This post has everything you need to plan your perfect Big Bear winter itinerary, from fun in the snow to the tastiest restaurants to the best places to rest at the end of each day.
We finally made it to Big Bear over the holidays, and let me tell ya, it’s been a long time coming! Our first attempted trip was back in 2016. Baby J was about 9 months old, visiting California for the very first time. SIGH. We planned on a day trip that year but lost track of time after pulling over to play at the first sight of snow.
Seven years later, the in-laws held firm. We had a big, fun, multi-generational trip to the snow after an 80-degree Christmas in Los Angeles. And I can finally verify, based on experience, that there is something for everyone in this little mountain town.
What follows is all that you need to plan your perfect trip to Big Bear Lake. We share the best outdoor winter activities for skiers and non-skiers, plus where to head when you want to escape the cold.
At the end of the post, I put it all together with a suggested 3-day Big Bear winter itinerary. Some people do a day trip from LA, but as you’ll see, there’s enough to keep you busy for a whole week!
Things are always changing! Make sure to double-check schedule changes and closures before your trip.
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Map of Big Bear Winter Itinerary Attractions
The following map has all of the places mentioned in the post below. I’ve also added a day-by-day itinerary map below!
Activities for Your Big Bear Winter Itinerary
Snow, or rather the hope of fresh snow, looms large on the Big Bear winter activity scene. Whether or not you get the ideal amount of fresh powder, you’ll find snow to play in during the winter months. Big Bear’s Ski Resorts and Tubing Amusement Centers (they are more than just hills around here) manufacture snow. That means there’s always some to play in somewhere. Even if it didn’t just fall from the sky.
More on the best outdoor winter activities in Big Bear below.
Ski or snowboard
There are two main ski resorts in Big Bear: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. And the same company owns them both.
Bear Mountain is the go-to resort for snowboarders. And being so close to the land of surfers and skateboarders, there are a lot of them around here. The resort has an adventurous vibe and features terrain parks, half-pipes, and the largest beginner area in Southern California. Bear Mountain’s Layback Bar is also popular for its aprés ski scene (aka post-ski drinks and eats).
Down the road at Snow Summit, you’ll find a scene favored by traditional skiers. It’s a bit smaller, more family-friendly, and a greater percentage of the terrain is accessible to beginners. Snow Summit is also home to the Grizzly Ridge Tube Park, night skiing, and Big Bear’s only mountaintop restaurant, the Skyline Taphouse. Located at the top of Chair 1, you need a lift ticket to get to this unique lunch spot with amazing views.
The good news is that you don’t have to choose between them. Since both are owned by the same company, lift tickets are valid for same-day use at both resorts. There’s even an intermountain shuttle service that will take you from one resort to the next if you want to visit both on the same day.
The company that manages Bear Mountain and Snow Summit just scooped up another nearby resort, Snow Valley. Stay tuned as the property folds into the portfolio.
Tip: Reserve your rentals at least a week in advance and save 20%
Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
For winter fun off the slopes, follow the crowd to Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain.
In the winter, their five-run tubing park is a high priority on many a Big Bear winter itinerary. When fresh snow is nowhere to be found, the park makes up for it with man-made snow. You’re guaranteed snow fun here no matter what. Having been to tubing parks where you have to trudge back up the hill at the end of each run, we appreciated the covered conveyor lift which makes it easy to ride again and again. They also offer evening sessions, so the fun continues after the sun sets.
But this park isn’t limited to tubing. Magic Mountain is home to The Alpine Slide, a bobsled experience along a quarter-mile track, and Mineshaft Coaster, California’s only mountain coaster that twists and turns for a mile. Plus, you can ride the Soaring Eagle, a family-friendly ride that makes you feel like you’re soaring through the air. When there’s no ice on the ground, you can enjoy mini golf and go-karts too.
Though our family had a lot of fun tubing and riding the Mineshaft Coaster, we also winced at the pricing here. Tickets to every attraction are sold separately, and it’s easy to rack up quite a bill!
Tip: The Alpine Slide Release Waiver signing process creates a crowd bottleneck. Our family waited almost two hours in the waiver line! Then, at the end of the day, we noticed that there are actually two lines. There’s the main line near the tubing tickets and a second waiver line near the Mineshaft Coaster. Compare the two before lining up!
Big Bear Snow Play
Big Bear Snow Play, another of Big Bear’s beloved tubing hills, is easily visible from Big Bear Blvd / Highway 18. Like Magic Mountain, the snow is machine-made here, guaranteeing that tubing lanes will be open throughout the winter.
Big Bear’s Snow Play tubing area is even bigger than Magic Mountain’s, with 6-8 lanes open per day and two Magic Carpet lifts. Glow tubing is also offered in the evenings.
Families can extend their adventures with the onsite Ropes Course and Go Kart Speedway.
J wanted to stop here every time we drove by, but we decided to give Magic Mountain a try because of all the extra activities there. Next time, we’ll definitely make Big Bear Snow Play a first-priority stop.
Find a Sledding Hill
Though conditions won’t be the same as the places with man-made snow and groomed lanes, you can still find places to sled down a hill the old-fashioned way in Big Bear. And you can trade those $40 per person tubing tickets for a simple sled while you’re at it!
On our trip, I decided that I wasn’t going to splurge on tubing tickets for the Bug and me at Magic Mountain because he just wanted to play in the snow. So, while the rest of the family waited in the waiver line, we took off in search of the free stuff.
Our wanderings led us to the Aspen Glen Picnic Area where we found our people. There were families everywhere, playing in the snow and finding a hill that would let them pick up speed. A broad open hill at the Pineknot Trailhead was a popular one!
Were the conditions ideal? Nope! But we all made the best of it and had a great time using our imaginations.
Note: an Adventure Pass is required to park in the Aspen Glen Picnic Area lot.
Cross Country Ski
For those looking for more of an aerobic challenge, give Cross Country Skiing a try. West of Big Bear Lake is the Rim Nordic Ski Area, the only place for cross-country skiing in Southern California with machine-groomed trails.
Check snow conditions before you go! The ski area is only open when there’s enough snow on the ground.
We love snowshoeing! When you’re on a groomed trail, it’s pretty much like hiking in the winter. Snowshoes stabilize you and keep you from slipping.
If you’re feeling good about exploring on your own, rent snowshoes and poles from Goldsmith’s Sports or the TC Ride Shop then head to Big Bear Lake’s National Forest trails. All are open through the winter and can be enjoyed with snowshoes. Snowshoeing rentals and trails are also available at the Rim Nordic Cross-Country Ski Area.
If you prefer a little guidance, a popular guided snowshoe tour is offered through Action Tours. Snowshoes, poles, and training are included for participants ages 10 and up. All you have to do is show up!
The Big Bear Discovery Center also leads three-hour, Naturalist-led snowshoe Eco-Tours on Saturday mornings. See the Discovery Center calendar for the latest tour times and to reserve your spot. In addition to learning how to snowshoe, you’ll explore the forest and learn how plants and animals adapt in the winter. Snowshoes, poles, snacks, and water are included for only $30pp ($20 for kids).
Take a Big Bear Winter Hike
Big Bear Lake’s National Forest trails are open for hiking or snowshoeing through the winter.
We were in town the last week of December. Some trails were clear enough to walk with normal shoes, others were a bit too icy. If you know you want to take a hike, pack a pair of ice cleats for extra traction just in case.
Some of the most popular year-round hiking trails are:
- Alpine Pedal Path: This popular low-elevation paved path meanders along the beautiful north shore of Big Bear Lake. It’s just over 5 miles long, but it’s an out-and-back trail, so you can make it as long or short as you’d like. You’ll have great views of the lake and Snow Summit in the distance. You will also pass by the Big Bear Discovery Center. This is a great place to view the bald eagles who nest here from November through April.
- Castle Rock: This 2.7-mile out-and-back trail is moderately challenging and may be icy in the winter. Getting to the peak requires about 600 feet of elevation gain. You’ll enjoy beautiful views out onto the lake once you get there.
- The Woodland Trail: This beloved family-friendly 1.5-mile loop has interpretive markers that clue hikers into the local flora, fauna, and geology. You’ll likely encounter other hikers, bikers, and horseback riders here. You need an Adventure Pass to park in the lot at the Woodland Trailhead.
Tip: Get off the beaten path, so to speak, by booking a guided family-friendly hike. Learn about Big Bear’s plants and animals, take in the surrounding beauty, and don’t give getting lost a second thought!
Zipline Through Snow Covered Hills
Looking for a fun winter adventure that’s both exciting and unique? Add ziplining through a snowy forest to your Big Bear winter itinerary.
The adventure begins with off-roading into the forest. Then it continues by flying down 9 ziplines at speeds up to 35 miles per hour!
Tours are family-friendly. Kids 8 and older can join in the fun. Weight requirements are 65 to 250 pounds.
Stroll Through the Village
The Village is where you’ll find the area’s best dining, nightlife, and souvenir shopping. In the winter, you can grab hot cocoa at the Copper Q and warm up by the fire pits that line the sidewalk each evening.
We likely did what most people do here: strolled and browsed. My mother-in-law bought a cute souvenir beanie, my father-in-law hammed it up for the camera, and the kids went nuts at the Village Sweet Shoppe. We snapped a family photo in front of the Christmas tree, and one for Bug in front of the giant Menorah. He’s fascinated by Hannukah.
John (yes, John!) was swept up enough in the winter wonderland vibe that he wanted to splurge on a carriage ride. The line was a bit long during our visit though, so we walked on instead.
In general, this is a perfect place for a meal and a wander.
Big Bear for Animal Lovers
For those with little ones that love interacting with animals, Baldwin Lake Stables is a good spot to enjoy some petting zoo time. You’ll be able to meet, feed, and maybe even cuddle with friendly farm animals like goats, sheep, bunnies, and chickens.
Kiddos not quite ready for the trail rides offered? They can enjoy a pony ride here instead.
Those who are happy to look and not touch should check out the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. Recently renovated, the zoo is also a rehabilitation facility and sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals. The facility is on the smaller side but it is still home to foxes, bald eagles, bears, wolves, owls, and more. It also has a small playground for restless little humans.
Can You Dig It?
Having recently vacationed in California gold country, our family wasn’t eager to add mining to our Big Bear Itinerary. But I can’t move on without mentioning Big Bear’s family-friendly spot for digging for treasures. Pan for gold and gemstones, crack open a geode, and even dig for fossils. There are plenty of interactive experiences – and photo ops- here.
Big Bear Indoor Fun for Your Winter Itinerary
We love being outdoors all year long, but there’s always a time or two when it feels good to warm up and relax inside. The following are fun things to do once the sun sets. Or if it just feels too darn cold out there.
The Bowling Barn
Bowling is a go-to activity for Big Bear visitors of all ages! It can get busy at the Bowling Barn and in the winter months, bowling is first come, first served only. Luckily there’s plenty of entertainment on-site to keep you and the kids busy while you wait.
Play arcade games, try out the VR headsets, and even Catherine Zeta-Jones your way through the laser maze. Alley-Oops Bar and Grill is also here if you just want to kick back and have a bite while you wait for your lanes.
Big Bear Nature Discovery Center
The Discovery Center was mentioned above for its snowshoeing tours, but it’s also a good stop on its own as an orientation to the area. Part visitor center, part learning center, you’ll find educational exhibits about the region and hands-on activities in the newly renovated main building.
This is a good stop early in your visit. Staff can give you tips or advice on places that might complement your Big Bear winter itinerary. They also offer creative and thoughtful programming, indoors and outside. Be sure to check out their events schedule while you’re in town.
Enjoy Spa Time
After playing hard in the snow, try to squeeze in a massage before it’s time to head back home. Between muscles that don’t get used so often and fall recovery (yep, showing my age here), a good massage goes a long way in making sure you leave your little weekend escape feeling good.
Cozy Up in Front of a Fire
We had a jam-packed Big Bear itinerary. But after playing in the snow for a full day, we decided to skip some of our plans. We put on comfy clothes and enjoyed catching up around the fire. Sometimes there’s just nothing better than spending an evening recapping the day over hot cocoa while the snow drifts outside.
Great Restaurants to Add to Your Big Bear Winter Itinerary
There is no shortage of places to carbo-load before a day of adventuring in Big Bear. Read on for the best places to indulge while you’re in town.
Saucy Mamas is a popular spot for good pizzas in the heart of the Village. People love it here, so expect a crowd whenever you go.
We were lucky enough to stumble into a workaround by walking in from the back door near the parking lot. There are outdoor tables on the small back patio, and they were all empty. An employee told us that they were short-staffed and not serving at these tables, but shared that we could order takeout and eat there self-serve style. After seeing the crowds indoors, I realized that we had lucked out! We enjoyed our drinks from the bar under the heaters outside, then brought out our pizzas to enjoy. Paper plates, napkins, and utensils are available for take-out orders, so it was easy to eat and clean up.
If you show up starving and the wait is long, consider ordering takeout instead. If the back tables aren’t available, walk a quarter-mile down the street toward the lake. You can enjoy your pizza at Rotary Pine Knot Park with lake views and a small playground for the kids.
Fire Rock Burgers and Brews
Next door to Saucy Mama’s, Fire Rock Burgers and Brews tempts burger lovers with the sight of happy customers on a bustling patio. Headliners are massive inventive burgers like the Californication, which is topped with pepper jack cheese, roasted green chiles, applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado mash, and chipotle aioli. Yum!
The kids’ menu is solid and comes with a design-your-own guitar pick coloring sheet. Fun family-friendly extras like Campfire S’mores roasted on the patio’s fire pits and served with Reese’s, Nutella, and strawberries, round out the experience.
Teddy Bear Restaurant
It’s not exactly fine dining, but this 78-year-old restaurant in the heart of the Village is a Big Bear staple. Despite its prime-tourist location, you’ll find a local scene here too. Head over for breakfast to fill up before a big day of playing in the snow. There are plenty of options for everyone to choose from. Teddy Bear Restaurant is cash-only. There’s an ATM on-site if needed.
Grizzly Manor Cafe
Every time we drove by the Grizzly Manor Cafe there was a line out the door. It was a bit of a head-scratcher given its humble facade. John immediately guessed that they must have really good food. And though we didn’t have a chance to taste test during our visit, I’ve since read the rave reviews and it would seem that he’s correct.
Expect classic California diner food, huge shareable portions, and long waits.
Perfect Places to Sleep for Your Big Bear Winter Itinerary
For our stay, we booked a cabin a bit outside of town so that we could be closer to family. While we enjoyed our stay, it’s not one that I would recommend for everyone mainly because the traffic on Big Bear Blvd made getting back and forth to activities, well, a bear. (one giggle)
The following spots are highly rated and noted for their central locations. This is where we’ll look first when booking our next trip.
Bluegreen vacations, Big Bear Village
As we were finishing up our Big Bear Village stroll, this awesome condo resort caught my eye. I was so curious to take a closer look, that I took a detour on my own and told the family I’d meet them back at the car.
This one has it all…except availability! These 2-4 bedroom condos come with location, comfort, and family-friendly amenities. And people snatch them up fast accordingly. I just checked and the next reservation isn’t for another 3 months! Book right away if there’s availability during your preferred dates.
Holiday Inn: The Lodge at Bear Lake
A good location can add so much to your overall vacation experience. Practically across the street from Bluegreen Vacations, this Holiday Inn offers comfortable rooms within easy walking distance of the Village. Rooms are offered at a good price given the area’s popularity. Family rooms have over 500 sq ft of space and include bunk beds and a fireplace.
The Best Big Bear Winter Itinerary
So you’ve read the best things to do, the best places to eat, and the best places for a good night’s sleep in Big Bear. Now, let’s pull it all together into a sample 3-day Big Bear Winter Itinerary.
Day 1: Arrive and Explore
Arrival days usually start early, especially when you’re looking forward to trying out somewhere new. If you leave Los Angeles or San Diego mid-morning, you’ll get to Big Bear around lunchtime.
Head straight to the Village for good eats. Aim to park in the large lot off Beaver Lane and Bartlett Road. This is conveniently close to your first stop: Fire Rock Burgers. Finish lunch by indulging in one of their decadent desserts to celebrate the start of your getaway.
Exit on Pine Knot Ave, and you’ll find yourself on the main drag of the Village. Take a stroll down to the Lake if you’re curious, or just wander and check things out in the Village until it’s time for check-in.
Eager to see the snow? Head to Big Bear Snow Play for an evening of Glow Tubing. Prefer to stay warm indoors? Make your way to the Bowling Barn to kick off the weekend with a fun competition and a laid-back dinner at Alley Oops.
Day 2: Choose Your Own Adventure
This is the day of hard decisions, as you’ll have to choose your main activity (or two).
Make breakfast at your hotel or cabin, or kick off the day in the Village with breakfast at Teddy Bear Restaurant.
Next, head out to your big adventure: snowboarding, skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, or ziplining. There are many awesome options and the choice is all yours.
If you have energy left in the afternoon, make your way to the quieter, nature-filled north side of the lake to take a walk on the Alpine Pedal Path or Woodland Trail.
Pick up a Saucy Mama’s pizza on the way back to your home away from home. Then, relax in front of a fire while you recap the day’s adventures.
Day 3: Ease into the drive home
Hopefully, you’re not in a rush to get back to the city on Day 3!
Sleep in and try to squeeze in a massage to help smooth out any sore muscles from the day before. The Big Bear Alpine Zoo is less than a mile from Altitudes Massage & Spa. If you’re traveling with kids, try and see if you and your partner can figure out a way to tag-team spa appointments and zoo/playground time.
If you have any room for food left, enjoy one last big brunch at Grizzly Manor Cafe before leaving town. Just try to fight the napping urge on your way back down the mountain!
Road Trip Planning Basics
These are our go-to resources when planning a California road trip!
Compare car rental deals to find the best price with Discover Cars. All fees and taxes are included in your quote.
Booking.com is our first – and often last – stop for finding great deals throughout the Golden State.
Big Bear Winter FAQs
Big Bear Lake is located in the San Bernardino Mountains. It is the best area for snow play in Southern California, and an easy drive from most population centers in the area.
On average, it's about 95 miles northeast of LA or a two-hour drive. This, of course, depends on your starting point.
From Redlands, the drive is about 40 miles or a one-hour drive. If you want to take Highway 38 which has a more gradual incline than Highway 330, the drive is 54 miles and about one hour and 15 minutes.
San Diegans aren’t far away from Big Bear either. The drive is roughly 145 miles, or two and a half hours, from San Diego.
The first snowfall in Big Bear usually arrives in November. The ski resorts aim to open on Thanksgiving weekend. The last snowfall of the season is usually in April. How much fresh snow you’ll find between November and April is hard to predict, but it’s a safe bet that there’ll be the most natural snowfall in January and February.
Many of the Big Bear winter activities mentioned in this post include snow play. Even when the snow on the sidewalk is melting, the area's big ski and tubing resorts make their snow. It may not be falling from the sky, but unless there are extreme conditions, there will be snow to play in during the winter months.
The standard weather apps failed us on our last visit. For an up-to-date snow forecast, check out the latest Big Bear snow report directly. Destination Big Bear also has updates on the latest Big Bear weather and road conditions from every direction. All are good resources to check before you go.
As with many California weekend getaways, your Big Bear trip can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Many Angelenos even head up and back for the day! A 3-4 day weekend trip is ideal, though some people choose to extend their trip for a full week. The choice is yours.
It’s not hard to drive in Big Bear in the winter, as long as you do a little planning and preparation ahead of time.
From December 1 through April 1, you are required to carry tire chains when driving in the mountains. You never know if the weather will take a turn during your stay, so bring them even if they aren't required to be on your tires when you arrive. You don’t want to rely on retailers having the right chains for your car when a chain requirement is underway. We once got stuck in Tahoe because of chains that were slightly too small. It happens.
Make sure to try the chains on your tires before you go. You want to make sure they fit properly, and it's good to have a chance to try putting them on without roadside stress.
If CalTrans calls for chain requirements, they will set up checkpoints where cars are screened for chains before being allowed through. Familiarize yourself with the CalTrans maps and app before you go to keep track of road conditions and chain requirements.
Also, in addition to chains, you might want to bring an ice scraper. We wished we had one of these during our visit, as ice formed on our windshield overnight even though it didn't snow.
If you don’t go to the snow often, picking up snow gear can be a bit daunting. And pricey. The good news is that gear also lasts a long time. My go-to snow outerwear items are still the clothes that I bought for our first attempted trip to Big Bear almost 7 years ago!
I made a quick checklist of snow essentials here to give you a sense of what you'll need.
- Warm Hat: Easy peasy.
- Goggles: The sun is bright when reflecting off the snow and you don’t want to be worrying about your glasses falling off all day.
- Base Layers: These keep you warm and cozy under the bulky stuff.
- Jacket: I like that this one has a versatile fit that won’t look strange if you wear it off the slopes.
- Pants: If you’re curvy like me, you probably want to go to an outdoor store to try on a few pairs. Luckily Big Bear isn’t too cold, plus you have a base layer, so you can prioritize staying dry over keeping warm.
- Gloves: Look for gloves that aren’t too bulky. Bonus points for ones that let you use your phone without removing them.
- Warm Socks
- Snow Boots
- Hand Warmers: Big Bear doesn’t get *that* cold, but we always bring them to the snow just in case.
- Sunscreen: Snow reflects UV radiation even more than water. This means exposed skin is at risk of sunburn, even on cold and cloudy days. Don’t be one of the folks walking around with raccoon eyes from your goggles after a day on the slopes.
- Lip Balm: Bring lip balm with sunscreen to keep your lips protected from dry weather and the sun.
Kids grow so fast that it can be a bit painful to invest in snow gear that they might only wear a couple of times before they’re on to the next size. This is why we now rent kids' snow apparel packages at the start of every snow season.
Sports Basement is our go-to for rentals. This is a popular chain in Northern California, but Southern California only has one store in Orange County. The good news is they do ship-to-you rentals if a drive to the OC is a tad too far.
You can rent for the duration of your trip or even for the whole season. We rent seasonally so that we have everything on hand in case we get a chance for a spontaneous snowy getaway.
They have gear rentals for adults too if you want to try something out, or think a big snow gear purchase isn't worth the investment.
Though some of the San Bernardino National Forest areas are completely free to use, others require vehicles to display an Adventure Pass. The fee required to purchase the pass helps to maintain, manage, and improve popular areas.
Daily passes cost $5 per day and annual passes cost $30 per year. To buy an Adventure Pass, head to any of these Southern California vendors. You can also buy an Adventure Pass online in advance of your trip. Use this map if you’re wondering if any of the activities on your Big Bear itinerary require an Adventure Pass.
Enjoy your Big Bear Lake winter itinerary! Check out more of our California favorites:
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