Description - In 1845 the valley where Big Bear Lake is now located was discovered by the extraordinary frontiersman Benjamin Davis Wilson. Indians raids led Wilson and some 80 armed men on an expedition where they came upon a lake and swamp area (Lake Baldwin) filled with bear. It was not until 1884, when a dam us built that Big Bear Lake was formed.
Clean air, blue skies, mountain lakes, challenging trails, and beautiful views of the valley below are some of the surprises awaiting visitors to the San Bernardino Mountains. During the spring and fall, clouds cover the valley floor, and the mountains are bathed in sunlight. The lush green forest slopes are like islands rising above the sea of civilization.
Most of the mountaintop is public land. The Forest Service is the largest land manager, but there are also state and county parks. Over twenty thousand people make their home here, and the resorts of Arrowhead and Big Bear attract thousands of visitors. There are also deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, bald eagles and hawks. Most of the trout in the streams are placed there each year, but in a few remote areas native trout swim in the cold, fresh creeks.
- Visiting the Ranger District is significantly enhanced if visitors stop by the Big Bear Discovery Center upon arrival to the area. The Center is both a portal to the forest and a destination in itself. Guests visit for naturalist-led interpretive programs, evening nature lectures, hiking information, purchasing of permits, and for the enjoyment of constantly changing exhibits. Several detailed maps, describing 22 adventures on the mountaintop, are available for $1.50 each at the Big Bear Discovery Center. You can also purchase guides to mountain bike trails, off-highway vehicle roads and hiking trails at the Center.
The Big Bear Valley has some of the most stimulating and picturesque hiking trails in all of Southern California. They range from the paved Alpine Petal Path, so smooth and relatively flat that it's easily accessible for hikers, joggers, skaters, strollers and even wheelchairs. Others, however, are conservatively rated as strenuous. The more difficult trails are recommended for only the most physically fit and experienced trekkers.
One of the best places to view wildlife in Big Bear is the Stanfield Cut-off, the causeway that crosses the eastern portion of Big Bear Lake. All year watch for white pelicans, coots, great blue herons, and mergansers, and in winter watch for bald eagles.
The District has a series of gentle riding trails that connect with the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Equestrians can find overnight accommodations at Greenspot and Big Pine Flats Equestrian campgrounds.
There are six family campgrounds (three reservable) with features that include handicapped accessible sites, hot showers, drinking water, and nearby fishing opportunities. The District also has the largest number of group campgrounds in the San Bernardino National Forest. The twelve group areas accommodate numbers as low as 15 and as many as 60. All but two group areas are reservable.
Aspen Glen, Grout Bay, and Meadow's Edge are the three picnic sites. Drinking water on site, nearby fishing opportunities and handicapped accessible sites are found at Grout Bay and Meadow's Edge only. Generally, the picnic areas are equipped with tables, stoves or barbecues, and vault toilets.
Big Bear Lake is an angler's delight. Lake populations include trout, largemouth bass, and other game fish. Hunting is permitted at certain times of the year; waterfowl can be hunted on Baldwin Lake. All fishing and hunting is regulated by the California Department of Fish and Game.
Recreation - Recreations on Big Bear include a variety of camping and fishing options, motorized vehicular use, picnicking, swimming, canoeing, bird watching, nature study, wildlife and wildflower observation.
Forest visitors on the San Bernardino, Cleveland, Angeles and Los Padres National Forests of Southern California are required to purchase an Adventure Pass and display it on their vehicle when parked in the Forest. The cost is $5 per day or $30 per year and can be purchased in any Forest Service office or over 350 businesses throughout Southern California.
Climate - Climate on the San Bernardino varies greatly with elevation. Temperatures can be 70 degrees F in Los Angeles while only 40 degrees F at Big Bear Lake. It can snow almost any month of the year in the highest elevations. Heavy snow is possible in the high elevations during the winter months. Most of the precipitation comes between November and April so summers tend to be dry. Summer temperatures are normally warm to hot at the low elevations and more moderate at the higher elevations. Nighttime temperatures can be cool in the mountains, even during the summer months. Weather can change quickly, especially in the high elevations. Check weather forecasts and avoid storms.
The Big Bear Ranger District is located in the San Bernardino Mountains approximately 15 miles north of San Bernardino. It is located in Skyforest on Highway 18, a quarter-mile east of the Lake Arrowhead turnoff (Highway 173).