A couple kayaking on Big Bear Lake, one of the best things to do in Big Bear California

17 Best Things to Do in Big Bear Lake (in 2023)

As any California mountain folk will tell you, there are plenty of fun things to do in Big Bear Lake. Southern California’s top mountain town, Big Bear Lake will captivate you with its juniper peaks and deep powder ski slopes.

A playground of adventure awaits you in Big Bear, as do sleepy rustic cabins and hot chocolate by the fireplace. The small mountain town buzzes with activities to do for both the intrepid mountain climber and the bookworm alike.

Big Bear Lake CA is close to home and I’ve spent many a season exploring the backcountry, staying in rental cabins, and kayaking on the lake. In this article, we’ll cover the best things to do Big Bear offers, as well as places to stay and where to eat in this adorable California mountain town.

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17 Best Things to Do in Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Swim in the cooling waters of Big Bear Lake in the summer or watch for crossing wildlife in the winter.

View of the Big Bear Lake under the clear blue sky from a boardwalk

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 9 am-5 pm | Entrance: Free | 👉 Browse Big Bear Tours on Viator

It’s near impossible to miss the massive lake that defines the entire city layout in Big Bear. Big Bear Lake sits like a caldera in the middle of town with all of the main Big Bear Lake attractions and establishments surrounding its outskirts. 

Big Bear Lake is a great attraction regardless of when you visit California, but my favorite time to visit Big Bear Lake is in the winter. Although the lake is frozen over and swimming is near impossible, this is the most scenic time to view the lake and search for black bear prints in the snow.

During the summer months, swimming is a favorite activity at Big Bear Lake. There are no lifeguards on duty at any time, so swim with little ones at your own risk. There are also boat and kayak rentals available at Big Bear Lake, a popular option for an afternoon of leisure.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Visit native California animals while they endure rehabilitation at this local center.

View of a black cub at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo
View a native black bear at the local zoo

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 584-1299 | Website | Hours: 10 am-4 pm daily | Entrance: $15, adults, $10 seniors over 59 & children under 13, Free children under 3

Not everyone will luck out with the chance to see a native California black bear in the wild. If this is high on your Big Bear Lake California wishlist, then head on over to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.

One of only two alpine zoos in the United States, the Big Bear Alpine Zoo is a wildlife rehabilitation center that focuses on releasing injured animals back into the wild. This is the best way to view local Big Bear wildlife in the safest and most sustainable way possible.

There is also a permanent selection of animals on view at the zoo. These animals have been determined unfit for release back into the wild and live in the inclusive zoo environment.  

The alpine zoo is within walking distance of the Big Bear Mountain Resort and is the ideal pastime for animal lovers.

Big Bear Snow Play

Sled down slippery slopes for an unforgettable winter mountain experience.

A girl sledding at Big Bear Snow Play in California

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 585-0075 | Website | Hours: 10 am-5 pm Saturdays & Sundays | Entrance: Varies per activity

Winter time is the peak season in Big Bear Lake California. Nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear receives around 120 inches of annual snowfall. Playing in the snow is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in California in winter.

Local Californians from Los Angeles flock to Big Bear Lake as soon as the first snow hits the ground. The Big Bear Snow Play resort provides snow-covered slopes for sledding and tubing, not to mention a magic carpet lift ride back up to the top.

In the non-winter months, this recreational activity haven also offers go-kart racing, rope courses, and ziplining. Head to Big Bear Snow Play if you are traveling with children who aren’t ready to hit the ski slopes but are eager to experience shredding down the slopes.

Big Bear Village

Explore the local coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and shops of this downtown area.

A bear holding a welcome sign in Big Bear Village
A welcome sign outside of an establishment in the village

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (800) 424-4232 | Website | Hours: 24 hours | Entrance: Free

Get to know the local Big Bear Lake California community with an afternoon or evening spent exploring the Big Bear Village. One of the best towns in California, European-style cabin-like establishments line either side of the village area offering visitors coffee, burgers, boutique shopping, and more.

The main community events take place in the Big Bear Lake Village. The annual Christmas Tree Lighting and Christmas in the Village activities summon locals and visitors to participate in holiday cheer. The village also hosts a wine walk in the springs and a chili cookoff in the summer.

The bulk of Big Bear’s restaurants and bars are located in the village area, so you will most likely find yourself here multiple times during your stay in Big Bear Lake CA.

Big Bear Discovery Center

Stop by the Big Bear Valley visitor center for information about current conditions.

A bear statue outside the Big Bear Discovery Center
(photo: Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 382-2790 | Website | Hours: 9 am-4 pm daily, closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays | Entrance: Free

There’s no better way to get to know a new town than a trip to the visitor center. Get all of your travel questions answered, learn about local flora and fauna, and pick up a free map at the Big Bear Discovery Center.

Located in the Big Bear Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, this visitor center is the gateway to information and discovery. There are special programs and eco-tours that leave from the Big Bear Discovery Center as well as outdoor concerts and nighttime interpretive programs.

You can also pick up an Adventure Pass at the visitor center, purchase Smokey the Bear merchandise, and be a part of a snowshoeing tour group that leaves from the visitor center in the winter. 

Pine Knot Trail

Hike through tall Jeffrey pines to arrive at one of the best viewpoints of the Lake.

The Pine Knot Trail covered with snow during winter season
The snow-covered trail after the first snow of the winter

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 382-2790 | Website | Hours: 24 hours | Entrance: Free

Hear the crunch of fallen pine needles under your boot as you hike through the San Bernardino National Forest in Big Bear Lake CA. The Pine Knot Trail is one of my favorite hiking trails in Big Bear because it doesn’t require all day to finish and the aerial views of Big Bear Lake are the best in town.

At 6.9 miles round-trip to Grand View Point, the Pine Knot Trail is a moderate trek that typically takes around 3 hours to complete. A dense pine canopy accompanies the trail the entire way with transient fall leaves and seasonal snow cover. 

Pine Knot Trail is also a popular area for horseback riding and mountain biking, so be prepared to share the trail and yield whenever necessary. This hike is pet-friendly, just make sure you bring enough water for you and your furry friend. 

Big Bear Jeep Experience

Hold on tight as you traverse rock and mud terrain in an off-road jeep tour.

A 4x4 jeep plowing through a mud puddle in Big Bear Jeep Experience
A 4X4 jeep plowing through a mud puddle

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 420-5828 | Website | Hours: 7 am-12 am daily | Entrance: $249, 2-door jeep, $299, 4-door jeep

Experience the back roads of Big Bear Lake CA that you didn’t even know existed with a Big Bear Jeep Experience tour. Climb boulders, splash through rivers, and trample over mud on this thrilling off-road adventure.

Big Bear Jeep Experience offers tours for different types of visitors. From timid to willing to advanced, you will find the perfect level of off-road adventuring for you.

I personally enjoy the advanced rock crawling trails but unseasoned off-road individuals may prefer a jeep sightseeing tour instead. Both are great options to get to know the backside of Big Bear Lake CA.  

Teddy Bear Restaurant

Taste the most delicious homemade pies in Southern California.

A teddy bear sitting on a chair in Teddy Bear Restaurant

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 866-5415 | Website | Hours: 7 am-9 pm daily | Entrance: Free

One of the most popular diners in Big Bear Lake CA, the home-style food and homemade pies are to die for at the Teddy Bear Restaurant. Established in 1944, you will likely encounter most Big Bear locals at this diner for breakfast or brunch.

While the pies are the biggest draw to this mountain eatery, the soups, chilis, and chicken pot pies hit the spot on cold winter evenings. Before you head to this Big Bear staple establishment, be sure to hit up the ATM, as the Teddy Bear Restaurant is cash-only.

Big Bear Mountain Resort

Shred down the mountain this winter at the top ski resort in the area.

Aerial view of the beautiful landscape of the snow covered Big Bear mountain resort.

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (844) 462-2327 | Website | Hours: 9 am-4 pm Monday-Friday, 8:30 am-4 pm Saturday & Sunday | Entrance: $129, adult over 17, $53, children under 13

Most Big Bear Lake visitors head to Big Bear Mountain Resort. Open from November to March each year, this seasonal resort is one of the most thrill-seeking things to do in Big Bear Lake CA.

Ski down steep slopes at nearly 9,000 feet for a true local California experience. The local mountain camaraderie is high at Big Bear Mountain Ski Resort and you are sure to make friends on the ski runs.

Big Bear Mountain Resort boasts over 400 acres of skiable terrain, 19 lifts, and 58 runs. This large ski resort in Big Bear Lake CA is one of the best ski resorts in California

Bear Mountain Golf Course

Strike luck with a hole-in-one at this golf course with surreal views of the San Bernardino Mountains.

View from the Bear Mountain Golf Course under the clear blue sky

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 585-8002 | Website | Hours: 8:30 am-5 pm | Entrance: $39, 9-round, $59, 18-round

There are recreational activities in Big Bear for everyone. If you find yourself in the mountain town during the non-ski season and have already explored the hiking and biking trails, Bear Mountain Golf Course welcomes you with open arms. 

You will find a unique 9-hole golf experience at the 7,000-foot elevation Bear Mountain Golf Course. This golf course overlooks the famed Big Bear Lake and the surrounding sun-splashed San Bernardino National Forest peaks. 

A fun day on the course doesn’t break the bank either. A 9-hole round with impressive surrounding views is less than $40 and a round of 18-hole golf is less than $60.

🛎️ Need a Hotel? Edgar’s Hideaway is less than 2 miles from the golf course and offers A-frame ceilings, 3 bedrooms, and mountain views.

Castle Rock Trail

Hike up the side of the mountain for views of Big Bear Lake and the neighboring village.

A signage at the beginning of the Castle Rock Trail
The beginning of the mountain trail

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 382-2790 | Website | Hours: 24 hours | Entrance: Free

This easy, 2.7-mile out-and-back hiking trail takes hikers from the thick of the forest to the banks of Big Bear Lake. There are lots of viewpoints along the way and plenty of places to stop for a photo of the lake.

This hike consists of steep climbing and small sections of boulder crossings. The trailhead is close to the Big Bear Lake Village and attracts a lot of foot traffic in the summer months. For a more pleasant, serene mountain experience, I suggest hiking the Castle Rock Trail in the late fall months.

The views of the lake make the steep grade forgivable. If you choose to hike this trail in the late fall, winter, or early spring months, be prepared for snow on the trail, and bring microspikes and trekking poles just in case.

Baldwin Lake Stables

Go for a horseback ride through the pine trees and surrounding San Bernardino Mountains of Big Bear.

Overlooking view of people horseback riding in Baldwin Lake Stables
Riding through the desert landscape on the backside of Big Bear

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 585-6482 | Website

When was the last time you went horseback riding? This fun excursion isn’t reserved only for vacations to the Rocky Mountains or the southern tropics. You can have some real horseback riding fun on just a day trip from Los Angeles

The Baldwin Lake Stables take visitors on riding tours throughout Big Bear’s San Bernardino Mountains year-round. Choose between 1, 2, or 3-hour horseback rides with professional guides. 

Escape the traffic and tourism of the Big Bear Lake city with a horseback retreat into the secluded mountains. My favorite Baldwin Lake Stables tour is the sunset horseback ride. Watch the rolling mountains burst into color and then fade into the night with this backcountry tour. 

Bertha Peak Trail

Climb to 8,201 feet above sea level on this challenging mountain hike.

Pine trees found at the Bertha Peak Trail
The thick pine tree coverage of the hike

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 24 hours | Entrance: Free

Bertha Peak Trail is for more experienced hikers. This is one of the best things to do in Big Bear for visitors who like a challenge.

Set aside 3-5 hours for this 7.5-mile round-trip hike in Big Bear Lake California. Starting from the Big Bear Discovery Center, this is a popular hiking and mountain biking trail in the area that is also open to pets on and off-leash.

This area receives snow in the winter months, so be sure to check the conditions beforehand or bring the proper snow trekking equipment like microspikes and an ice axe.

Boulder Bay Park

Kayak or canoe around the park lake or bring your lunch and have a picnic with a loved one.

View from the Boulder Bay Park in California
Boulder Bay Park peeks through behind springtime flowers

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 866-5831 | Website | Hours: 7:30 am-9 pm Monday-Saturday, 7:30 am-6 pm Sundays | Entrance: Free

If you were hoping to kayak or canoe while in Big Bear Lake California, then head to Boulder Bay Park. This public park is right off of the 18 highway, look to your left as you are headed into town so you don’t miss it.

Founded in 1907, this small park has seen the majority of Big Bear Lake California residents and visitors enjoying its free amenities for over 100 years. It has since developed into a hub for picnics and other leisurely outdoor recreation activities.

People-watching and kayaking are the most popular activities to do at Boulder Bay Park. You can also fish off of the park docks or go swimming in the summer. This small body of water is the perfect place to enjoy lake activities without major crowds, also making it one of the most romantic getaways in California.

Brown Bear Gift Shop

Buy Big Bear souvenir essentials at this one-of-a-kind gift shop in the village.

View of a signage in Brown Bear Gift Shop
(photo: Rosamar / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 866-4345 | Website | Hours: 10 am-8 pm Monday-Thursday, 10 am-10 pm Fridays, 9:30 am-10 pm Saturdays, 10:30 am-8 pm Sundays | Entrance: Free

This is your one-stop shop for all things souvenirs. The old Western exterior of the gift shop lures visitors into its trinket-filled interior. 

Brown Bear Gift Shop has been a proud souvenir supplier to Big Bear visitors since the early twentieth century. It is located in the village next to the lake and other boutiques, making it an accessible pastime activity.

Bluff Lake Reserve

Visit a protected wilderness area in Big Bear to see endangered plant species thriving.

California dandelions found in Bluff Lake Reserve
A cluster of the endangered California dandelion at the reserve

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 9 am-6 pm May 1 to November 1 | Entrance: Free

Located at 7,600 feet, the Bluff Lake Reserve is part of a conservatory program and has a 20-acre lake, a majestic meadow, and boulder outcroppings laden with nearby towering pines.

Endangered mountain plants are protected at this reserve like the Bear Valley bluegrass, the Big Bear checkerbloom, and the California dandelion. Famous movies like Disney’s The Parent Trap and Dr. Doolittle 2 were filmed at this quietly beautiful location. 

This site is open only seasonally, so make sure to visit in the summer or early fall months if you want to relax in this tranquil forest area. 

Alpine Pedal Path

Bike or walk along Big Bear Lake on this paved path.

View from Alpine Pedal Path under the clear blue sky

📍 Google Maps | Phone: (909) 382-2790 | Website | Hours: 6 am-6 pm daily | Entrance: Free

This Big Bear path was designed specifically for biking, walking, and skating next to the lake. It is wheelchair accessible and a hotspot for sighting California bald eagles.

This is one of the best things to do in Big Bear for visitors who want to explore the area but aren’t keen on spending all day on a challenging hiking trail. There are also plenty of options for camping along the path by the scenic Big Bear Lake. 

This is the perfect activity to do after a big lunch or to walk your four-legged friend. There’s no better way to explore Big Bear Lake than a relaxed walk alongside it. 

FAQs About What to Do in Big Bear

How do you spend a day at Big Bear?

How you spend your time in Big Bear depends on the season. If you visit Big Bear Lake during the winter, skiing or snowboarding at Big Bear Mountain Ski Resort is the best way to spend your day. Hiking and trying the local cuisine is the best way to spend your time in the non-winter months.

What is Big Bear famous for?

Big Bear Lake California is famous for its nationally-known ski resort. Open from November to April each year, Big Bear receives most of its visitors during this time who are eager to hit the slopes.

Is Big Bear worth visiting?

With so many things to do in Big Bear California, the town is definitely worth visiting. Whether you take a kayak out on the lake, hit the hiking trails, snowboard, or relax by the fire with a glass of wine, you are guaranteed to enjoy your time in Big Bear California. 

Are there grizzly bears in Big Bear?

There are no grizzly bears anywhere in California. The western state saw the last of its grizzly population disappear from its borders over 100 years ago. If you encounter any bears in Big Bear, they will be black bears.


Have fun exploring all the fun things to do in Big Bear! Before your trip, be sure to check out my guide to the best things to do in San Bernardino for more great area-specific adventures.

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One Comment

  1. Loved learning about Big Bear from you! Very thorough! Where is best spot to stay with my 80 yr old dad? I would love security of having staff assist in case of emergency yet love idea of having glass of wine by camp fire. Perhaps a restraint has that? Can you recommend hotel?

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