Las Vegas, it is sought by thousands for its great fishing opportunities. It is also one of the best summer retreats for those looking for a variety of thrills on the water, upon the surrounding mountains or even in the air.
For most people, it's all about the lake itself. To help you enjoy it, you can rent just about any kind of water equipment at one of the six marinas along the lake. Some of the more popular rentable crafts are wave runners, kayaks and paddleboards. You can also easily arrange lessons in wake boarding or waterskiing, learn to parasail or even take a thrilling New Zealand jet boat ride, a half-hour of slings, twists, dips and spins.
Big Bear's elevation is at about 7,000 feet, so temperatures are ideal in the summer months. Summer air temperatures average highs of 77 degrees with evenings dipping to 45 degrees.
Hiking is also very popular, and the Big Bear Discovery Center is the place to begin any excursion. There are maps and plenty of useful information on the area's trails. There are many easy, family-friendly trails, but the choices range all the way up to lengthy and highly adventurous backpacking routes.
When I visited a few weeks ago, I hiked a short segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. This 2,650-mile path travels from Mexico to Canada, through California, Oregon and Washington.
Most hikers take about five to six months to complete the entire trail. My short sample hike allowed me to taste some bird's-eye views of Big Bear Lake and get a fine view of the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains.
But for the very best views of the lake and the entire area, you can head over to the Big Bear City airport and take a sightseeing tour by helicopter. Helicopter Big Bear has six types of suggested tours, from a short seven-minute jaunt to 45 minutes or longer, and all can be customized to your interests.
Big Bear also is known as the pedaling-off place for some of the world's best mountain bike trails. If you don't bring your own bike, it's easy to rent from one of the town's many bike shops.
The surrounding San Bernardino National Forest offers almost limitless choices to explore by bike, but some start by going to Snow Summit Ski Resort and riding its sky chair to the top of the mountain. A variety of trails, for riders of differing abilities and stores of bravado, leave from the summit.
Lodging in Big Bear runs from simple motel rooms to luxurious accommodations.
I find that renting a small cabin is the best and most economical way to go for my family. RS Vacations is one company I have used, and it offers a variety of sizes that can accommodate four to 12 or more people, depending on your needs.
Most are within walking distance to the lake and to The Village, where many of the finest shops and restaurants are located.
Complete information on Big Bear Lake and links to all the marinas, bike shops, Helicopter Big Bear and lodging can be found at bigbear.com.
Deborah Wall is the author of "Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide" and "Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States," published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.