Big Bear, the small town tucked high in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, is famous for its ski season. Guaranteed snow, short lift lines and giant buckwheat cakes at Grizzly Manor Cafe keep folks coming. But the summer and fall months hold even more delights. Here are a half-dozen activities guaranteed to please everyone from the hard adventurer to the lazy and pampered.
Off-Road Tours: Big Bear Off Road Adventures has a nifty multi-axled Swiss Army troop mover that leaves Jeeps and Hummers behind and can take you to hidden worlds. There are a lot of old gold mines that were abandoned when the San Bernardino Gold Rush gave out just a few years after gold was discovered in 1861. The gold rush brought a lot of prospectors followed by the people who knew where the real money was—the ranchers. They ushered in the cowboy era. As you follow the dirt trails, you will come across scenes that look familiar. The area has been used to shoot over 150 Western movies and television shows, including the famous opening scene of Bonanza. The mines themselves are colorful, spooky and dangerous to enter.
The Lake: A number of kayak and canoe rental outfits will get you geared up for an adventure on Big Bear Lake. The oldest is Captain John’s and he has the best stories. He also has pontoon boat tours for those too lazy or tired to paddle. There is parasailing for the fearless with Big Bear Parasail Watersports. The lake is stocked with trout and bass for fishing. Once a summer there is an effort to get rid of carp in the lake by shooting them with bows and arrows—it’s a lot harder than shooting fish in a barrel. The lake is teeming with waterfowl—at least until winter when the bald eagles show up to eat them. The birds are everywhere in such great profusion that a couple of local dogs are in demand to chase the birds off the docks.
Ziplining: Action Ziplines has set up shop amid the pines. Off-road vehicles rumble you through the forest to the lines. Those not wanting to zip or fearful of heights can sit on a patio under an umbrella and watch their friends whiz through the treetops. There is no question that this is excitement that leaves the wildest carnival rides far behind.
Trails: There are trails for hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. Just to make the biking even more exciting, a ski resort keeps its chair lift operating in the warm months carrying hikers and bikers to Snow Summit. The chairs are rigged to carry bikes, so mountain bikers can get a ride, eat lunch at the restaurant at the top, and then bike all the way down on the trails.
Village Attractions: For those who want to be pampered, two spas offer full services. There are boutiques galore and galleries, including the country’s only “green” photo gallery, where Timothy Wolcott at Gallery of the American Landscape uses only natural colors, not chemical dyes. The selection of interesting restaurants ranges from the very upscale Evergreen International, popular for weddings because the manager is also a minister, to the affordable and trendy Himalayan Restaurant. There are even cooking demonstrations at The Copper Q kitchen shop.
Zoo: The Moonridge Animal Park is open year-round, but for the most unforgettable experience head there toward the end of summer when nightfall comes earlier but it’s still warm. Moonridge is a zoo for rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals and its curator, Debbie Richardson, is a real Dr. Doolittle. She has hand-reared a number of the critters in her home. At night you can see the nocturnal animals in action. There are a number of wolves and coyotes. When they howl, and they all do, it is spine tingling and more thrilling than a zipline. Even if the moon is not full, they howl for Debbie Richardson’s attention. This is a not-to-miss unique attraction.
So just because the snow isn’t falling don’t overlook the pleasures of this small mountain town.
Andrea Granahan is a writer who lives in Bodega, California.
BIG BEAR CAMPING:
For information on forest service campgrounds at Big Bear, including Pineknot, Serrano and Hanna Flat, visit reserveamerica.com.
Area private parks include:
Big Bear Mobile Estates, 909-866-7774; bigbearmobileestates.com
Lighthouse Trailer Resort and Marina, 909-866-9464
Holloway’s Marina and RV Park, 909-866-5706; bigbearboating.com
Pine Tree RV Park, 909-866-2025; pinetreervpark.com
Lakeview Pines Mobile Home Park, 909-866-2230; lakeviewpinesmobilehomepark.com
Lakeside Village Mobile Home Park, 909-612-5788; cordovalakeproperties.com