Clear nights under a billion stars, the quiet comforting “whoop” of owls, the scent of pine and fresh caught fish sizzling in a pan: picture postcard moments like these can be yours when you pitch a tent and go camping in Big Bear.
Clean, well kept campgrounds are run by the National Recreation Reserve service, and many are first come first serve. Stop by the Big Bear Discovery center or the Mill Creek Ranger station to get a free permit for day hiking and camping. To park your car on state land you’ll also need an Adventure Pass, which you can purchase from sporting goods stores.
Despite its name, you’re not likely to encounter bears at Big Bear, but there are a few, so remember to keep your picnic basket (or any food) covered and safe from “Yogi.” Quiet campers are more likely to see coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits and even bald eagles.
One of the unexpected pleasures of California camping is the relative lack of mosquitoes. Still, you’re wise to wear some protection from bugs as well as sun. Summer nights are mostly balmy to cool, but because of its high altitude, you occasionally get freezing temps even mid summer, so bring some warm clothes. The air is seldom muggy, but thunderstorms roll through more often here than they do in the lowlands.
Californians love their wildlife areas and have made some very important rules to protect them.
Decades old forests can burst into flames with the slightest spark, so smoking is highly restricted, campfires aren’t allowed and you need a permit for certain cooking equipment. Keep your camp at least 200 feet away from springs, streams and meadows, avoid the South Fork drainage entirely. Pitch your tent clear of trails, and in the really wild areas remember to bury any human waste and take garbage out with you. For questions on availability and other features of each call the Big Bear Discovery Center
Here are our favorite campgrounds in Big Bear.
• Big Pine Flat - 7 miles north west of Fawnskin on 3N14. Pit toilets, water. Big Pine Flat Family Campground is located in the mountains at an elevation of 6820 feet. It has 19 sites and is a first come- first serve campground. There is an on-site campground host. Campsites include picnic table, fire ring, and drinking water. Nearest showers are located at Serrano Campground.
• Hanna Flat - two and a half miles northwest of Fawnskin on 3N14. Flush and pit toilets, water. This family campground is located in the San Bernardino Mountains, situated in a pine forest. Hanna Flat campground has a total of 88 camping sites. Reservations are required for 44 sites and it is first come/first serve with the remaining 44 sites. Amenities include picnic table, 1 fire ring, vault toilets, drinking water. A campground host is on site.
• Holcomb Valley - This family campground has 19 single-family campsites. All sites are first-come-first-serve basis (no reservations). Holcomb Valley campground is located approximately 5 miles north of Big Bear Lake off Forest Service Road 3N16. Although this campground is open year round, vehicle access will be based on road conditions. Amenities include a picnic table, 1 fire ring, and vault toilets. A campground host is on site during mid May through October.
• Horse Springs - There are 11 single-family campsites available year round on a first-come-first-serve basis. It is located approximately 12 miles north of Fawnskin. Each family campsite accommodates a maximum of 8 people and 2 vehicles per campsite. Amenities include a picnic table, 1 fire ring, and vault toilets. It's rural, but a lot of fun and away from it all.
• PineKnot -located in the San Bernardino mountains near Big Bear Lake it is at an elevation of 6,900 feet. Situated in a fir, pine and oak forest setting the nearby activities include sight-seeing, shopping, mountain biking, hiking and fishing. A marina and water recreation areas are five miles from the campground. There are 52 sites. They take reservations.
• Serrano - This is one of the busiest campgrounds in Big Bear. Serrano is located on the north side of Big Bear Lake, 2 miles east of Fawnskin. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, boating and fishing. Amenities and services include camp host, comfort station, dump station, RV hookups, fire rings, firewood sales, interpretive programs, interpretive trails, picnic tables, showers and restrooms. Minimum night stays are required during busy weekends.
The National Recreation Reservation Service might also be of some help Toll-Free: (877) 444-6777 and of course if your style of camping is more "glamping" we can help you with those 5 star luxury Big Bear rentals