Big Bear Lake Information
Big Bear Lake is a reservoir in the San Bernardino Mountains, in San Bernardino County, California, USA.  It has an east-west length of approximately 7 miles (11.2 km) and is approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) at its widest measuremen, though the lake's width mostly averages a little more than one mile (1.6 km).  These approximations are basesd on the lake having an optimum retainable water level.  At the dam's end, the deepest water of Big Bear Lake measures 72 feet (22 m).  It is a completely snow-fed lake having no other means of tributary or mechanical replenishment. 

Big Bear Lake is geophysically defined by its North Shore and its South Shore. The South Shore is defined by Big Bear Boulevard which leads into the Big Bear Valley as a continuation of Hwy 18, the so-called Rim of the World Highway approaching from the west. Big Bear Blvd. winds east through Papoose Bay, Boulder Bay and Metcalf Bay, then leads directly east to the city of Big Bear Lake. At a point called The Village, the road turns toward the lake and then curves eastward to Moonridge, the ski resorts at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, and Stanfield Cutoff, a causeway located near the east end of the lake. Big Bear Blvd. then continues east into Big Bear City.

North Shore (Hwy 38) begins at the Dam Junction of Hwy 18. It travels east past the historic location of Gray's Landing, a famous 1920's fishing camp. It turns north around Grout Bay and travels through the small unincorporated town of Fawnskin.  The road meanders across North Shore through Forestry Lands, past the Big Bear Solar Observatory, past the Big Bear Discovery Center, past the Serrano Campground (U.S.F.S), accessing the public boat launch, and Stanfield Cutoff. North Shore Drive continues east into Big Bear City and Baldwin Lake. 

The primary approach to Big Bear is via Hwy 330 out of San Bernardino through Running Springs where it intersects State Route 18. Hwy 18 proceeds past Arrowbear and Snow Valley, over 7,200 ft (2,190 m) Lake Vista Summit and across the 15 mi (24 km) "Arctic Circle" for a total distance of 33 mi (53 km). Big Bear Lake can also be accessed by Hwy 38 (referred to as 'The Backside') at the San Bernardino (10) Freeway near Redlands, and takes a 52 mi (84 km) mile route that passes through Big Bear City on the east. From north of Lucerne Valley, it can be accessed by Hwy 18 over the pass into Baldwin Lake and through the north side, into Big Bear City.


View from Boulder Bay Park
View from Boulder Bay Park

According to the National Weather Service, the warmest month at Big Bear is July, when the average high is 80.7°F (27.1°C) and the average low is 47.1°F (8.4°C). The coolest month is January, with an average high of 47.1°F (8.4°C) and an average low of 20.7°F (-6.3°C). There are an average of 1.2 days each year with highs of 90°F (32°C) or higher. Freezing temperatures have occurred in every month and occur on an average of 193.0 days each year. Lows of 0°F (-18°C) or lower average 1.1 days each year. The highest temperature recorded at Big Bear was 94°F (34°C), last recorded on July 15, 1998. The record lowest temperature was -25°F (-32°C), on January 29, 1979.

Due to the 6,790-7,200 foot (2,069 m) elevation of the weather station, precipitation is greater than in the lowlands of San Bernardino County, averaging 21.15 in (537.21 mm) a year. The maximum 24-hour precipitation was 9.43 in (239.52 mm) on December 6, 1966.. Measurable precipitation normally occurs 44.9 days a year. Mountain thunderstorms occasionally produce heavy rainfall, even in midsummer (when most southern California lowland locations are quite dry).

The Big Bear Lake region is unique among populated areas in Southern California in that, because of the elevation, it normally receives significant winter snow. Snowfall, as measured at lake level, averages 61.8 inches (157 cm) each year (although upwards of 100 inches (254 cm) can accumulate on the forested ridges bordering the lake, above 8,000 feet (2,400 m)). In February 1990, 59.5 inches (151 cm) of snow were recorded. The most snow in 24 hours was 27.0 inches (69 cm) on March 27, 1991. The greatest snow depth was 58 inches (147 cm) on February 3, l979.  Snow has fallen in every month except July and August. There are normally 16.5 days each year with measurable snow (0.1 inch (2.5 mm) or more).


View from the village
View from the village

The region now known as Big Bear Lake was populated by the indigenous Serrano Indian tribe for approximately 2,500 years. They referred to the territory as "Yuhaviat" which translates into "Pine Place". They inhabited small villages of 10 to 30 round buildings located along fresh water sources and subsisted on berries, nuts, tubers, acorns, and plentiful game harvested along the lush valley. The Serrano looked at the native grizzly bears as ancestors and did not eat the meat or wear the fur of these massive animals. Several contemporary communities in the area feature place names reflecting the Big Bear region's rich Native history. These include Yucaipa, Cucamonga, and Muscupiabe.[1]

Big Bear Lake was first discovered by Anglo settlers when an Indian-hunting party was formed by Benjamin Wilson. Wilson moved to California during the days of Mexican territorial Alta California. He married into the Spanish landholder family, the Yorbas, and bought a portion of Rancho Jurupa (Riverside) from Juan Bandini. He became a local rancher statesman of great repute, especially for an Anglo in Mexican California.

Wilson had signed on as Justice of the Peace of the Inland Territory and was commissioned by the territorial authorities to locate and pursue Native Americans suspected of raiding ranches in nearby Riverside. This group, led by the fierce Chief Walkara, drove the herd into the Lucerne Valley on the north side of the San Bernardinos. Wilson gathered a posse of 44 men, 22 of whom he sent through the Cajon Pass while he engineered a pincer movement with the other 22 men into the headwaters of the Santa Ana River, effectively cutting the Utes off at the other end of Lucerne.

On the trip Wilson came upon a broad watershed teeming with wildlife, particularly bear. His posse immediately became a hunting party where the men were split into 11 pairs, each pair bringing back a bear hide. Wilson dubbed the grassy expanse "Bear Valley" and one of the nearby shallow seasonal marshes "Big Bear Lake". This same ephemeral feature is today called Baldwin Lake after Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin of Rancho Santa Anita fame, who bought the nearby Gold Mountain Mine that was renamed for him in 1876. On Wilson's return trip (the posse had presumably lost interest in tracking renegade Indians), the party took 11 more bear pelts.

In 1859, the newly discovered valley became a venue for gold prospectors. Mr. William F. Holcomb, a prospector from Indiana, moved to Los Angeles from the Northern California mines where he heard about the prospecting at Big Bear. He moved to Starvation Flats, where he had little luck the first winter. Because of his marksmanship, he was hired by several of the other miners to hunt bear for meat. With his Indian companion, Holcomb tracked, shot and wounded a grizzly bear one ridge north of Bear Valley. There he noticed a vein of quartz flecked with gold. When this discovery was revealed, the Southern California gold rush was on, and Holcomb Valley quickly became the largest populated area in San Bernardino County.

In 1884 marshy, nearly flat Bear Valley was dammed with a single arch granite impoundment, which held back some 25,000 acre feet (30,000,000 m³) of water for irrigation purposes in the Redlands area. In 1912 a 72 foot (22 m) multiple arch dam was constructed about 300 feet (91 m) downstream of the old dam and increased the lake capacity to 73,000 acre feet (90,000,000 m³). A highway bridge (18) was built over the arches of the old dam, which still stands under water. Elevation at the surface is 6,750 feet (2,060 m), but this level fluctuates according to annual snowmelt and runoff. The dams are part of the Big Bear Municipal Water District.

The unregulated hunting of grizzly bear in the San Bernardinos took a heavy toll upon the once significant native population, and ursus californicus was extirpated locally by 1906.

Tourism began with the onset of the automobile and the eventual establishment of highways accessing the seemingly remote area. Hollywood soon discovered Big Bear, and several movies, particularly westerns, have been filmed in the region.

Lake activities

Big Bear Lake provides an attractive setting for many outdoor activities, including fishing (trout, bluegill, crappie, catfish and largemouth bass), pleasure boating, and water skiing. Because of the very cold water and the presence of underwater obstacles near the shorelines, swimming is discouraged. The lake is patrolled by the City of Big Bear Lake's law enforcement.

Many lakeside residents have private docks, and visiting boaters obtain mooring in several of the marinas found on both shores. San Bernardino County provides a public launch on the east end of North Shore. Local marinas rent various sport and pleasure boats, and parasailing is available.

Points of interest

  • Big Bear Dam

North Shore (west to east)

  • Fawnskin (San Bernardino County uninc.)
  • Captain John's Marina
  • Big Bear Solar Observatory (New Jersey Institute of  Technology)
  • Big Bear Discovery Center
  • Serrano Campground (USFS)
  • Juniper Point
  • County Public Launch and Park

South Shore (west to east)

  • China Island(proper name Garstin Island)
  • Boulder Bay
  • Metcalf Bay and Holloway's Landing
  • Alpine amusement park (bunny slope in winter; slides and water park in summer)
  • The Village (Village Drive and Pine Knot Avenue: Theaters, shopping, restaurants and the Super Bear Arcade)
  • Pine Knot Marina
  • Snow Summit (skiing)
  • Moonridge Golf Course
  • Big Bear Zoo (in Moonridge)
  • Bear Mountain (skiing in winter; mountain biking in summer; ski lift open in summer for sightseeing)
  • Big Bear Trout Pond
  • Big Bear Lake Interlaken shopping center (consists of several chain stores and markets)


Boulder Bay Real Estate
P.O. Box6329 • Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Cell: (909)856-7553 •

CA DRE# 01306428

Big Bear LakeMoonridgeBig Bear City

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