Big Bear Lake, California, is an easy drive from Las Vegas, less than four hours away in the San Bernardino Mountains.
The resort town’s 7,000-foot elevation makes it a fine place to escape the blistering summers of the surrounding deserts. Average daily high temperatures in the summertime are in the high 70s, with nights dipping into the 40s.
Trail options run the gamut from a family-friendly nature hike to a hardcore trek along a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. This route travels a 2,650-mile path from Mexico to Canada, passing through California, Oregon and Washington.
Whatever off-the-pavement adventure you choose, a smart place to start is the Big Bear Discovery Center, 40971 North Shore Drive in Fawnskin, on the north side of the lake. The center has nature exhibits, area maps and camping information and offers naturalist-led eco-tours and other interpretive programs. It’s open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays. For more information, call 909-382-2790 or visit mountainsfoundation.org.
While the surrounding forest land is a haven for off-road adventures, hiking and mountain biking, the lake itself really takes center stage. Big Bear Lake is about eight miles long and one mile wide and boasts 23 miles of shoreline. It is a world-renowned fishing reservoir home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, catfish and rainbow trout.
The lake is also a prime destination for kayakers, paddleboarders, water skiers and wakeboarders. The local marinas offer rentals, lessons and tours for these activities for visitors young and old.
Even if you don’t want to take part in water sports, it’s well worth a trip out on the lake aboard Miss Liberty, a 64-foot paddlewheel tour boat. A fully narrated 90-minute cruise around the lake features Big Bear Lake’s history as well as highlights you’ll find around the lake. The boat offers a galley to purchase refreshments and light snacks. There are also shaded decks and an indoor heated salon for cooler days.
After a day of sightseeing, hitting the trails or paddling the lake, you can wind down in The Village. It is home to shops, bars and a variety of restaurants. You’ll find everything from home-style cooking to gourmet cuisine.
The Big Bear Visitor Center, 630 Bartlett Road in Big Bear Lake, is the place to plan your visit, either before you leave Las Vegas or once you arrive. The center offers a wealth of information on lodging, food and tours as well as special events and activities. Contact the visitor center at bigbear.com or 800-424-4232.
If you go
Directions: From Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 south for about 155 miles to the Barstow Road exit. Go left onto state Route 247 and drive about 32 miles. Go straight onto state Route 18 and continue for about 24 miles to Big Bear Lake.
What to pack: Comfortable, casual clothes with a fleece jacket and hat for the cool evenings and mornings.
Length of stay: Two nights or longer at area lodging or camping.