Here's Why Families Love This SoCal Resort Town
Family vacations at the lake produce the kind of memories a person revisits for a lifetime. The downed log you rest on mid-hike, watching the sunlight stream through the tree canopy as you dip into the trail mix stash; cat napping on a warm patch of earth by the water's edge; or spying an elusive raccoon, deer or wild burro moving in the forest. Simple moments like these become permanent happy places in the mind.
Whether this sounds like your childhood or one you just saw on TV, it’s never too late to experience together-time in the great outdoors — or too early to instill a love of nature encounters in little ones.
A town not so far away has all the makings of such experiences — plus a rolodex of curated kid-centered activities that will make their little jaws drop. Its name is Big Bear Lake. Just 97 miles east of Los Angeles, snowcapped mountains rise over the region’s 22 miles of lake shoreline, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails traverse the old-growth San Bernardino National Forest that spans the region. Over the town’s century-long history as the site of dreamy mountain getaways, it’s unveiled an irresistible array of diversions for every member of the family — and for every single season. The activities lineup just keeps getting bigger and better — so much so, you'll need at least a long weekend to even begin to scratch the surface of all there is to do.
Here's a look at a handful of the year-round experiences and activities that give Big Bear Lake top billing as the site of your next family vacation — and many more to come.
Puzzle Play and Riddles Routes
Big Bear Lake offers families a multitude of opportunities to put their heads together for some collaborative fun, exploration and learning.
Head outdoors for walking tours packed with interesting info about the region’s history, and take the experience to the next level with scavenger hunt clues and instructions delivered via your smartphone.
Visitors can also download an interactive riddle route that leads players across 1.5 miles of moderate terrain as they solve Big Bear-related puzzles. Of course, there’s ample opportunity to improvise your own scavenger hunt for the little ones in your troupe. Their little faces are practically guaranteed to light up at the challenge of spotting stalks of yellow rabbitbrush, Ponderosa pine trees or quartz rocks along the region’s hiking trails. Such a hunt is a great opportunity to teach kids to “take only pictures” in an effort to preserve the natural environment.
The fun doesn’t end when it’s time to head indoors, thanks to Big Bear’s head-scratching escape room experiences. The thrill is on as teams of up to eight players work together to escape one of several mountain-themed rooms before time runs out.
At the local petting zoo, kids will jump at the chance to run their little hands over adorable alpacas’ fluffy fleece, pigs’ bristly backs and rabbits’ velvety-soft fur. The onsite stables cater to riders of all ages and abilities, and offer scenic rides through the Big Bear Lake region year-round. Tip: These horseback tours are especially delightful in the fall. Relax and appreciate the vibrant foliage from your heightened vantage point as your gracious horse transports you from one scenic outlook to the next.
Visitors can meet more inter-species friends at the local animal sanctuary, which offers tours each Saturday. Horses, burros, chickens, ducks and steers are just a handful of the creatures who are cared for here, and admissions dollars go directly toward funding veterinary care and feeding.
Of course, there’s plenty of animal life to see in the wilds of the San Bernardino Forest. Chipmunks, squirrels and raccoons are commonly sighted, while you might have to break out the binoculars if you hope to spy bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes, who usually maintain a wider distance from humans.
Arguably the highest profile animals to call Big Bear home are the resident bald eagles. Jackie is one of these local celebrities, and made headlines earlier this year when her egg laying was caught on livestream via the Big Bear Bald Eagle Nest cam.
Spotlight on Sustainability
Experiencing the unspoiled beauty of the Big Bear Lake region is in itself a lesson on nature appreciation. Walks through lush meadows, across smooth sun-kissed boulders, under towering tree canopy and amid patches of blooming wildflowers will inherently make any traveler feel invested in preserving this gorgeous place.
For curious kids (and parents!), the resort town provides plenty of additional resources for learning about the natural environment and keeping it green for many generations to come. The Big Bear Discovery Center, for example, offers guided eco-tours led by experts from the Southern California Mountains Foundation, as well as an outdoor “classroom” in which kids up to age 7 can enjoy interactive play with themes like music and movement, messy materials and nature art.
The destination has recently received accolades for its Care for Big Bear initiatives — a sweeping program aimed at beautifying and preserving the area. Recent projects have included community shoreline and trail cleanups resulting in literally tons of litter removal, as well as adding dumpsters in high traffic areas to make it easier for visitors to do their part. On your visit, snap a photo of your family pitching in — properly disposing of, or picking up litter, for example — and post it with the hashtag #CareForBigBear to show your support.
Action and Adventure
If thrill-seeking runs in your family, you’re in luck. Adventurous types can strap in for tours that include a ride in an off-road vehicle, walks across sky-high suspension bridges and — saving the biggest rush for last — “flights” across a series of ziplines, reaching speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
To reach even higher highs, hop onto a helicopter tour of the region. There are a range of program options, offering bird’s-eye views of everything from Big Bear’s mountains and lakes, to the Mojave Desert.
Fun fact: Before commercial helicopters were even invented, Big Bear was the site of a different kind of “action” — Hollywood films. Gone with the Wind (1939) was partially filmed here. If walking in Vivien Leigh’s fabled footsteps doesn’t register with some of the youngsters in your group, they may be more enthused to know that an episode of Grey’s Anatomy was also shot here.
Unique Family Finds
A trip this refreshing may already make it feel like Christmas in July (or April, or October — or Christmas-time for that matter), but there's a way to take that feeling to a whole new level.
A local Santa Claus-themed fun park greets guests with an interactive space filled with oversize bears, nutcrackers and more than 1,000 Santa Claus dolls, icons and images. Kids can play in Santa's workshop, write letters to the jolly old soul or watch holiday themed movies in this eclectic spot.
For more themed family fun, check out a local shop dedicated to honoring the region's gold mining history. Kids can crack open geodes, harvest real pearls from oysters, play "buried treasure" games and pan for gold using the shop's artificial stream. Browsing the shelves is pretty interesting too, as they're filled with souvenirs that range from pretty birthstones to wacky toys.
Not ready to call it a night? Take the family for some pizza and "glow bowling" at the local lanes.