Big Bear Lake, California
Looking east at Big Bear Valley from Butler Peak lookout tower in the San Bernardino National Forest
Looking east at Big Bear Valley from Butler Peak lookout tower in the San Bernardino National Forest
Official seal of Big Bear Lake, California
Location of Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County, California
Location of Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County, California
Big Bear Lake, California is located in the United States
Big Bear Lake, California
Big Bear Lake, California
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 34°14′38″N 116°54′41″W / 34.24389°N 116.91139°W / 34.24389; -116.91139
CountryUnited States
CountySan Bernardino
IncorporatedNovember 28, 1980[2]
Named forBig Bear Lake
 • TypeCouncil/Manager
 • City ManagerErik Sund
 • MayorPerri Melnick
 • Total6.42 sq mi (16.64 km2)
 • Land6.24 sq mi (16.16 km2)
 • Water0.18 sq mi (0.47 km2)  2.88%
6,752 ft (2,058 m)
 • Total5,046
 • Density808.52/sq mi (312.17/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP Code
Area code909
FIPS code06-06434
GNIS feature ID1652673

Big Bear Lake is a city in San Bernardino County, California, located in the San Bernardino Mountains along the south shore of Big Bear Lake, and surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. The city is about 25 miles (40 km) northeast of the city of San Bernardino, and immediately west of the unincorporated town of Big Bear City. The population was approximately 5,019 at the 2010 census, down from 5,438 at the 2000 census. However, as a popular year-round resort destination, the actual number of people staying in or visiting the greater Big Bear Valley area regularly surges to over 100,000 during many weekends of the year.


Big Bear Lake was inhabited by the indigenous Serrano people for over 2,000 years before it was explored by Benjamin Wilson and his party. Once populated by only the natives and the grizzly bears, from which the area received its name, the population of the Big Bear Valley grew rapidly during the Southern California gold rush from 1861 to 1912. Grizzly bears were not found in the region after 1908.[4] Black bears have been in the region since their introduction in 1933,[4] and they are sometimes sighted in residential areas.

A trip to Big Bear Lake from San Bernardino took two days on horse-drawn coaches. Kirk Phillips was a local who took a trip to New York City and saw the world's first bus line. This inspired him to create the world's second bus line from San Bernardino to Big Bear Valley using white trucks with several rows of seats. This made it possible for the villages to grow and for Big Bear Lake to become the first mountain recreation area in Southern California.[5]

Many people traveled to enjoy recreation on the lake. However, another major draw was the natural hot spring. Emile Jesserun bought 40 acres (16 ha) of land that included the hot spring and built the first major resort in Big Bear, the Pan Hot Springs Hotel, in 1921. This resort was followed with others that strove to be the best by creating a country club atmosphere, complete with the amenities required to lure the Hollywood celebrities of the time including Cecil B. DeMille, Shirley Temple, and Ginger Rogers. By 1924, Big Bear was populated with 44 resorts and a constant stream of vacationers. The Pan Hot Springs Hotel, like many of the other resorts and hotels in Big Bear, was extensively damaged by fire in 1933.[6]

In 1933, the California Fish and Game Commission transported around 27 black bears from Yosemite National Park to Southern California, releasing them near Big Bear.[4] Sightings of the newly released bears in cities stoked fear among residents. J. Dale Gentry, chairman of the Fish and Game Commission, resigned shortly after.[7]

For Hollywood's film industry, the area has been a popular place for shooting on location since the silent era. In late November 1915, Universal Studios filmed there for its three-reel production of John o' the Mountains starring Sydney Ayres and Louella Maxam.[8] The 1920 version of Last of the Mohicans was filmed there as well, as were some scenes for the 1936 film Daniel Boone, Gone with the Wind, 20th Century Fox's 1960 film North to Alaska, Disney's Old Yeller, the 1969 musical film Paint Your Wagon, the 1983 movie War Games, and the 1985 "dark comedy" Better Off Dead. Many television series have filmed sequences there too, including opening sequences in 1969 for the NBC children's program H.R. Pufnstuf.

Winter activities are also popular in Big Bear. The first ski jump in Big Bear was erected in 1929 and quickly claimed a world ski jump record. More jumps were built in Big Bear Lake and the Viking Ski Club of Los Angeles began to use them for competition and events. The move to a winter resort town was solidified in 1952 when Tommy Tyndall opened a resort in Big Bear Lake, now known as Snow Summit.[9] In some winters the area gets little snow, but snow machines keep the resorts in business.

In the summer of 1968, Caltech began construction of Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. Due to extensive rain and snow, the lake rose several feet and BBSO was surrounded by water at the time construction was completed using makeshift barges in May 1970. BBSO, now operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is still a major Big Bear Lake landmark connected to the north shore by a dirt and rock causeway.

Since 1970, Big Bear Lake has held an annual Oktoberfest. The Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest sports the highest beer garden, by elevation, in the United States. Big Bear Lake was incorporated as a city on November 28, 1980.

During the 1990s, the city became famous as a training spot for boxing champions. Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, Fernando Vargas, Gennady Golovkin, and Shane Mosley are among the famous boxers who have trained at Big Bear.

In February 2013, a major manhunt occurred in the Big Bear Lake area to find Christopher Dorner, who by that point had killed three people. A standoff ended in nearby Angelus Oaks.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.5 square miles (17 km2), 6.3 square miles (16 km2) of which is land and 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) of which (2.88%) is water. It is located 25 miles (40 km) northeast of the city of San Bernardino, and immediately west of Big Bear City.

Big Bear Lake is at an official elevation of 6,752 ft (2,058 m) above sea level.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has issued a safety advisory for any fish caught in Big Bear Lake due to elevated levels of mercury and PCBs.[10]


View from Boulder Bay Park

According to the National Weather Service, the warmest month at Big Bear is July, with a daily average temperature of 65.1 °F (18.4 °C). The coolest month is February, with a daily average temperature of 34.7 °F (1.5 °C). (January and December are nearly tied, at 34.8 °F; 1.6 °C.) There are an average of 1.3 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 176.2 days each year, on average from September 24 to June 4. With a period of record dating back to only 1960, the highest temperature recorded was 98 °F (37 °C), recorded on June 30, 1994, while the lowest was −15 °F (−26 °C) on November 19, 1964.

Due to the 6,750 feet (2,060 m) elevation[11] of the weather station, precipitation is greater than in the lowlands of southern California, averaging 19.98 in (507 mm) a year. The maximum 24-hour precipitation was 9.43 in (240 mm) on December 6, 1966. Measurable precipitation normally occurs 43.3 days a year. Mountain thunderstorms can produce heavy rainfall, even in midsummer (when most southern California lowland locations are quite dry). Big Bear Lake's climate is Csb (Warm-summer Mediterranean) under the Köppen climate classification, bordering a humid continental climate (Dsb); it lies within USDA plant hardiness zone 7a.[12] Big Bear Lake is the highest and coldest incorporated city in southern California.[13]

In contrast to most of southern California, the Big Bear Lake region normally receives significant winter snow because of its high elevation. Snowfall, as measured at lake level, averages 58.6 in (149 cm) per season; upwards of 100 in (250 cm) can accumulate on the forested ridges bordering the lake, at elevations above 8,000 ft (2,400 m). In February 1990, 59.5 in (151 cm) of snow were recorded. The most snow in 24 hours was 27.0 in (69 cm) on March 27, 1991. The greatest snow depth was 58 in (150 cm) on February 3, 1979. Snow has fallen in every month except July and August. There are normally 16 days each year with measurable snow of 0.1 in (0.25 cm) or more.

Climate data for Big Bear Lake, California, (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1914–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 71
Mean maximum °F (°C) 60.1
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 46.1
Daily mean °F (°C) 34.3
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 22.7
Mean minimum °F (°C) 9.1
Record low °F (°C) −25
Average precipitation inches (mm) 4.51
Average snowfall inches (cm) 13.4
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 6.6 6.8 5.5 3.7 2.0 0.7 2.6 2.8 2.0 2.2 2.9 5.5 43.3
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 3.5 3.5 2.7 1.2 0.3 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.1 3.3 16.0
Source: NOAA[14][15][16]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[17]


The 2010 United States Census[18] reported that Big Bear Lake had a population of 5,019. The population density was 768.1 inhabitants per square mile (296.6/km2). The racial makeup of Big Bear Lake was 4,204 (83.8%) White, (73.3% Non-Hispanic White),[19] 22 (0.4%) African American, 48 (1.0%) Native American, 78 (1.6%) Asian, 10 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 491 (9.8%) from other races, and 166 (3.3%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1,076 persons (21.4%).

The Census reported that 4,993 people (99.5% of the population) lived in households, 5 (0.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 21 (0.4%) were institutionalized.

There were 2,187 households, out of which 563 (25.7%) had children under the age of 18 living in them; 1,007 (46.0%) were opposite-sex married couples living together; 195 (8.9%) had a female householder with no husband present; 119 (5.4%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 159 (7.3%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 24 (1.1%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 675 households (30.9%) were made up of individuals, and 298 (13.6%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28. There were 1,321 families (60.4% of all households); the average family size was 2.83.

There were 993 residents (19.8%) under the age of 18, 417 people (8.3%) aged 18 to 24, 1,021 people (20.3%) aged 25 to 44, 1,563 people (31.1%) aged 45 to 64, and 1,025 people (20.4%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46.1 years. For every 100 females, there were 104.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.8 males.

There were 9,705 housing units at an average density of 1,485.3 per square mile (573.5/km2), of which 1,271 (58.1%) were owner-occupied, and 916 (41.9%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 14.0%; the rental vacancy rate was 45.2%. 2,708 people (54.0% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 2,285 people (45.5%) lived in rental housing units.

According to the 2010 United States Census, Big Bear Lake had a median household income of $32,869, with 16.9% of the population living below the federal poverty line.[19]


As of the census[20] of 2000, there were 5,438 people, 2,343 households, and 1,494 families residing in the city. The population density was 860.1 inhabitants per square mile (332.1/km2). There were 8,705 housing units at an average density of 1,376.8 per square mile (531.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.2% White, 0.7% African American, 1.0% Native American, 0.8% Asian, <0.1% Pacific Islander, 3.6% from other races, and 2.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 13.7% of the population.

There were 2,343 households, out of which 25.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.3% were married couples living together, 8.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.2% were non-families. 29.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.3 and the average family size was 2.8.

In the city, 22.6% of residents were under the age of 18, 6.4% from 18 to 24, 24.5% from 25 to 44, 29.1% from 45 to 64, and 17.4% were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females, there were 107.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $100,447, and the median income for a family was $122,848. Males had a median income of $36,316 versus $21,404 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,517. About 11.1% of families and 13.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.9% of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.

Attractions and activities

Lake view from the east, with observatory visible in center

Big Bear Lake is Southern California's largest recreational lake. It is about seven miles (11 km) long with a width of about one mile (1.6 km) at its widest point. The primary summer attraction in Big Bear has been fishing, which remains one of the most common activities.[5] The most abundant types of fish are trout, bass and catfish.[21] Hiking, mountain biking and horse riding are also very popular. San Bernardino National Forest offers many trails in varying degrees of difficulty.[22] During winter season Big Bear Lake becomes a skiing and snowboarding destination for Southern California. There are two ski resorts: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.[23] The first Winter X Games were held in Big Bear Lake in 1997. The town was also home to the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival from 2000 to 2014.

In addition to these events, Big Bear Lake is known for its resident bald eagle couple, Jackie and Shadow. There is a YouTube channel dedicated to a live feed of their nest which allows viewers to watch their daily activities and observe their nestbuilding and feeding behaviors. The channel is operated by Friends of Big Bear Valley.[24] As of 2024, Jackie has laid 3 eggs; the first on January 25, the second on January 28, and the third on January 31. The earliest the eggs will begin to hatch is February 29.


The community is served by the Big Bear Lake Branch of the San Bernardino County Library. The 8,500-square-foot (790 m2) library is located on Garstin Drive near the southern shore of Big Bear Lake and offers books, videos, CDs, DVDs, audio books, e-books, computers, and internet access for patrons. The library was remodeled in 2009, with improvements that included additional public computers and a new circulation desk that allows for self check-out. Story times for younger children, teen programs, donated book sales, and special events are also held at the library.[25]


Big Bear Lake is a charter city under the laws of the state of California. It operates under the council-manager form of government. The city manager is Erik Sund.[26] The city council includes five members elected at-large. The mayor is selected annually from among the city council members. The current mayor is Randall Putz.[27]

In the state legislature, Big Bear Lake is in the 23rd Senate District, represented by Republican Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh,[28] and in the 34th Assembly District, represented by Republican Assembly Member Tom Lackey.[29]

Federally, Big Bear Lake is in California's 23rd congressional district, represented by Republican Jay Obernolte.[30]


Big Bear City Airport, a general aviation airport in the Big Bear City section of unincorporated San Bernardino County, serves Big Bear Lake.[31]

Free[32] local bus service is provided by Mountain Transit, formerly known as Mountain Area Regional Transit Authority (MARTA), operates several fixed routes in the Big Bear Valley. Mountain Transit also provides service from downtown San Bernardino to Big Bear Lake.[33]

The Big Bear Valley is accessible by four California state highways: SR 18 from Highland, SR 330 from San Bernardino, SR 38 from Redlands, and SR 18 from Lucerne Valley.

Big Bear Grizzly

Big Bear Grizzly
TypeWeekly newspaper
Owner(s)Gold Mountain California News Media Inc.
EditorJudi Bowers
HeadquartersBig Bear Lake, California
OCLC number28739053

The Big Bear Grizzly, the Media of the Mountain, is a local weekly newspaper serving Big Bear Lake, California and surrounding communities. The Big Bear Grizzly is owned by Gold Mountain California News Media Inc.[34][35] The principal edition of Big Bear Grizzly is published weekly on Wednesdays.[36] A free edition, entitled the Grizzly Weekender, is delivered to most areas of the Big Bear Valley each Saturday. The newspaper also produces a weekly shopper's guide called the Big Bear Shopper.[37]

This paper covers local council meetings, festivals, fundraisers, recreation opportunities on Big Bear Lake and nearby, and other events in the area.[38]

Notable people

Sister cities

See also


  1. ^ Big Bear Lake California History - History of Big Bear Lake
  2. ^ "California Cities by Incorporation Date". California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions. Archived from the original (Word) on November 3, 2014. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  3. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 30, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Ibid, p. 386. University of California Press. December 16, 1992. ISBN 9780520909915. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Early Big Bear Valley Resorts". Big Bear Valley Historical Society. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  6. ^ "BIG BEAR CITY RESORTS | Big Bear History Site". Archived from the original on October 7, 2017. Retrieved October 6, 2017.
  7. ^ "Those black bears you see in Southern California, this is how they arrived". San Bernardino Sun. January 7, 2019. Retrieved March 30, 2024.
  8. ^ "Ayres Producing 'John o' the Mountains'", The Moving Picture World (New York, N.Y.), December 18, 1915, p. 451. Retrieved June 12, 2019.
  9. ^ "Winter Sports". Big Bear Valley Historical Society. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  10. ^ Admin, OEHHA (January 30, 2018). "Big Bear Lake". OEHHA. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  11. ^ "Elevation Finder". FreeMapTools. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  12. ^ "California 2012 USDA Hardiness Zone Map". Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  13. ^ "California Towns Listed by Elevation". Total Escape. Retrieved September 4, 2022.
  14. ^ "NowData – NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
  15. ^ "Summary of Monthly Normals 1991–2020". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved August 20, 2022.
  16. ^ "xmACIS2". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved March 4, 2023.
  17. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  18. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA — Big Bear Lake city". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  19. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". U.S. Census Bureau. Archived from the original on December 14, 2013.
  20. ^ "U.S. Census website". Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  21. ^ "Big Bear Lake filling with snowmelt in time for trout-fishing season". Los Angeles Times. March 26, 2009. Archived from the original on March 29, 2009. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  22. ^ Martin, Hugo (April 2, 2008). "Summer vacations at Big Bear Lake bring hiking, fishing and boating". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 11, 2009. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  23. ^ Parsons, Tom (2008). "Skiing & Snowboarding". Los Angeles Times/Travel. Retrieved May 5, 2009.
  24. ^ "Big Bear Bald Eagle Live Nest - Cam 1". YouTube. FOBBV Cam. Retrieved February 6, 2024.
  25. ^ "Friends of the Big Bear Valley Library". Retrieved March 7, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ "City Manager". Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  27. ^ "City Council". Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  28. ^ "23rd Senate District". California State Senate. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  29. ^ "District 34 Details". California State Assembly. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  30. ^ "California's 23rd Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  31. ^ The Big Bear City Airport
  32. ^ "Fare & Rates".
  33. ^ Local transit in Big Bear Valley
  34. ^ Venturi (September 30, 2022). "Brehm Divests Of All Four Of Its San Bernardino County Newspapers". San Bernardino County Sentinel. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  35. ^ "Brehm sale closes out family's California run". California News Publishers Association. September 27, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  36. ^ "Big Bear Grizzly". Mondo Times. Retrieved August 27, 2023.
  37. ^ "About Us". Big Bear Grizzly. Retrieved October 25, 2014.
  38. ^ "Big Bear Grizzly". The Paperboy. Retrieved August 27, 2023.

Further reading