Big Bear Lake, California, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Big Bear Lake.

If you’re considering Big Bear Lake vacation rentals, we’ve made it super easy to explore accommodations and nearby hotels using the interactive map below. Simply click on a listing to compare similar properties, best rates and availability for your dates. Or keep scrolling to read our Big Bear Lake guide!

Big Bear Lake visitor and community guide

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.

Custom Big Bear Lake house decor

Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.

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

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Big Bear Lake

The Big Bear Lake map shown above is a simple and stress-free way to search for trip accommodations. But if you want to take a deeper dive to find the ideal waterfront home, cabin, condo, hotel or resort, visit our favorite lodging partners by clicking the buttons below.

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Big Bear Lake photo gallery

New photos coming soon!

Big Bear Lake statistics & helpful links


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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