Rides and Destinations: Big Bear, California

Ride the Rim of the World Highway on the way to Big Bear, California.

San Bernadino Mountains near Big Bear California

The beautiful San Bernadino Mountains in Big Bear, California

Photo by MC Staff

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What: Big Bear, California. A glorious ride through Southern California’s very own Swiss Alps!
How to Get There:
There are five routes in: SR 18 from the north, SR 138 from the west, SR 330 or SR 18 from the south, and SR 38 from the east.
Best Kept Secret:
For an amazing breakfast, try the Old Country Coffee Shop in Running Springs (trust me on this one).
Avoid:
Riding in during the winter months without checking road conditions first (it snows up there) and speeding (the roads are heavily patrolled by the CHP).
More Info: Big Bear Info
More Photos: Moto Foto

Crisp, pine-scented mountain air. A light dusting of snow with dry and mesmerizing twisty roads. Picture post card vistas. The feel of the Alps. Quaint mountain enclaves with names like Silverwood, Fawnskin, Twin Peaks, Crestline, Running Springs, Big Bear Lake, Big Bear City, Arrowhead and Arrowbear. It’s not a single destination, but a visually arresting and intoxicatingly beautiful region. A motorcycle ride in California’s Big Bear region is as good as it gets on two wheels. It’s one of my favorite rides.

Located approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles and a short 40 minutes north of San Bernardino, Big Bear is an outstanding destination. The short ride north from San Bernardino used to be a two-day horse-and-carriage trip, but an early entrepreneur named Kirk Phillips introduced bus service from the valley below using White trucks modified with added rows of passenger seats. Phillips’ idea drove early development of the region as a tourist destination.

Populated by California’s Serrano Indians for 2,000 years, the Big Bear area grew rapidly during the Southern California gold rush from the 1860s to 1912. The permanent population is small (around 20,000), but that number swells to more than 100,000 people during the winter season as skiers and other tourists arrive. And, of course, there are the bears. The grizzly population disappeared more than a century ago, but they gave the region its name. The bears you might encounter today are the smaller black bear variety introduced to the region in the 1930s.

Long a destination of the rich and famous, Big Bear has been frequented by the likes of Shirley Temple, Cecil B. DeMille, Ginger Rogers and other celebrities. Big Bear’s 7,000-foot elevation attracts boxers like Oscar de la Hoya and mixed martial arts experts who like to train at high altitudes. And if you experience a sense of déjà vu as you ride through this incredible area, it’s probably because Bonanza, Old Yeller, Paint Your Wagon and a host of other shows were filmed right here.

There are four paths into this region roughly from the east, the west, the north and the south. All are great, but here’s my recommendation for the best scenery, the least traffic and the best riding. Grab State Route 138 in the Cajon Pass (just off of I-15) and ride in from the west though the Silverwood region. SR 138 contains super-tight twisties as it meanders past Silverwood Lake and climbs into the San Bernardino Mountains. It brings you to the Rim of the World Highway (SR 18) to skirt the elevated southern edge of the San Bernardinos. (Views of the Inland Empire below are absolutely stunning.)

Stay on SR 18 and it will bring you to the western tip of Big Bear Lake (right at the dam that created the lake, originally built in 1884 and expanded in 1910). Stay to the right and you’ll roll through the towns of Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City on the lake’s southern shore, or veer to the left to ride around the lake’s less-populated northern edge. And for the ride down out of the mountains, I recommend grabbing SR 38 at the eastern edge of the lake. SR 38 offers another great ride, climbing across Onyx Summit (8,444 feet!) and back down to the valley below. MC