Big Bear Lake, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Inland Empire -

Located just 100 miles from Los Angeles but wrapped in an entirely different environment, Big Bear Lake is both convenient and escapist. Surrounded by rolling mountain and plunging valleys, Big Bear was dropped into the middle of the San Bernardino National Forest, making it a top destination for nature lovers.

The Big Bear Valley was populated by the Serrano Native Americans for 2,500 years before the arrival of European settlers. They hunted game and gathered from local plants, building small villages of 10 to 30 round buildings. In 1845, Benjamin D. Wilson formed an Indian-hunting party and charged into the region, dubbing it Bear Valley because of its high concentration of grizzly bears. While hunting these great creatures, Wilson discovered gold in the valley and the biggest California gold rush began. In 1884, Big Bear Lake’s first dam was built to impound snow-melt water for irrigation, followed by a larger dam in 1912. Tourism followed, and the area’s first hotel opened in 1888 and the lake’s first ski resort was inaugurated in 1949. Today, the tradition of tourism continues, and the lake welcomes many visitors to its shores and valley each year.

The Big Bear Water Management District controls lake water levels. The District is responsible for scheduled water releases, water quality management, recreation management, wildlife habitat preservation, dam and reservoir maintenance, and aquatic plant management.

Beginning your trip with a hike through the valley will give you a visual view of the region’s history. Hike the Champion Lodgepole Pine Trail, Cougar Crest Trail, Castle Rock Trail, Grays Peak Trail, Sugarloaf National Recreation Trail, or Woodland Trail, and discover old paths traversed by settlers, remnants of the Serrano Native Americans, and amazing views that stretch for miles. In winter, many of these trails transform into amazing cross-country trails that afford the same views, only sprinkled with powdery white snow. And not to worry, if hiking isn’t your cup of tea, guided horseback rides and backcountry ATV off-roading will also take you to these places, giving you a front-row ticket to the history of Big Bear Lake.

Of course, one of Big Bear’s biggest attractions is the lake itself, offering 22 miles of shoreline to be explored. The Water District provides two public boat launches on the north side of the lake with no launching fees. Boats of all kinds can be rented, and much fun is to be had on the lake. Power boats and jet skis are ideal for fast romps on the lake, allowing you to traverse a large area in little time. If you have a yen for waterskiing or tubing, a power boat is a must, letting you join your fellow skiers on this aquatic playground. Slow it down with a canoe or kayak, and relax to enjoy the emerald-lined shores. As you paddle, keep your eyes peeled for grizzlies and other fauna within the boundaries of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Anglers will find plenty of opportunity to catch rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, and pumpkinseed. The California Department of Fish and Game and the Fishing Association of Big Bear Lake stock the lake each year. The Association also sponsors the May Trout Classic. The record rainbow trout catch was 14 pounds, 11 ounces. Make sure you have a current California State fishing license.

Take at least a day to explore the San Bernardino National Forest. Offering picnic areas, diverse campgrounds, scenic tours, wildlife viewing, and the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, the forest is packed full of adventurous fun. Atop Mount San Jacinto, you’ll be perched 10,804 feet above sea level, drinking in the views and scenery from such a vantage point. Surrounded by mountains, you’ll be transported back to a time when the Big Bear Valley was not yet settled and the touch of man was yet to be felt. Peaceful and beautiful, a visit to the San Bernardino National Forest is a must on your To Do list.

During winter, Big Bear Lake turns into a land of winter fun and snowy activity. Skiing and snowboarding are the name of the most popular game, and Big Bear Mountain Resorts is home to Bear Mountain, the #1 mountain resort in Southern California. The resorts offer world-class downhill skiing trails, a snowboard terrain park with over 150 jumps and 80 jibs, and a special Family Park designed with beginner skiers and easier terrain in mind. The mountains are always covered in a powdery snow, so if snow sports are a favorite pastime, head out to Big Bear Lake during the colder months, as well.

Big Bear Lake enjoys a rich and long history, stunning scenery, and year-round offerings that will please the entire family. From fishing and swimming to snowshoeing and skiing, the valley is a wonderland combination of activity and tranquility that will both relax and excite you all year long.

Things to do at Big Bear Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Playground

Fish species found at Big Bear Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Big Bear Lake Photo Gallery

Big Bear Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Big Bear Municipal Water District

Surface Area: 2,971 acres

Shoreline Length: 22 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,743 feet

Average Depth: 35 feet

Maximum Depth: 72 feet

Water Volume: 73,370 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1912

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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