On leaving Idyllwild, we headed next to the higher mountain towns of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains, just across the valley from the San Jacinto Mountains. Together, Mt. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountain near Big Bear mark two of the highest points in Southern California, with San Gorgonio being the highest (11,503). The San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains to the west have formed because of the San Andreas Fault, or more accurately because of the bend in it, forcing these mountain ranges ever higher. Some of the biggest earthquakes in the US have happened near here.
Rim of the World Drive
The road up to and connecting Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead is the Rim of the World Highway and for good reason. It’s mostly up at 7,000 feet+ and gives you a commanding view of the entire region, that is if you get a clear day. On good days you can see clear to the Pacific Ocean and out into the Mojave Desert. It’s a great ride in the spring time with wildflowers all over the place. Lots of yellow flowers that are the same that we found while riding the Peloponnese in Greece. And talk about turns, there must be 50+ turns on the road between Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead
Depending on the route up into the mountains, you can arrive from the west and enter Lake Arrowhead first, from the east where you can enter Big Bear first, or in the middle and choose which town to explore first. We have ridden all 3 routes and they’re all great, but this time we headed up the middle route and took a left (west) to Lake Arrowhead. Lake Arrowhead is a great little mountain community but the two main differences between the two towns are that Lake Arrowhead is smaller and the lake is private (you can use it if you go to one of the hotels on the lake or rent a house with “lake rights”) whereas Big Bear is somewhat larger and the whole lake is free and accessible, and much bigger. In Lake Arrowhead it feels like you are much more in the pine trees where Big Bear has broader open views. Since Big Bear is higher by about 2,000 feet, is has skiing in winter.
Doing and Eating
There’s lots of hiking in both places, a zip line in the trees, and of course on Big Bear Lake you can kayak, stand up paddle board, fish, swim, boat, and water ski. Lake Arrowhead has a nice little downtown area, Lake Arrowhead Village, with live music during summer evenings and a small area to stroll along the water with waterside cafes and restaurants with typical offerings. For dinner however, we can highly recommend the Stone Creek Bistro just up and away from the water a bit, in the forest. With a bit of a southern twist, the food was incredible and we left fully satisfied. Niki’s is a great local bakery with lots of sweet treats and they do some awesome custom cakes. They’re right on the 173 as you’re heading down toward the lake. We stopped there several times.
Two other areas not to be overshadowed by Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead are Lake Gregory and Green Valley Lake. These are MUCH smaller and quieter. Visiting these lakes feel like a step back in time, like you’re going to summer camp. They have some water activities and a couple of places to eat. Definitely worth a visit.