Big Bear Lake as seen from Grey's Peak.

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake is a small city situated along the southern shores of Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County in California, United States. As per the latest census, this small city has a population of about 5,241 inhabitants, which increases to more than 100,000 during most of the weekends of the year when several tourists visit this well-known year-round resort destination. 

Geography Of Big Bear Lake

Aerial view of the Big Bear Lake and town in California
Aerial view of the Big Bear Lake and town in California.

Big Bear Lake covers a total area of 17 sq. km, of which 0.52 sq. km is occupied by water, and 16 sq. km is occupied by land. The city is situated approximately 40km northeast of the city of San Bernardino and just to the west of Big Bear City. Officially incorporated as a city on November 28, 1980, the Big Bear Lake is surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. The city is currently managed by a council/manager form of government. 

Climate Of Big Bear Lake

Snow covered ski slopes above the town of Big Bear, California
Snow-covered ski slopes above the town of Big Bear, California. 

According to the Köppen climate classification, Big Bear Lake experiences a Mediterranean climate with warm, arid summers and extremely cold, snowy winters. The warm summer season lasts from June to September, where July is the warmest month with an average daily high temperature of more than 23.3°C. The cold season lasts from the end of November to the beginning of March, where February is the coolest month having an average daily low temperature of 1.5°C. Due to its high altitude, the Big Bear Lake area receives high amounts of winter snow compared to major parts of southern California. At the lake level, the snowfall averages 58.6 inches per season, with about 250cm of snow accumulating in the forested ridges at elevations of more than 2,400m. The city receives an average rainfall of 19.98 inches per year. 

The Population And Economy Of Big Bear Lake

View of the main street in Big Bear Lake, California
View of the main street, Pine Knot Avenue, in Big Bear Lake, with season decorations, buildings, and cars. Editorial credit: Alizada Studios /

As of 2019, Big Bear Lake is home to 5,241 inhabitants with a median age of 43.7. The city’s population has increased from the previous census, which recorded that the city was home to 5,019 residents. About 725 residents of Big Bear Lake were born outside the United States. The largest ethnic groups in Big Bear Lake include the Non-Hispanic White representing 65.5% of the city’s population, followed by the Hispanic White at 27.2%, Asians at 2.59%, Others at 2.33%, and Native Americans at 1.03%. All households in Big Bear Lake speak English as their primary language, and 91.9% of the residents of Big Bear Lake are American citizens. 

The median household income in the city as of 2019 is $51,060, and the median property value is $391,000. The majority of Big Bear Lake residents drove alone to work, and the average car ownership in Big Bear Lake was two cars per household. The economy of Big Bear Lake employs 2290 people in some of the city’s largest industries, including Retail Trade, Accommodation & Food Services, Administrative & Waste Management services. 

Tourist Attractions In Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake as seen from Grey's Peak.
Big Bear Lake, as seen from Grey's Peak. 

Situated in the San Bernardino Mountains at a surface elevation of 2,055m, the Big Bear Lake is a large reservoir that measures 11km in length and 4.0km in width. The Big Bear Lake is the largest recreational lake in southern California that is easily accessible by three scenic highways: Highway 330, Highway 38, and Highway 18. The Big Bear Lake acts as a perfect setting for several outdoor recreational activities like fishing, water skiing, boating, etc., during the summer months. Other activities like horse riding, mountain biking, snowboarding, skiing, and hiking are also quite popular.

San Bernardino National Forest

View down the Big Bear Creek Valley in San Bernardino National Forest
The view down the Big Bear Creek Valley in San Bernardino National Forest from Butler Peak. 

Covering an area of 823,816 acres, the San Bernardino National Forest is a large US National Forest located in Southern California. The forest comprises two main divisions and includes seven official wilderness areas: Bighorn Mountain Wilderness, Cucamonga Wilderness, San Jacinto Wilderness, South Fork San Jacinto Wilderness, Cahuilla Mountain Wilderness, San Gorgonio Wilderness, and Santa Rosa Wilderness. The San Bernardino Forest also offers many hiking opportunities for its visitors. 

Brief History

The indigenous Serrano people inhabited the present-day Big Bear Lake area for more than 2,000 years. These native people referred to the territory as “Yuhaviat,” which meant “Pine Place.” The area was first discovered by the European explorer Benjamin Davis Wilson and his party. On his exploration trip, Mr. Wison found that the watershed area was filled with wildlife, particularly grizzly bears. He named the surrounding grassy area “Bear Valley” and the adjacent shallow seasonal marshes “Big Bear Lake.” From 1861 to 1912, during the Southern California gold rush, the Big Bear Valley became a venue for the gold prospectors, and the population of the area grew rapidly. In due course, a local named Kirk Philips created the second bus line in the world from San Bernardino to Big Bear Valley. The bus line helped the Big Bear Valley villages grow and eventually turn it into Southern California’s first mountain recreation area. The Big Bear Lake also started attracting several people for recreational activities. Since the silent era, the area has become a popular shooting location for various movies of the Hollywood Film Industry. The Snow Summit ski resort was established in 1952 and is considered one of the most well-known ski and snowboard destinations. Constructed in 1968 and operated by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Big Bear Solar Observatory is one of the Big Bear Lake landmarks located on the northern shores of Big Bear Lake. 

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