The author McKenna Mobley with her dog, posing for a selfie at the campsite, Big Bear vs Mammoth Lakes

Big Bear vs Mammoth Lakes Compared (Honest Pros & Cons)

👉 Jump to: Overview | Detailed Comparison | Final Verdict | FAQ

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
  • Foodies
  • Shopping
  • Restaurants

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/CategoryBig BearMammoth🏆 Winner
Cost & BudgetOverall affordable food, housing, and activitiesDeals can be found but accommodation is on the pricey sideBig Bear
Family FriendlinessBig Bear Ski Resort, hiking trails, alpine zooOutdoor activities for the whole familyBig Bear
LocationDay trip from LA, Riverside, Redlands, and other major SoCal citiesFar from any major city, close to other small alpine townsBig Bear
Hiking TrailsLong and short-distance hiking trailsHundreds of high-altitude trails in the surrounding areaMammoth
Lake AccessFree to the public to swim & kayakMany nearby public lakes, June Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Crystal LakeMammoth
AccommodationHundreds of affordable cabins to choose from Ski lodges and rentals are the way to goBig Bear
CrowdsTourist crowds can be found year-roundFar fewer tourist crowds than other CA mountain townsMammoth
Things to DoHundreds of things to do for all agesActivities centered around the outdoors, not many tourist attractionsBig Bear
RestaurantsLarge concentration of restaurants downtownLocal restaurants and chains can be foundTie

Big Bear vs Mammoth: Cost & Budget

Picturesque view of the rock formation and lush mountain views from the Big Bear Lake during summertime
A summertime scene of Big Bear Lake

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

A young child sledding at the bottom of the hill in winter

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

View of the snowy mountain tops with the lush trees at the bottom and the Mammoth Lakes
The snowy mountain tops and glistening waters of Mammoth Lakes

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

The snow covered Mammoth trail at sunrise
A Mammoth trail in the heart of winter

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

View of the boats sailing on Big Bear Lake
Boats on Big Bear Lake

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

View of the bedroom inside the cabin in Big Bear
A room in my Big Bear cabin rental

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

View of the meadow around the Owens River in Mammoth Lakes
The empty Owens River in Mammoth Lakes

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

A dog wandering inside the ruined building at Bodie Ghost Town
My dog examines the ruined buildings at Bodie Ghost Town

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

A cup of desert from a juice bar on Highway 395
A juice bar I stopped at on Highway 395 on the way to Mammoth Lakes
An avocado toast in the Eastern Sierra Mountains
Eating avocado toast at my campsite in the Eastern Sierra Mountains

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

A campervan in the middle of the campsite in Mammoth hot springs
Camping near the Mammoth hot springs in my motorhome

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?

Mammoth is more expensive than Big Bear in terms of accommodation and ski lift prices.

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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  1. Crazy comparison, mammoth averages 500 inches of snow a year Big Bear 100 inches. No comparison in skiing Big Bear is so tiny and crowded with almost all man made snow. Public Lakes? Mammoth has 100s if not thousands natural lakes big bear has one man made lake!

    1. Hi Derik,
      thanks for the comment. These two mountain destinations are among the most popular tourist mountain towns in California and we get asked quite a lot which our team of experts prefers. This guide is more of an aid to help out-of-towners learn more about each destination than an X versus Y location article. Also, I totally agree with you on the lakes comment, which is why I gave the golden trophy to Mammoth for the lakes category (in case you missed it). Thank you!

  2. The food in Big Bear is absolutely horrible, expensive and total tourist traps.
    The skiing conditions cannot be compared and I feel like the author is clearly not into snow sports. Mammoth is world class conditions and huge. Big Bear ski resorts (there’s two, also not mentioned in the article) are very over crowed usually with long lift wait time and significantly smaller with less terrain. Again, as ski resorts, they are not comparable.
    Take it from a local (Big Bear), go to Mammoth.

    1. Hi Amanda,
      thanks for the comment. As a ski mountaineer myself, I completely agree with you that the ski resorts cannot be compared, which is why I didn’t compare them in the article. This guide focuses more on comparing the destinations as a whole so first-time visitors can know what to expect (skiiers and non-skiiers alike). Let me know if you have any more questions and I’ll try my best to help. Thank you!

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