Camping in Big Bear; The Essential Guide

Bobby Dyer
Camping In Big Bear Fpo[DISPLAY_ULTIMATE_SOCIAL_ICONS]

YOUR GUIDE TO CAMPING IN BIG BEAR

Camping In Big Bear

Waking up in a tent with the alpine mountain air and a forest of tall trees is one of the best ways to unwind. At 7,000 feet in elevation, Big Bear is a famous mountain getaway for travelers coming from the coast and desert looking to get out in the wild.

I had been coming up to Big Bear for years staying at hostels and cabins and had a fantastic time, but I knew there was more to discover. I was craving the desire to get out into the wilderness and sleep under the stars. Like me, you would love to bring your friends to an unbelievable camping spot, but you just don’t know where to go.  I knew there were many options for alternative accommodations to stay outdoors. I wanted to find a resource where I could see it all in one place, from a local’s perspective. 

As the co-owner of ITH Big Bear Retreat Center and Hostel, I have explored Big Bear and surrounding forest in depth and want to share what I know so you can have fun outdoors.

Big Bear Lake in Southern California is the ultimate four-season resort town in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest. The proximity attracts campers and travelers for hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, fishing, and boating. The surrounding forest offers visitors many beautiful campsites to choose from. Although it’s unlikely that you will see a bear, they live in the area, so please store your food in sealed containers in your trunk or RV when not in use.

This guide aims to give you the answers when it comes to camping in Big Bear Lake.

 

Camping In Big Bear Lake

ABOUT BIG BEAR LAKE, CALIFORNIA

 Where is Big Bear Lake?

High up in the majestic San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Lake is arguably home to some of the most beautiful alpine mountains in Southern California. Big Bear Lake is an adventurers’ basecamp offering numerous camping styles that accommodate glampers, RV, and tent enthusiasts. Big Bear Lake engulfs a mountainous valley with its highest peaks reaching around 9,000 feet. The highest peak near Big Bear Lake is San Gorgonio mountain at 11,052 feet.

For traveling, you have three options to get up to Big Bear: Hwy 330/18 from the West (San Bernardino), Hwy 18 from the North (Lucerne Valley), and Hwy 38 from the South (Mentone).

Big Bear Lake is also home to bald eagles. You can see the live Big Bear Eagle Cam to say hi and see what the birds are up to. 

THE LAKE 

Big Bear Lake is a man-made lake damned up in the 1800s to create a sustainable mountain town for gold miners. At an elevation of 6,743 feet, the lake is approximately eight miles long and one mile across at its widest point. The lake stretches across 22 miles of shoreline, offering multiple camping areas with direct access to the lake.

THE MOUNTAINS

The mountains surrounding Big Bear are part of the San Bernardino National Forest and have hundreds of miles of hiking trails and offer everything from easy day hikes to more challenging backpacking treks. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the mountains of Big Bear creating a great hiker-friendly community vibe in the town.

Big Bear is considered a high desert and can be hot and dry in the Summer months. Rivers and streams are very sparse, so be sure to carry plenty of water and protect yourself from high-altitude sunlight. Bring a water purifier in-case you need to drink from the local streams.

 Weather In Big Bear

 Big Bear is known for extreme sunshine, with an average of 300 days per year. The alpine mountain top town is often bright and sunny even when clouds cover the rest of the flatlands. Due to the mountainous terrain, storms can develop unexpectedly. It is always essential to stay up to date with the latest Big Bear weather forecast. Camping in Big Bear is both an economical and enjoyable getaway, allowing you to get in touch with nature and get away from it all.

  SUMMER (June – August)

Summers in Big Bear are hot and dry, which creates the perfect climate for swimming in the lake. At night the temperature does drop in the 40’s so bring warm clothes for the evening or enjoy an indoor fire to stay warm.

July in Big Bear is the most popular month for camping and generally the warmest month with daytime highs of 81° and nighttime lows of 41°. Mountain thunderstorms and possible, especially later in the season, so be sure to pack a tarp or rain fly. 

FALL (September – November)

The fall in Big Bear is a great time to visit and watch the leaves change colors. The summer crowds leave after Labor Day, so you will be able to not be bothered by overcrowded camps and can have the forest to yourself. 

Check ahead of the forest road closures if you are planning to head deep into the forest. Generally, the forest service closes the roads in November.

If you are looking for fun adrenaline adventure on a clear day, Snow Summit’s famous Sky Chair will bring you to the top of the breathtaking mountain views and fast downhill trails.

WINTER (December – March)

January is typically the coldest month, averaging 47° for the high and 21° for the low. A typical winter season can bring more than 100″ of snowfall. 

If you don’t mind a little snow, camping in Big Bear year around is available. Serrano and Holcomb Valley Campgrounds are open year-round.

Forest Services roads are closed, so dispersed camping is limited in the winter.  

SPRING (April – May)

Depending on how much snowfall came in, the winter sets the stage for spring camping in Big Bear. 

The spring season in Big Bear Lake is filled with Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers making their way north or south. 

Forest service roads typically open in May for backcountry access to remote and dispersed camping. You can get the up to date road closures from the Big Bear Discovery Center.

Big Bear Discovery Center Fpo
Bear Discovery Center | Image Source: fs.usda.gov

WHERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CAMPING IN BIG BEAR?

The Big Bear Discovery Center is the home base for everything wilderness related to Big Bear. You can find all the answers to any camping related questions you have by calling or visiting the Discovery Center.

Located along the north shore of the lake, next to the Serrano Campground, the Discovery Center provides all the free resources needed for exploring Big Bear and related camping information.

 

 

Types of Camping In Big Bear

 

Yellowpost Camping In Big Bear
Yellowpost Camping in Big Bear | Image Source: fs.usda.gov

YELLOW POST CAMPING IN BIG BEAR 

The yellow post camping sites in Big Bear are truly off-the-beaten-path gems in the wilderness. Access is to the yellow post sites are on a first-come, first-serve basis and are only available from May to October or November depending on snow conditions.

Yellow post sites will have fire rings and maybe a picnic table to help make camp a little more enjoyable. Bathrooms and running water are not available. There are approximately 12 yellow post sites, and the camping areas are limited for up to 8 guests and 2 cars maximum. 

The cost to stay is free, and you can stay for up to 2 weeks. Be sure to get your California Campfire Permit to use the fire ring. Be sure to pack-in/pack-out all your items as no trash service is available.

The forest roads leading out to the yellow post sites can be steep. It is always recommended to use a 4 wheel drive vehicle and a proper emergency kit if you get stuck.

More Info about Big Bear Yellow Post Sites.

Dispersed Camping In Big Bear

DISPERSED CAMPING IN BIG BEAR 

Camping in the backcountry is my favorite place to camp. You can find sites that possibly people have never set foot on before. Dispersed camping is exploring into wilderness areas where camping is allowed along back roads or trails. 

Some wilderness areas require a Wilderness Permit. It is best to check-in with a ranger at the Discovery Center or call ahead to ensure you are heading into the right area.

It is important to remember that restrooms or drinking water is not available in the backcountry. The campsites operate by the pack-in, pack-out policy, so be sure to come prepared. 

Although there are countless places to camp in the San Bernardino National Forest, there are a few rules to follow for safety measures.

General Rules for dispersed camping:

  • Wood or charcoal fires are never allowed. Propane or chemical fires are permitted as long as fire restrictions allow, and you obtain a California Campfire Permit.
  • Pack out all trash
  • Leave no trace
  • Campsite must be at least 200 ft from streams and water
  • Camping must be at least ¼ mile from designated campgrounds
  • Camping must be at least ¼ mile from private property.

MAPS OF DISPERSED CAMPING AREAS:

 

Hipcamp In Big Bear Lake Fpo

GLAMPING IN BIG BEAR

Popular websites like Hipcamp and AirBnB offer travelers a variety of unique stays in Big Bear. The experience will always be unique when you find a special place to stay and enjoy the mountains.

Hipcamp Big Bear Fpo

 

 

BIG BEAR CAMPGROUNDS

Big Bear has several types of public campgrounds: Family, Group, Yellow Post, and Dispersed. Campgrounds are varied in elevation and terrain, giving campers a chance to visit many campgrounds in changing settings without leaving Southern California. Most campgrounds open in May and close in October or November. Serrano and Holcomb Valley are open year-round.

The Family and Group campgrounds are developed campgrounds with services such as a vault or flush toilets, fire rings, picnic tables, parking spaces, and some have drinking water and showers.

Wood and charcoal fires are only allowed within Forest Service provided fire rings and BBQs when fire restrictions allow. Please always check current fire restrictions before you head out on your adventure.

Planning Ahead

Big Bear Lake campgrounds are offered as first come/first served, but some take reservations, which can be made at recreation.gov as early as 6 months ahead or as late as 24 hours in advance. Some have minimum stay requirements on holiday weekends. It is best to call ahead and confirm a campsite with the campground before you leave home.

Expect Big Bear to be hectic all summer, in October for Oktoberfest, and during winter ski season. Although the campgrounds may not be so busy when it’s cold.

 

Big Pine Flat Campground 1
Big Pine Flat Campground | Image Source: www.campsitephotos.com

BIG PINE FLAT CAMPGROUND

A remote and sunny campground with limited water down a long dirt road

Address: Coxey Rd, Apple Valley, CA 92308
Phone: (909) 382-2790

Directions

Watch Big Pine Flat Campground Video

Campground Amenities:

Current Campground Conditions

Calendar Open Year-Round          Travel (1) Tent Camping Only

Homeless Fire Rings                        Ranger Campground Host

Toilet Vault Toilets                    Plumber Potable Water

Picnic Metal Picnic Tables   

High popular amongst OHV and ATV enthusiasts, Big Pine Flat Campground, sits at 6,820 feet elevation and offers lush meadows or drier top desert campsites.

Located on Forest Road 3n14, 7 miles NW from Fawnskin, the campground is relatively remote. Big Pine Flat is the further campground from the lake and the longest drive down a dirt road. 

The majority of the sites are sunny with a few shady sites.

camping in big bear Reservations must be made at least 3 days in advance at Recreation.gov.

 

 

 

Hanna Flat Campground
Hanna Flat Campground | Source: hipcamp.com

Hanna Flat Campground

The campground is shady and lush with reservable sites and drinking water down a short dirt road.

Address: 38198 Rim of the World Dr, Fawnskin, CA 92333
Phone: (877) 444-6777

Directions

Watch Hanna Flats Campground Drone Video

Campground Amenities:

Current Campground Conditions

Calendar Open Year-Round          Travel (1) Tent Camping

Rv Small RV Sites                 No Plug No RV Hook-Ups

Homeless Fire Rings                        Ranger Campground Host

Toilet Vault Toilets                    Plumber Potable Water

Picnic Wood Picnic Tables        Trash Trash Collection

Hanna Flat Campground is at an elevation of 7,000 feet located off Forest Service Road 3N14, 2 1/2 miles NW of Fawnskin. Enjoy a family-friendly campground offering many shady campsites surrounded by mature pine forest with wildflowers and roses

 All campsites within the campground are paved. Half of the campsites require reservations, and the other half are first-come, first-serve only. 

camping in big bear Reservations must be made at least 3 days in advance at Recreation.gov.

 

 

Holcomb Valley Camp Fpo
Holcomb Valley Campground | Source: thedyrt.com

Holcomb Valley Campground

A secluded sunny and dry campground with great climbing and a rustic feel down a dirt road. 

Address: Holcomb Valley Rd, Big Bear, CA 92314
Phone: (909) 382-2790

Directions

Watch Holcomb Valley Campground Drone Video

Campground Amenities:

Current Campground Conditions

Calendar Open Year-Round          Travel (1) Tent Camping Only

Homeless Fire Rings                        Ranger Campground Host (May-Oct)

Toilet Pit Toilets                        No Water No Water

Picnic Metal & Wood Picnic Tables

Holcomb Valley campground is located at 7,400 feet elevation about six miles north of Big Bear Lake. After once, the valley was named a famous gold mining area after Bill Holcomb, a grizzly bear hunter. He discovered gold in the valley in 1860. The Gold Fever Trail is a 12-mile trail where you can view historical buildings and cemeteries that once thrived. The Discovery Center can offer more information and a map. 

Access the campground in the Historic Gold Mining region of Holcomb Valley by taking Forest Road 3N16.

Dirt forest roads are maintained by the U. S. Forest Service, and conditions can vary depending upon seasonal rain and snow.

The campground is well maintained and clean and offers many sunny and dry campsites. An excellent choice for stargazing and mountain biking

Extra-tall fire rings have been installed in the campground to allow nice campfires and help prevent embers flying away.  

camping in big bear All campsites are first-come, first-serve. Reservations are not available.

   

 

 

Pine Knot Campground
Pineknot Campground | Source: bigbearlake.net

Pineknot Campground

Towering Pines with lots of shade and hills near the Sky Chair at Snow Summitt Mountain

Address: Summit Blvd, Big Bear, CA 92314
Phone: (909) 866-8550

Directions

Watch Holcomb Valley Campground Video

Campground Amenities:

Current Campground Conditions

Calendar Open Year-Round          Travel (1) Tent Camping

Rv RV Sites                            No Plug No RV Hook-Ups

Homeless Fire Rings                        Ranger Campground Host

Toilet Toilets                               Plumber Potable Water

Bbq BBQ Grills                        Picnic Wood Picnic Tables

Pineknot Campground sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet, and centrally located on the south side of Big Bear Lake near Bear Village and is a short walk to the Snow Summit Chair lift. 

Pine knots can accommodate tents and camping trailers. They have drinking water and flush toilets. 

Pineknot Campground is tucked away in a densely forested area and is a great family campground. The campground has easy access to hiking and mountain biking trails and the Snow Summit Sky Chair, which will take you to the top of the mountain.

One of the most popular campgrounds in the Big Bear area due to its proximity to hiking and mountain biking trails, Pineknot Campground, has 48 forested sites with paved roads easy access. Sites have BBQ grills as wells as camp rings for added comfort.

The campground is very hilly, and campsites are generally smaller. Smaller RV’s will have no problem finding level spots. If you are tent camping to reserve the outside spots on the south loop if you are looking for the best tent sites.

camping in big bearReservations must be made at least 3 days in advance at Recreation.gov.

 

 

Serrano Campground Fpo
Serrano Campground | Source: rainbowrv.com 

Serrano Campground

Large comfortable campground with sunny and shady campsites near the lake

Address: 40800 N Shore Dr, Fawnskin, CA 92333

Phone: (909) 866-8021

Directions

Watch Serrano Campground Video

Campground Amenities:

Current Campground Conditions

Calendar Open Year-Round          Travel (1) Tent Camping

Rv RV Sites                            Picnic Picnic Tables   

Homeless Fire Rings                        Hot Shower Hot Showers 

Poop Dump Station                  Plumber Potable Water

Disability Accessible                          Ranger (1) Interpretive Site

Located on the lake’s north shore, Serrano has tent and RV sites with hook-ups and a dump station. The Campground is the only national forest campground in the area with showers. Excellent hiking is nearby with the trailhead for the Cougar Crest Trail is across the street. Drinking water and flush toilets are available.

The Serrano campground is highly recommended amongst campers with multiple spacious sites that are just steps away from the Big Bear Lake. 

The pine, oak, and fir trees and sagebrush and native grasses offer both sunny and shady sites with lush vegetation right next to the lake. There are four camping loops to choose from when selecting your campsite. If you wish to have a shady site, I recommend the Lake View Loop. 

Big Bear Village is only a 10- minute drive, so you are very close to more supplies and entertainment. One of Big Bear’s best hikes, the Cougar Crest Trail, is located across the street. Alpine Pedal Path runs right through the campground, so bring your bikes or rent them nearby from Paddles & Pedals.

 Serrano is the largest campground in Big Bear, and borders the nearby “Meadows Edge” lakefront picnic area. camping in big bear  Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance at Recreation.gov or at the Serrano Campground by calling 909-866-8021.

 

 

 

RV & TRAILER CAMPING IN BIG BEAR

camping in big bear
Big Bear Shores RV Resort | Source: bigbearshoresrv.com

Big Bear Shores RV Resort is the top-rated RV spot on the mountain. The best sites are located on the lake. Amenities include cemented parking pad, 24-hour security, cable television, tennis courts, and an outdoor swimming pool.  

Holloway’s Marina & RV Park is lakefront on the south side of Big Bear Lake and has 115 RV level sites with full hook-ups, table barbeques, and cable tv. The camp office includes a laundry room and a convenience store.

Water enthusiasts can choose from boat rentals, kayak, and paddleboard rentals. The famous Pirate Ship Tour departs from Holloways Marina, and guides you the Time Bandit for a 90-minute adventure.

For anglers, reserve a charter fishing experience and hook into a monster rainbow trout. The Fishin’ for $50k Trout Derby” is a popular weekend in June every year where fishing goes for bragging right for the biggest fish of the year in Big Bear.

Big Bear Mobile Estates and RV Resort is near the lake and peaceful getaway. The service is friendly, and the community is very welcoming. Long-term parking is available for campers looking to call the mountains home.

Big Bear Rv Delivery Fpo
Bear RV Rental | Source: bigbearrvrentals.com

HAVE A RV DELIVERED TO YOUR FAVORITE CAMP

Are you looking to getaway in the mountains but enjoy the comforts and luxuries that come with RVing? Big Bear RV Rentals is the best camping trailer rental company that will deliver RVs right to your campsite in the San Bernardino Mountains.

 

  

 

Horse Springs Camp Fpo
Horse Springs Campground | Source: fs.usda.gov

PRIMITIVE CAMPGROUNDS

Both beginner and expert off-roaders will enjoy this primitive campground near an extensive network of off-road trails. Tall pines, cedars and oaks will keep you company. The site has restrooms and drinking water. Valley Lake is about 6 miles away, and the town of Arrowbear is nearby. 

 

Group Camping Big Bear Fpo
Group Camping | Source: bigbear.com

GROUP CAMPING IN BIG BEAR

Big Bear is an affordable and fun way to camp with your group in the forest. Generally, the group campgrounds in Big Bear can accommodate 25 to 40 people and eight vehicles. 

There is a massive BBQ with five picnic tables, a fire ring and pit toilets for each location. No water or electricity, so bring your own—maximum of 8 vehicles per site.

Reservations for all campgrounds can be made at www.recreation.gov.

Big Bear Lake Recreation Area Campgrounds:

Horseback Camping In Big Bear Fpo
Horseback Camping Big Bear | Source: fs.usda.gov

HORSEBACK CAMPING

 

Pct Camping Big Bear Fpo
PCT Camping Big Bear | Source: pcta.org

PACIFIC CREST TRAIL CAMPING

Whether you are hiking north from Campo or south from Canada on the PCT, Big Bear Lake must stop to take a zero and resupply. Big Bear locals love PCT hikers and often provide free transportation to around the city to help out the hikers.

PCT Hikers often want to find a real bed at a local hostel for a night to rest there feet, but there are various camping options in Big Bear.

 

 

 

GENERAL FIRE RESTRICTIONS AND GUIDELINES FOR CAMPING IN BIG BEAR:

For current fire restrictions visit the San Bernardino Forest Service

  •  Campfire permits are required for propane and gas stoves and lanterns used outside of all recreation sites.
  •  Wood and charcoal fires are permitted only in developed campgrounds and picnic grounds. Within agencies, they provide fire rings or camp stoves.
  •  Wood and charcoal fires are not allowed at Yellow Post campsites, only propane or gas stoves and lanterns are permitted.
  •  Recreational shooting is limited to Public Shooting Ranges operated under special use permit only. Hunting is allowed with current licenses.
  •  An approved spark arrester is required for any internal combustion engine (chainsaws, generators, motorcycles, and off-highway vehicles.) operated on designated forest routes. 
  •  Smoking is illegal in the forest and limited to an enclosed vehicle or building, or within a Developed Recreation Site.
  •  Fireworks are prohibited in the San Bernardino National Forest.

The US Forest Service aggressively monitors the fire restrictions and guidelines to ensure community safety, so always use precaution.  

Big Bear is Southern California’s alpine oasis, offering you a vast arrange of camping options for all styles or wilderness lovers. Get back to nature when you go camping in Big Bear and reconnect with nature.

So grab your tent, pack up the sleeping bags and gear, or just gas up the RV and head on up to mountains in Big Bear – you’ll be stoked you did!

I would love to learn more about your camping experiences in Big Bear. Please share in the comments any tips or recommendations you have for camping in Big Bear.

 

At ITH Hostels, we are Amazon Associates and earn from qualifying purchases which helps us provide you with more insights for traveling farther and more frequently.

Cofounder of ITH Hostels. I love traveling, hosting, gardening, golfing, fishing, and sailing.

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