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Awareness Magazine
5753-G Santa Ana Canyon Rd. #582
Anaheim, CA 92807
(714) 283-3385
(800) 758-3223
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Escape to Big Bear

By Ann Nelson


The world is full of beautiful places. All of the forests, lakes, mountains, canyons and natural areas in Southern California are truly some of the most majestic, offering visitors a welcome respite, along with quiet moments. If you are yearning for skiing in the winter or swimming at the lake in the summer, Big Bear, surrounded by a vast pine forest in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California is the place to go!

Three thousand years ago Big Bear Valley was occupied by the Serrano Indians. Afterwards the area was populated with trappers, prospectors, lumbermen, cattlemen, dam builders and fox farmers. In 1860, William Holcomb was hunting bears and discovered gold instead. 

Within weeks of the discovery, hundreds of miners flooded into the area creating “boom camps.” The town very quickly mushroomed into a population of over 1,500 miners, storekeepers and “glitter girls.” Today the area has approximately 5,000 full-time residents.

Since the filming of “The Call of the North” in 1914, so many motion pictures have been shot in Big Bear Valley that it has been referred to as “Hollywood’s back lot.” Daniel Boone, Disney’s Old Yeller and Paint Your Wagon were filmed here. Many of the Bonanza episodes were shot here in the 1960’s.

My friends Pat, Jessica and I decided to make our escape to Big Bear with my dogs Murphy and Megan. Prior to our trip, we knew we wanted to stay in a cabin close to town and the lake. The Golden Bear Cottages turned out to be the perfect place!

The rustic mountain getaway, established in 1924, offers 29 cabins, ranging in size from studios to seven bedrooms. Half the cabins are pet-friendly with fully-fenced yards. We quickly settled into our two-story cabin with a huge rock fireplace, spacious kitchen, whirlpool tub and silently wishing we could stay forever.

The five-acre historic property, rated among America’s Top 20 Family Vacation Resorts by Rustic, had everything we needed, including a swimming pool, sandlot volleyball court and horseshoe pit. We walked to the lake and drove into town in less than five minutes.

The alpine slide, just a short drive from the cottage, was a thrill ride we had heard about and couldn’t wait to experience. I have to confess, all of us are over fifty years old and well aware the slide may be better suited for eight year olds, but we didn’t care. 

We checked our egos at the starting gate and took off up the hill on the chair lift. After a quick lesson, we were safely strapped into our slides and went flying down the mountain, screaming and laughing all the way. We felt as though we did not have a care in the world! 

We spent a few restful hours recovering back at the cabin before driving to the Peppercorn Grille for dinner. The restaurant, specializing in steaks and seafood, is a long-time favorite of the locals. The food is fabulous! During dinner, inspired by the cozy setting, we decided our trip needed to be soulful, creative and adventurous.

After a good night’s sleep, Jessica surprised Pat and me with a homemade breakfast of fresh coffee, omelets and hash browns.  The picnic table in our spacious backyard was beautifully laid out with everything we needed.

As soon as we finished our breakfast, we headed off to The Art Garden for a Stained Glass Class. We sat around a big cozy table while Jeannine, one of the owners, taught us how to assemble colorful sun catcher projects. Jeannine, a creative designer with 17 years of experience in glass art, was inspiring to be around. The class is filled with laughter and fun! The Art Garden offers walk-in weekend workshops, ranging in price from $20-$40, plus tools and supplies. 

We booked a jeep tour for the afternoon. It didn’t take too long for us to realize what a wild ride we were in for! This jeep tour was by far one of the best and most exciting I’ve ever experienced. Our driver Jim, close to 80 years old, is an active member of the mountain rescue team and probably in better physical condition than most 30 year olds.

We bounced around on the original wagon and truck trail roads in a Pinzgauer heavy duty jeep, exploring the ridges, canyons, meadows and gold rush sites. We stopped along the way for short hikes and history lessons. Off Road Adventures offers year-round tours, including tours of Mountain Majesty, Wild Horse Meadow and Jacoby Gulch.

Visiting The Moonridge Animal Park was another highlight of this trip. The zoo is the only alpine zoo in the U.S. specializing in alpine wildlife. It is home to 150 orphaned and injured wildlife, representing over 89 species. One “good citizen” of the zoo is Huckleberry, a three-legged bear cub who came to the zoo with a severely injured right foot. From what I’ve heard, he was close to death and malnourished. Today he is in good health and romping around with two other Black Bears.

Big Bear, the very first mountain recreation area created in Southern California, is the home of the two largest ski resorts in the area. The first ski jump was erected in 1929. The slopes are perfectly suited for all levels and encompass terrains spanning four mountain peaks. Ski lifts are generally open well into April.

If you’re looking for the perfect outdoor adventure destination, Big Bear is hard to beat. There are 23 miles of shoreline around the lake, access to hundreds of miles of biking and off-road trails, eight marinas, two public launches and three swim beaches. The lake is the ideal place for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and rowboats.

Depending on the season, wildlife observers will be entranced with sightings of mallard ducks, bald eagles, great blue herons and mud hens. We already have another trip planned and can’t wait to come back!


Golden Bear Cottages:

(800) 461-1023 or Prices range from $79 to $899 a night.

Art Garden: (909) 584-8768 or

Off Road Adventure Tours: (909) -585-1036 or

Big Bear Visitor Center: (909) -866-4607 or

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer residing in San Diego.