With the warm sunshine beating down on sandy, palm tree-lined beaches, everyone knows California has gorgeous scenery. And while many will make a trip out to the desert for hiking in Joshua Tree, many don’t realize that the nearby mountains also have a lot to offer.
Having explored the mountains surrounding Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe as a kid, I jumped at the chance to visit Big Bear recently. Only a two-hour drive from my house in sunny O.C., I couldn’t wait to discover all of the things to do in Big Bear.
Heading up the mountain before Memorial Day meant that the summer crowds weren’t there yet. However, we lucked out and got some beautiful weather in which to enjoy plenty of summer activities.
Flying Through the Air
One of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had is flying through the air on a plane. Each and every time, it’s an amazing feeling to be soaring above the clouds. But almost equally as great is zip lining, where you can essentially fly while still feeling the wind in your hair.
Our trip started in town, at Action Tours California, where we watched a safety video before hopping in a van to head up the mountain. Driving nearly a half hour away, we were eventually transferred to an open-air off-road vehicle to head even higher.
Once we arrived, we got all strapped up and ready to go before making our way to the first platform. The lines started out small, with the first being accompanied by a suspension bridge, before increasing in length and speed. Given special gloves so that we could slow down by grabbing the lines, we flew through the air with a rush of adrenaline. After making our way across the majority of the nine zip lines, we headed back uphill. The experience ended with even longer lines—more fun than the first ones—before we made the trek back to town, where we viewed some professional photos taken of us during the trip.
For those that love adventure and have never been zip lining, this is easily one of the best things to do in Big Bear. It offers excitement while allowing you to take in views of the evergreen trees and mountain hillsides.
Up to Castle Rock
With so much wilderness to explore, hiking in Big Bear is a real treat. We decided to make the trek up the one-mile Castle Rock trail, nestled in the hills on the southwest side of the lake. Even though it was labeled moderate to difficult, we figured a mile wasn’t long enough to be too strenuous.
We weren’t exactly correct—it was a steep, uphill climb most of the way, and the elevation didn’t help with our breathing. Nevertheless, it was an incredible experience. Along the way, groups of oversize boulders made for plenty of photo opportunities and the scenery was stunning. Towering evergreens led the way, with bright green ribbons tied to trees along the path. Small but impressive inukshuks were scattered throughout while chipmunks and lizards ran rampant all around us.
Once up at the top, a sign reading “Castle Rock” let us know we’d made it. The massive rocks were, indeed, like a castle, and it took us a while to navigate the fortress. Once we realized we had to make our way around to the other side, we climbed as high as we could and were met with stunning vistas of the forest with the glistening blue lake in the background.
We sat at the top for a while, soaking the view in and basking in the twilight sunshine. Then we made our way back down—much more quickly, I might add—for dinner.
Exploring by Horseback
On our last day in the mountains, we traveled east of the lake to Big Bear’s horse country. Neither my friend nor I had ever been horseback riding before so we were both a little anxious. But the petting zoo near the entrance of Baldwin Lake Stables calmed our nerves. We watched the turkeys and goats frolic around before walking over to meet the guides.
After selecting an optional helmet to wear—my nerves weren’t entirely gone yet— they brought our horses over. We learned a few of the commands using the reins then we were good to go. I was told my horse liked to be in the back so I followed my friend, whose horse followed the leader.
Our guide, Crystal, took us on a one-hour ride along dirt trails and up and down small hills covered in loose rocks and small trees. As we went, she told us about the area and the horses’ personalities before snapping some photos of us on horseback. My horse kept trying to speed up while my friend’s walked slowly so I had to be especially vigil. But that made the experience even more wonderful, forcing me to stay in the present and soak up every second of one of the best things to do in Big Bear.
Best Things to Do: Big Bear
While hiking, zip lining and horseback riding are some of the best things to do in Big Bear, the excitement doesn’t end there. There are so many other adventures to be had on the mountain.
With a lake nearby, there are so many water sports to choose from. From water skiing, wakeboarding and tubing to fishing, kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding, the water is where the fun’s at. And, when it’s hot, there is nothing more refreshing than the wind blowing over the cool water into your face.
If you’d rather stay firmly planted on land, make sure to check out the adrenaline-fueled, off-road Big Bear Jeep Experience. Drive your own vehicle as you follow your guide’s Jeep, learning about the area’s history and wildlife by two-way radio.
Another activity that is perfect whether on land or boat is stargazing. Without the Los Angeles lights to brighten up the sky, it’s easy to spot planets, shooting stars and more. Though these activities are definitely the best things to do Big Bear style, the greatest part is being able to customize your vacation with whatever adventures appeal to you most.