Although ideally you’d visit both, if you only have time for one, should you visit Big Bear vs Mammoth Lakes?
This complete comparison of both mountain towns will help you choose the perfect mountain retreat for you, whether you’re looking for a vacation away from crowds or a ski trip to remember.
I’m a California mountain girl through and through who’s been to both locations multiple times. Here’s my honest comparison of Mammoth Lakes vs Big Bear:
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Which is Better Mammoth or Big Bear?
Big Bear is better for those traveling on a budget or as a family. Big Bear is a quick 2-hour drive from Los Angeles and has plenty of amenities and kid-friendly activities and attractions.
Mammoth Lakes is better for adventure-seekers who like to explore off-the-beaten path. While there are fewer tourist attractions, there are a ton of outdoor recreation options for those who prefer a more rugged, active trip.
Advantages of Big Bear
- Close to major Southern California cities like Riverside and Los Angeles
- Home to one of the most popular ski resorts in Southern California
- Other small mountain towns are easily accessible from Big Bear
- A public lake allows everyone to enjoy water sports
- Plenty of shopping opportunities and nearby restaurants
Advantages of Mammoth Lakes
- Home to a famous Northern California ski resort, Mammoth Mountain
- Nearby hot springs
- Nearby alpine hiking trails
- Plenty of backcountry skiing trails
- Less crowded than other ski resort towns
Big Bear is Best For
- Families with children
- Avid winter sports enthusiasts
- Budget travelers
Mammoth is Best For
- Road trippers
- Enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders
- Mountaineers and snow campers
- Outdoor adventurers
Mammoth Lakes vs Big Bear Lake – Detailed Comparison
Whether you should visit Mammoth or Big Bear comes down to a few factors including location, season, and activities. Using the chart below, we’ll get into more detail about the major deciding factors of the two mountain locations.
|Feature/Category||Big Bear||Mammoth||🏆 Winner|
|Cost & Budget||Overall affordable food, housing, and activities||Deals can be found but accommodation is on the pricey side||Big Bear|
|Family Friendliness||Big Bear Ski Resort, hiking trails, alpine zoo||Outdoor activities for the whole family||Big Bear|
|Location||Day trip from LA, Riverside, Redlands, and other major SoCal cities||Far from any major city, close to other small alpine towns||Big Bear|
|Hiking Trails||Long and short-distance hiking trails||Hundreds of high-altitude trails in the surrounding area||Mammoth|
|Lake Access||Free to the public to swim & kayak||Many nearby public lakes, June Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Crystal Lake||Mammoth|
|Accommodation||Hundreds of affordable cabins to choose from||Ski lodges and rentals are the way to go||Big Bear|
|Crowds||Tourist crowds can be found year-round||Far fewer tourist crowds than other CA mountain towns||Mammoth|
|Things to Do||Hundreds of things to do for all ages||Activities centered around the outdoors, not many tourist attractions||Big Bear|
|Restaurants||Large concentration of restaurants downtown||Local restaurants and chains can be found||Tie|
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Cost & Budget
Big Bear is affordable when it comes to accommodation, food, and things to do. There are several free things to do in Big Bear like fun hiking trails, the visitor center interpretive museum, and lounging on Big Bear Lake.
Additionally, rental homes in Big Bear are easy on the pocketbook. You can find homes to rent in Big Bear for $100-200, cheaper than any surrounding area. See my guide to staying in Big Bear for more details.
Mammoth is overall more expensive than Big Bear. From gas prices to food, accommodation, and ski resort passes Mammoth isn’t exactly budget-friendly. That being said, there are ways to do Mammoth on the cheap.
You can find BLM land (public, free land) around Mammoth Lakes to save money on accommodation by camping. However, I highly advise avoiding camping in the winter months when temperatures constantly dip below freezing.
🏆 Winner: Big Bear
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Family Friendliness
Big Bear has many fun things to do for the whole family including Big Bear Alpine Zoo, easy-rated hiking trails, and zipline adventures. It’s also home to Big Bear Ski Resort, one of the best California ski resorts.
Hanging out by Big Bear Lake is another ideal family activity in town. Rent a kayak or paddleboard and relax on the cooling alpine waters.
Mammoth is perfect for families drawn to the great outdoors. Families who love hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and soaking in hot springs return to Mammoth time and time again. However, while Mammoth has a surplus of outdoor activities, there aren’t many indoor tourist attractions.
🏆 Winner: Big Bear
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Location
Big Bear is close to plenty of other top places to visit in California. It’s near other California mountain towns in the San Bernardino Mountains, Los Angeles, Orange County beach towns, and Inland Empire locations like San Bernardino and Riverside.
Most Big Bear visitors are local Southern California residents who venture to Big Bear Mountain to hit the ski slopes.
Mammoth Lakes has a somewhat isolated location, far from major cities but near other small mountain towns including Bishop and June Lake. Mammoth is also only 45 minutes from Yosemite National Park, one of the coolest national parks in California.
👉 Pro Tip: You’ll need a car to get to the fun day trip locations near Mammoth Lakes. Discover Cars is my go-to rental search engine in California. Be sure to look into renting a Subaru or truck if visiting in the winter!
🏆 Winner: Big Bear
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Hiking Trails
Both Big Bear and Mammoth have some of the best hiking trails in California.
Pine Knot Trail is one of the best hikes in Big Bear Lake as it allows dogs and is easy enough for hikers of all fitness levels.
Mammoth is one of the best places to hike in the Eastern Sierra Region. Hikers can hike at “low” Mammoth elevations of around 6,000 feet or opt for a more challenging climb up Mammoth Mountain, an impressive 11,053-foot peak.
🏆 Winner: Mammoth
Mammoth vs Big Bear: Lake Access
Big Bear Lake is a public lake with open access for residents and non-residents alike. Southern California locals flock to Big Bear in the summer to escape city summer temperatures, relax lakeside, go for a kayak ride, and paddleboard across Big Bear Lake.
Mammoth, one of the best lakes in California, has multiple different alpine lakes to choose from. While not all lakes are swimmable (some are sulfur), Crystal Lake, Horseshoe Lake, and June Lake are fun swimmer-friendly bodies of water.
My favorite lake to swim in around Mammoth is June Lake. Technically one hour north of Mammoth, it’s one of the most picturesque lakes in the Eastern Sierras.
🏆 Winner: Mammoth
Mammoth vs Big Bear: Accommodation
Affordable accommodation can be found almost everywhere around Big Bear. From rental cabins to Big Bear Mountain Resort chalets and traveler hostels, accommodation of all sorts can be found around the mountain town.
Accommodation is a bit more expensive in Mammoth Lakes. Most cabin rentals are highly sought after and hotels are few and far between, so you’ll have to choose where to stay in Mammoth Lakes more carefully. However, there are plenty of opportunities to camp in your own tent or rig on free BLM land.
I personally like to camp on public land near the Mammoth Lakes hot springs or at the base of Mammoth Mountain. It’s one of my favorite places to camp in California!
🏆 Winner: Big Bear
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Crowds
Big Bear Lakes hosts a wider selection of tourists than Mammoth, but it is by no means bursting at the seam with out-of-towners in khakis and flip-flops. Although the town is famous for its Southern California-renowned ski resort, Snow Summit, the bulk of tourists can be found in Big Bear in the summer months when the cold weather has thawed out.
Late Spring also brings an influx of tourists to the Big Bear area due to the Pacific Crest Trail hike. Thru-hikers hiking south to north usually begin hiking in the late spring, so don’t be surprised to see sasquatch-looking backpackers rummaging through the snack section at the Big Bear grocery store.
Mammoth Lakes receives far fewer crowds than Big Bear but comes alive during the winter months. Most tourists visit Mammoth to ski down Mammoth Mountain, although hiking trails and California hot springs draw visitors in the summer too.
🏆 Winner: Mammoth
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Things to Do
There are fun outdoorsy things to do in both Mammoth Lakes and Big Bear. From finding ideal fishing spots to hitting the hiking trails and going swimming, both mountain towns are unlimited in the amount of outdoor activities they offer.
Big Bear Snow Play is a top tourist attraction in Big Bear in the wintertime and a mountain biking oasis during the summer months. Shopping and refueling at a smoothie spot after a morning hike are also fun things to do in Big Bear.
The number of fun things to do in Mammoth extends to the surrounding communities as well. Yosemite National Park is less than an hour away and the Devil’s Postpile National Monument and Bodie Ghost Town are but a short day trip from Mammoth as well.
🏆 Winner: Big Bear
Big Bear vs Mammoth: Restaurants
Both Big Bear and Mammoth Lakes have tasty mountain eateries. While there is more of a restaurant selection in Big Bear, there are more affordable options in Mammoth including fast-food chains. You truly cannot go wrong eating in either mountain town, bringing this category to a standstill.
🏆 Winner: Tie
Final Verdict – Mammoth vs Big Bear
Big Bear Lake is better for travelers in Southern California on a budget or who are traveling with children. The mountain town is closer to big cities with amenities and offers a wide range of kid-friendly attractions.
Mammoth Lakes is better for adventurers who like to venture off the beaten path. The alpine town hosts fewer tourist attractions and more outdoor recreation activities, perfect for travelers who prefer an active vacation.
FAQs About Big Bear vs Mammoth
Which is better, Mammoth or Big Bear?
Mammoth Lakes is better for Northern California travelers while Big Bear is ideal for travelers around Southern California. Both towns are ideal for winter sports and hiking trails.
Is Big Bear or Mammoth better for skiing?
Both Big Bear and Mammoth offer pristine skiing. Mammoth offers slightly better conditions for skiing, however, due to its high location in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Is Mammoth or Big Bear more expensive?
Is Big Bear close to Mammoth?
Big Bear is 5 hours south of Mammoth.
You made it to the end of my article comparing Big Bear vs Mammoth! Let me know which you prefer in the comments below.
Next up, see my guide comparing Lake Arrowhead vs Big Bear.
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