High in the San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear, California is a serene getaway from the frenetic activity of Southern California, only a couple short hours away. Both the quiet village of Big Bear Lake and the slightly “bigger” Big Bear City have wonderful family-friendly lodging options including camping, hotels and vacation rentals. Whether you come in the winter for skiing and tubing or visit during the summer to enjoy hiking and water sports, Big Bear has great activities throughout the year.
Family Fun in the Snow
During the winter months, Big Bear ski resorts are popular family destination for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing with a great combination of accessible runs for beginners and challenging pipes for young daredevils.
Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are the two resorts in Big Bear, and both youth-focused parks offer great family programs. Snow Summit has half-day and full day camps for kids ages 4-7 as well as 2- and 4-hour packages for kids 8-12. There is the Family Park for beginners and kids, and more advanced riders will have their skills tested at Summit’s variety of top notch terrain parks. For older kids, Snow Summit also has night sessions.
Bear Mountain’s Bear Camps run from 10 am to 4 pm and offer classes for all ages. Their Skill Builder Park is a great place for snowboarding beginners to practice and progress, and more advanced teens will be completely challenged in the Freestyle Park and on the variety steeps and canyons throughout the mountain.
For families that need to rent gear, pick it up in town—rather than up on the mountain—to save some money. Leroy’s Ski & Snowboard Shop offers great prices and knowledgeable, patient staff who are happy to outfit your family properly.
If you’re looking for something a little different for a winter’s day, check out the Alpine Slide at the Magic Mountain Recreation Area, where you can ride down the mountain in a sled similar to a luge. Use caution with younger children as the slide is very fast. Kids under two aren’t permitted inside the park, but older kids will enjoy tubing, and kids ages 2-6 are free when riding with an adult.
The Warmer Months on the Mountain
When the snow melts, there’s a whole new set of fun activities for families to enjoy in Big Bear. In fact, you can still go to Magic Mountain, where the luge runs become waterslides in the summer. A single slide is inexpensive, but you should consider the unlimited sliding pass so that the kids can slide as much as they want (it pays for itself after around eight slides). You’ll also find go-karts and miniature golf to keep everyone busy all day long.
Big Bear Lake offers plenty of water fun for all ages. Visit Pleasure Point Marina and rent kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, powerboats and ten-person pontoon boats at reasonable rates. Friendly staff will outfit your family with properly fitted life jackets, including infant, toddler, and even dog life jackets.
Surrounding the lake is a variety of hiking and biking trails. The Woodland Trail, located right near the Big Bear Discovery Center, is an easy loop that folks just about any age can handle. Even the youngest kids can explore nature along the way on this well-marked, interpretive trail. Older kids and teens will enjoy the Cougar Crest Trail. It is mostly uphill, making it a little tougher, but offers incredible lake views. Remember that you’ll need a Forest Pass to park at any of the trailheads. You can pick one up at the Discovery Center.
Big Bear is a great family destination that offers fresh air and outdoor fun with all of the conveniences families on the go require. It is a popular destination, too, so book in advance. You’ll find the best rates in spring and fall when the mountain is not as crowded.
About the Author
Joseph Miller is an analyst and writer for HomeAway’s as well as a content analyst for their Travel and Vacation Ideas site. He can’t ski, but wants to learn.