Big Bear Lake – Winter Weekender Trip Ideas and Time Saving Tips!

Written in collaboration with Big Bear CVB. Opinions are my own.

As someone who is excited we have snow in Southern California, we couldn’t wait to reserve a weekend to visit Big Bear. Just a few weekends ago, we went when they had blizzard-like conditions which was super rare. We didn’t plan for the storm but didn’t want to cancel either because we had planned it over a month ago. I was told by a local that they haven’t seen this much snow in two years. It took us several attempts to get there due to road conditions and not having the right chains for our tires, but we didn’t give up and had a great time after we got there. I have some time saving tips to share.

Big Bear Lake. Photo taken from Big Bear Frontier by Mary at
Big Bear Lake. Photo taken from Big Bear Frontier by Mary at

Plan Ahead!

  • Go early! We left Orange County around 9 am and didn’t arrive until 2 pm that Saturday. (After the chain fiasco and the road closures, we decided to try again the next day.) A 2.5 hour ride turned into a 5 hour drive for us mostly because of the check points for snow chains and it was a popular weekend. Friday arrivers told us it took them 7 hours. I can imagine it was because of low visibility and road closures.However, another party told us that they left around 7 am on Saturday and avoided much of the traffic we were stuck in. Also remember that this is not typical Southern California weather. Going early is always best. In fact, leave before you would normally wake up.

  • Always check for road conditions. We went on Friday thinking we could take our time getting up there. Wrong. We knew snow chains were required, and if you had four wheel drive, you had to have them in your car just in case. We also knew that they were sold out almost everywhere in Orange County but that they might have more inventory in the nearby towns. Call ahead. We had to visit a few stores before we found some and make sure you double check the size before you leave the store. We got to the point where you pull over to put on chains and they were the wrong size. We also heard that they were going to close SR-330 by nightfall so we were trying to get there before that happened. A recommended safer route is the SR-38 which takes you to the backside of Big Bear. It is slightly longer, but less curvy and definitely safer. You can check for Mountain Highways condition here: or you can call Caltrans Highway Information Network (CHIN) at 800-427-7623. Do this BEFORE you get on the mountain highways, because there is no cellular signal on parts of the mountain.

  • Snow Chains: It is hard to miss the signage along the side of the road reminding us that snow chains are required unless you have all wheel drive. However, even if you have all wheel drive, they still recommend carrying a set in your car. You don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road and it gives you better handling of your vehicle. Along the route, there are areas you can pull over to put them on and take them off. If you don’t know how to put them on, watch a video on youtube. Don’t wait last minute to find chains like we did, and make sure you have the correct size for your vehicle. Don’t get all the way up there to find out you bought the wrong size. Not sure what size you will need? There are several numbers on the sidewall of your tires. When you call around, be sure to have those numbers ready. They will definitely ask you for it. If you’re not sure what they all mean, take a photo of it as a reference. I found a really good tire guide from Good Year here. Of course, snow chains are not always required to go to Big Bear, which is why you should check road conditions. At times, it is just safer having them, and you can always return them if they are unused. Check the return policy of the store you are buying from. Be well prepared.

“May I add that with all wheel drive you should still put chains on unless you have snow tires. sometimes you can pay workers to put in chains for you. It’s $50 but having our chains break our brake lines on two different occasions, we feel it’s worth it. We go up monthly and frequently when snowing it takes about 3-4 hours to get up!” ~ Vanessa, a LET’S PLAY OC! reader

Winter Activities

After getting into town and seeing how beautiful all the snow was, we started to enjoy ourselves. That night, we went Night Tubing at Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. The rides were unlimited, and they had a magic carpet to take us back up. Children 2-6 years old ride free with an adult 18 years or older and must be accompanied at all times. Night tubing is so much fun! It starts at 5pm and ends at 9pm. If you need a break, they have a little restaurant with arcade games that serves food, snacks, and hot chocolate. Here is a list of more things you can do at Big Bear in the winter.

  • Bowling Barn
  • Camping
  • Cross Country Skiing & Snowshoeing
  • Discovery Center
  • Indoor Arcade and Laser Tag
  • Horseback Riding
  • Mining for Treasure
  • Skiing and Snowboarding (Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit)
  • Stargazing
  • Tubing and Bobsledding
  • Ziplining
  • Zoo
Big Bear Frontier. Photo by Mary at
Big Bear Frontier. Photo by Mary at

Now we rushed out of there that Sunday morning because we didn’t want to get snowed-in, but we had time to make pancakes and visit the lake area one last time. It felt great to see it snow. It looked peaceful and just beautiful. The children loved throwing snowballs, sledding, and jumping into snow piles. We do regret not having more time to go snowboarding and exploring more of Big Bear. Friends were asking me if I was cold, because it looked cold, but I was perfectly fine in my waterproof snow gear. For more information about what you can do at Big Bear, please visit their website at

Photos of Big Bear Frontier Cabins

We stayed at Big Bear Frontier which was right next to Big Bear Lake so we were out there sledding, making snow angels, and building a snowman. They have 30 cabin styles and 24 hotel lodge units. Some had lake views. Our 2 bedroom cabin sleeps 8 with two pull out couches in the living room. We also had one bathroom, our own parking spaces, and a full kitchen so we stopped into town to pick up supplies for dinner. The furniture is a bit dated but our stay was comfortable, and they had everything we needed to stay the weekend. We were also walking distance to Alpine Slide. What we were missing as far as snow gear, they had them available at nearby retailers like K-Mart and Big 5 Sporting Goods. They are located at 40472 Big Bear Blvd, Big Bear Lake, California. For see more about what they offer, please visit their website at

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