While it is most well-known for its snowy slopes in the winter, Big Bear has a fantastic summer scene. Sunny skies, mountains, year-round activities, and a lot of cute places to stay make Big Bear Lake a family-friendly destination.
Travelers will find endless activities here, including exploring the mountain resort, the lake, the forests, and the town. With its proximity to Los Angeles, Big Bear is an incredible weekend trip option for the summertime.
If you’re heading to Big Bear this summer and looking to cool off, this post has got your back.
I’ve compiled a list of the best swimming spots in this beautiful California town. From secluded coves to popular sandy beaches, there’s something for everyone here.
So pack your swimsuit and sunscreen and get ready to enjoy some summer fun. Here are the 6 best swimming spots in Big Bear Lake, California!
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6 FUN SWIMMING SPOTS IN BIG BEAR LAKE, CALIFORNIA
1. Meadow Park
For parents who want a safe swimming area by the lake, Meadow Park is the best place to go. The swimmable beach has a lifeguard, a floating dock, and even water toys, as well as a snack bar and public restrooms.
There are also picnic areas, barbecue grills, tennis courts, and even a playground! Lots of fun stuff to keep the whole family busy.
Within the Meadow Park is also the McDill Swim Beach. This is a safe swimming beach that requires a small fee to enter. Along with your admission fee, you’ll get to use the picnic tables, sandy beaches, and even an inflatable slide!
2. Garstin Island (Treasure Island)
For more adventurous swimmers, head to Garstin Island (aka China Island or Treasure Island). This is a great swimming spot for those who want to escape the crowds. Here, you can climb up the rock formation behind China Island and take a plunge into the water below!
The actual swimming area is by the large granite boulders located to the left of Garstin Island. There are no lifeguards on duty, so be sure to swim at your own risk.
Drive to mile marker 44.65 on Highway 18 (Big Bear Blvd). Here, you’ll find a small turnout that can fit about 6 cars. If all the spots are full (which is common during summer weekends), you have to park somewhere further away and walk there.
When you park, carefully walk down and follow that pathway (on the right) until you get to the lake.
Note: We mentioned the rock formation earlier. Garstin Island is private property so you’re technically not supposed to climb onto that rock. Do so at your own risk!
3. Boulder Bay Park
Boulder Bay Park is one of the best places to swim in Big Bear Lake. In fact, this is hands down one of the most popular spots in Big Bear. Most residents and visitors say Boulder Bay Park has the best universal views of Big Bear!
Boulder Bay Park is traditionally known as a great spot for kayaking, but you can also wade in the water too.
Not only is the water clean and refreshing, but there are also plenty of other activities to do in the area. You can go fishing on the large docks, hiking, or even just soaking in the views and relaxing on the beach. It’s the perfect place to spend a summer day.
So whether you’re looking to cool off on a hot day or just want to enjoy the great outdoors with Big Bear Lake views, Boulder Bay Park is an awesome spot to consider checking out.
4. At a lakeside cabin
It’s time to book your stay at Big Bear Lakefront Cabins! Cabin rentals are the best way to bring friends or family together. Wake up to a gorgeous view, have a coffee on your private porch, then enjoy what the day brings.
Check out some of the awesome lakefront rental properties offered on VRBO here.
5. East Boat Ramp Beach
If you’re looking for a great swimming spot in Big Bear Lake, look no further than East Boat Ramp Beach. This beach is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking!
The water is clean and clear, and the sand is white and soft. There are plenty of trees for shade, and the beach is never too crowded.
The East Boat Ramp beach is popular with families with small children – there are bathroom facilities and also a fishing dock. The East Boat Ramp is just west of the Stanfield Cut-Off which is just east of the Vons & Stater Bros shopping centers.
6. Lake Gregory (Crestline, CA)
Located in the community of Crestline, CA just 1 hour away from Big Bear, Lake Gregory Regional Park is a hidden gem tucked in the San Bernardino Mountains.
This lake, while less popular than spots like Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead, is bustling with fun lake activities for families. One of the best things to do at this lake is to swim! Unlike Lake Arrowhead, which is private, visitors can swim, boat and fish in Lake Gregory.
Another one of Lake Gregory’s highlights is Rim of the World Waterpark, a ginormous inflated structure that floats on the lake, featuring slides, swings, diving platforms and more.
For those looking for a typical lake swimming experience, you’ll be happy to know that one quarter of the lake is dedicated to swimming only and has a swim beach.
So if you’re looking for a swimming spot that’s relatively near the Big Bear area, Lake Gregory is a great contender!
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS: BIG BEAR, CALIFORNIA
TRANSPORTATION/LODGING IN BIG BEAR
- During peak winter and summer seasons, make sure to book accommodations ahead of time.
- Big bear is 2 hours from Los Angeles, 2.5 hours from San Diego, and about 3.5 hours from Las Vegas.
- From LA, the most direct route is Highway 330. This is an extremely curvy and mountainous road. If you get carsick easily, you may want to sit in the front seat or take some motion-sickness medicine beforehand.
- The roads are very curvy and hilly and at times, you’ll definitely be driving on an incline. If you’re concerned about whether or not your car will make it, rent a car instead for a worry-free experience! We like to rent from Hertz as they offer some of the most competitive prices out there. Check out rental car pricing and availability here.
- You can avoid the mountainous roads by driving up I-15 to Victorville, then coming down CA-18. This will add roughly 30 miles to the drive.
- Travelers can opt for the longer (but often less congested) Highway 38: a scenic route that meanders through the Redlands.
- Travelers visiting from Las Vegas and other high desert cities take Highway 18. (This option also has the least amount of mountain driving
- Give yourself plenty of time to drive. Mountainous and curvy roads always take longer, and if there is snow on the ground, you’ll need even more time.
- Flying into Big Bear? The closest airport is Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino, but you may find cheaper flight prices from one of the other airports near LA (such as LAX or BUR).
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS IN BIG BEAR
- Big Bear is at 7000′ altitude. The altitude ensures things never got too hot at Big Bear, and the area is known for having 320+ days of sunshine.
- Summer temperatures have an average high of 77 and a low of 45. Winter has an average high in the mid-40s and lows in mid-20s.
- If you visit in the winter, be sure to check road conditions. Many back roads require high clearance, 4WD, and snow chains.
- If it’s your first time using snow chains, practice putting them before leaving. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle of the mountains googling how to put on chains with limited service!
- Bring layers! During the warmer seasons, it can be warm during the day but drop to pretty cold temperatures at night. Also worthy to note, the higher you go in elevation, the colder it gets.
- Even on a cloudy day in the winter, don’t forget to wear sunscreen. The atmosphere is much thinner at this altitude and can lead to severe sunburns if you’re not careful. In the market for an amazing sunscreen for the face? Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen is the best invention since sliced bread.
ACTIVITIES AT BIG BEAR
- If you’re looking to camp at Big Bear, like many other camping sites in California, your site should be reserved in advance through the United States Forest Service. Popular options include the Serrano Campground in the San Bernardino Mountains and the Holcomb Valley Campground.
- If you’re looking to fish in Big Bear, aim to go during the spring, when the lake is teeming with rainbow trout and bass.
- Visit easily accessible spots early in the morning to avoid crowds.
WHERE TO STAY IN BIG BEAR, CALIFORNIA
Big Bear visitors have lots of options for lodging, though you won’t find many 5-star hotels here! Lodges, cabin rentals, and bed and breakfasts are abundant, but if you can snag a room at the ski resorts themselves, there’s no better place to lay your head down.
We personally really like WorldMark Big Bear Lake, a 3-star hotel that offers 93 accommodations with fireplaces, balconies, full kitchens, and washers/dryers.
If intimate private rentals or lodge-style accommodations are not your thing, check out these better-known chains that provide nice and convenient accommodations:
- Holiday Inn Resort The Lodge at Big Bear Lake – Located near the beach and in a walkable area with good shopping. Rooms are very large, clean, quiet and comfortable.
- Best Western Big Bear Chateau – A simple and affordable option; all rooms have refrigerators and microwaves. Dine at the restaurant, drink at the bar/lounge, or take a dip in a spa tub.
OTHER PLACES NEAR BIG BEAR TO VISIT
- Lake Arrowhead (25 miles west, 45 min drive)
- Joshua Tree National Park (72.4 mi east, 1 hr 35 min drive)
- Palm Springs (81.8 mi southeast, 1 hr 40 min drive)
- Idyllwild, CA (83.8 mi south, 2 hrs drive)
- Los Angeles (96.6 mi west, 2 hrs drive)
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: BIG BEAR, CALIFORNIA
Aside from the usual clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without on your Big Bear vacation:
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Spare Tire | In addition to carrying a spare tire with you, don’t forget to check your current tire conditions before you set off as well.
- Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
- Umbrella | An umbrella, particularly a wind-proof umbrella, is crucial when traveling to destinations with varying/unpredictable weather. If you have an umbrella with you, then it means the rain can’t stop you from enjoying your trip and exploring the outdoors.
- Travel Pillow | If you have room in the car for a regular pillow, I find that they are the most comfortable for long car trips. If you need a more portable option, this memory foam travel pillow works well not only for car travel but also for camping!
- Travel Blanket | For all your napping needs–especially if the driver likes AC and you’re trying to snuggle up for a nap. This one is packable so it won’t take up very much in your car.
- Slip-on Sandals | Slip-on/slip-off sandals are a must for that extra comfort while sitting in the car. This allows you to make lots of stops without having to go through the process of putting your sneakers/boots back on.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- GoPro | Capture all those awesome action/adventure moments with a top-of-the-line action camera. Your regular camera or iPhone won’t be an option if you’re engaging in action sports like mountain biking, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting. For water sports, you could always get a waterproof case, but GoPro has time and time again proven to be the best for underwater photography.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or at the lakes, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | You’re going to need layers in the mountain areas of California. The coastal, forested, and high desert climates of the west coast brings chilly evenings year-round, even on warm summer days. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Laundry Bag | Summer and/or outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary for Big Bear, CA. Even if it’s overcast or cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply it whenever you’re outdoors. No matter where we go, we like a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreens contain chemicals that damage our environment. And for the face, we are absolutely obsessed with Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from a river or lake to a car. This one here is a great option.
- Travel Clothesline | This is a small and portable clothesline that allows you to hang up your wet clothes almost anywhere. I’ve found that it’s really handy whenever I have wet bathing suits or towels that need to be air-dried. I love it for its multi-purpose functionality!
- Dry Bag | Another multi-purpose item on the list! Dry bags are completely necessary for keeping your dry belongings (clothes, electronics, money, etc)… dry. Don’t set foot on a kayak, boat or canoe without putting your stuff in a dry bag. Trust me, it’s better than ending up with a phone or camera submerged in water in the case where the boat tips or something. It’s also super handy for carrying around wet bathing suits and towels. Or even doubling as your laundry bag!
- Insect Repellent Lotion | Mosquitos love hot climates, so I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage if you’re traveling in the summer and plan to be on the water. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness in darkness is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the great breweries and eateries… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet cove or a popular sandy beach, Big Bear Lake has got an adventure in store for everyone. So grab your swimsuit and sunscreen and head on over!
Looking for more Southern California travel tips? Read More:
- 10 Best RV Parks in Big Bear Lake, California For Your Next Adventure
- 25 Fun Things To Do In Big Bear With Kids
- 20 Best Family Vacations In California Perfect For Children
- Los Angeles To Las Vegas Road Trip: 25+ Awesome Stops (ROUTE 66)
- The Perfect California Desert Weekend Trip: Palm Springs and Surrounding Desert Area
- 20+ Best Towns Between San Francisco to Los Angeles: California Coast Road Trip