Big Bear Lake

Written by K. Hart at
Big Bear Lake summer
calm water and trees
aerial lake view
Big Bear Lake winter


While Big Bear Lake is renowned worldwide for its breathtaking beauty and outdoor activities, this wasn't always the case.

This region's narrative begins over 2,000 years ago when it was initially inhabited by the indigenous Serrano people. Its story in American history began in 1845 when Benjamin Wilson and his men were bear hunting in the San Bernardino Mountains. They found an area crawling with grizzlies and dubbed it Big Bear Lake. While the lake is known today as Baldwin Lake, the name would "stick" and be used for the revered water of today.  

The Southern California gold rush in 1860 marked a pivotal transformation for the Big Bear Valley. Pioneers like Bill Holcomb and Ben Choteau ventured into Holcomb Valley, sparking the largest gold rush in Southern California. 

The creation of Big Bear Lake resulted from an ambitious project undertaken in 1884 by Frank Brown. Brown, a citrus farmer, needed a reliable water source for his farms in the San Bernardino Valley. 

His vision led to the construction of the Rock Dam. This single-arch granite structure created the world's largest artificial lake at the time. The dam held back 25,000 acre-feet of water, covering 1,800 acres, marking the genesis of Big Bear Lake​.

In 1912, the Bear Valley Land & Water Company made the Bear Valley Dam larger, which increased the lake's size. In 1916, they opened the lake for boating and fishing, ushering the region's development into a modern recreational area. 

Soon, lodges and other retreats were constructed, and Big Bear Lake became known as a premiere vacation destination.

Fun Facts & Cool Features

One of the unique attractions in Big Bear Lake is the Pineknot Trail 1E01, a challenging 6.1-mile trail known for its stunning views of the lake, wildflowers, and verdant forests. 

It's a favorite among hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. It offers a rewarding experience with breathtaking views from Grandview Point of the San Gorgonio and Santa Ana River Valley​​.

Big Bear Snow Play is another popular feature, especially during winter. It boasts Southern California's longest tube runs, a magic carpet lift, and an innovative snowmaking machine that ensures fun regardless of natural snowfall. It also offers a summer rope course, making it a year-round destination​​.

Big Bear Lake is an outdoorsman's paradise. It's idyllic for fishing, boating, waterskiing, and sightseeing. If you don't have your own boat or fishing equipment, there are plenty of rental shops in the area to help out.

Opened in 2010, Boulder Bay Park offers facilities like a large dock for fishing and gazing, a bandstand, and ample green space for outdoor activities. 

Dining is superb in Big Bear, offering everything from fine dining to classic mom-and-pop diners serving hearty comfort food. 

Whether summer or winter, vacationing in Big Bear offers amazing outdoor adventures, breathtaking views, and regions steeped in history.

Getting There

Here's how you can get to Big Bear Lake from Big Bear City: 

  • Head west on E Big Bear Blvd toward Greenway Dr. 
  • Turn right onto CA-18/Big Bear Blvd. 
  • Continue to follow CA-18.
  • Address: 38279-38419 CA-18, Fawnskin, CA 92333


There's no admission fee to visit Big Bear Lake.

Local Tips

  • To avoid crowds and enjoy a more relaxed experience, visit off-season in March-June or September-November. 
  • If you plan to hit the slopes, consider buying your lift pass online to save up to 20%. Bringing your gear can also help you avoid rental fees​.
  • Tire chains are a must for safe driving into Big Bear in winter. 
  • Look for free street parking and public parking lots, which can save you money compared to paid parking spaces. 


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