Head in the
clouds in the San Gabriel Mountains
is one of the offerings at the Pali Mountain
conference and retreat center in Running Springs.
ANGELES ó Where is the John Muir of the San Gabriel
Mountains? The Ansel Adams of the San Bernardinos? The
Donner Party of the San Jacintos?
right, maybe one Donner Party was enough. But Muir, Adams
and company are among the reasons the inland mountains of
Southern California have never quite matched the attention
won by their taller northern neighbors, the Sierra Nevada.
hikers, board-riders, skiers and snowball-tossers in
Southern California find no shortage of peace and
exhilaration. Peaks and forests, lakes and trails, cabins
and creeks. And most winters, thereís a fair amount of
a quick introduction to Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead and
Idyllwild. These nine micro-itineraries round out this
yearís series of Southern California Close-Ups, which
covered San Diego and Santa Barbara counties, the high
desert around Joshua Tree National Park and resorts of the
Coachella Valley. Now, to the road.
OMIT THE OVERLOOK
of the best things about a local mountain trip is getting
there. Yes, driving those two-lane roads takes your full
attention, but there are views to cherish as you creep
into the San Bernardino Mountains on State Route 330 (or,
depending on traffic and your destination, State Route 18
or State Route 38). If youíre on the 330, notice all
those turnouts on the way? Use them, not only to let
tailgaters pass, but also to savor the views of the
constantly rearranging clouds and ridges bristling with
pines. At sunset, even basin smog can look heavenly from
here. In about 15 miles, most of your climbing will be
done. To celebrate, pause for a snack at Rockyís
Roadhouse (32150 Hilltop, Running Springs). From here, if
thereís enough snow, you can go skiing or snowboarding
at Snow Valley (35100 State Route 18, Running Springs). Or
if youíre on a group retreat, perhaps youíll find
yourself brandishing a bow and arrow at the Pali Mountain
Retreat & Conference Center (30778 State Route 18,
Running Springs). Or maybe Running Springs is just a pit
stop and youíre continuing on to Big Bear. That means
more two-lane blacktop, but also more altitude and more
BOARDS AND GRAVITY
skiers and snowboarders, thereís good news. Thanks to
Decemberís storms (and furious snowmaking), Bear
and Snow Summit ((www.snowsummit.com)
at Big Bear Lake and Snow Valley ((www.snow-valley.com)
at Running Springs are all open. Running Springs is about
85 miles east of Los Angeles; Big Bear Lake, 15 miles
farther. Check individual resorts for info on snowfall and
openings. For more details: www.onthesnow.com.
All of these operations are modest compared with the ski
resorts at Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain but are, of
course, much closer.
BEAR, THE BLOB, THE ANCHORAGE
youíre a young boarder on the way to Bear Mountain, stop
at the gritty Grizzly Manor Cafe (41268 Big Bear Blvd.,
Big Bear Lake) to load up on calories with menu items such
as the Blob and the Mess, and to check out the
bumper-sticker collection. (Over the stove: "Friends
donít let friends join Sierra Club.") If youíre
an old-school skier, maybe youíd rather wind up the day
by digging into a steak near the big stone fireplace at
Captainís Anchorage (42148 Moonridge Road, Big Bear
Lake), which dates to the 1940s. If youíre renting a
cabin, check the many rental agencies listed at www.bigbear.com/places-to-stay/private-homes-cabins/.
BEAR AND OTHER BEASTS
Bear Lake (population, about 5,000; altitude, 6,750 feet)
is a mountain town with a 7-mile-long lake next door, a
batch of vintage cabins and lodges on its side streets and
a deflating series of national franchises along its main
drag. (More info: www.bigbear.com)
Besides skiing and boarding in winter, it offers all sorts
of hiking, boating and fishing in summer. You can start
with a comfort-food breakfast at Teddy Bear Restaurant
(583 Pine Knot Blvd., Big Bear Lake), then browse a few
shops in the neighboring Village ((www.bigbearlakevillage.com).
You might or might not want a look at the Big Bear Alpine
Zoo, formerly known as the Moonridge Animal Park, a
long-standing, homespun facility with about 180 animals,
most of them orphaned or injured in the wild, including a
bison, a few bears and eagles and a bunch of timber wolves
whose howls will excite the hairs on the back of your
neck. Boosters are hoping to move to a new location soon.
Until then, some people might be unsettled by the
chain-link enclosures and the pudgy mountain lions.
("No," says a sign, "our mountain lions are
not pregnant. Help us obtain some exercise equipment for
them.") But read the other signs: If 90% of these
creatures are returned to the wild, as they say, thatís
a pretty good batting average. Cap off your day with a
Mexican dinner in the Village at El Jacalito (535 Pine
Knot Ave., Big Bear Lake).
in your woodsy unit at Sleepy Forest Cottages (426 S.
Eureka St., Big Bear Lake; fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs),
then stroll a few blocks in the adjacent Eagle Point
neighborhood. Here, along Eureka Drive, Eagle Drive and
Meadow Park, you see massive and classic cabins with big
lake views. For a more direct lake view, head about 2
miles west to Boulder Bay Park (39148 State Route 18, Big
Bear Lake), which has picnic tables, a covered pavilion
and a little fishing dock. But your real workout is
waiting a little farther west along Big Bear Boulevard,
about 500 feet beyond Talbot Drive. (Thereís a turnout
on the lake side of the road.) Thatís the Castle Rock
trailhead, the beginning of a path that climbs for a mile
to a high jumble of granite with wide views of the lake
and mountains. Itís pretty steep ó about a 500-foot
altitude gain ó which makes the payoff view that much
better. Afterward, cool off with a beer at Big Bear
Mountain Brewery (40260 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake).
Or, if the weather outside isnít nice for walking,
choose perhaps the most refreshment-friendly indoor sport
ever: bowling. For years, the big, red Bowling Barn (40625
Lakeview Drive, Big Bear Lake) has been a mainstay of
summer and winter merry-making. And locals will tell you
the adjacent Sweet Basil Bistro (40629 Big Bear Blvd., Big
Bear Lake) is an excellent dinner choice too.
the quieter, lazier side of Big Bear Lake is the community
of Fawnskin. To lie low, sleep in the Inn at Fawnskin (880
Canyon Road, Fawnskin), which is the big log cabin Laura
Ashley would choose if she were in the neighborhood.
Locals will recommend at least one meal at the North Shore
Cafe (39226 North Shore Drive, Fawnskin). In summer, youíll
have all manner of aquatic options at Captain Johnís
Fawn Harbor & Marina (39369 North Shore Drive,
Fawnskin) ó stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, bass
boats and speedboats. And the Alpine Pedal Path that runs
alongside the north edge of the lake is great spot for
walking or riding. For more walking or riding, thereís
the nearby Stanfield Marsh boardwalk and wildlife preserve
(at Big Bear Boulevard and Stanfield Cutoff).
away, youíll see this is not Big Bear. The lake is
privately owned, which means the only people allowed to
put boats on it are Arrowhead Woods homeowners and their
guests. And even those people are banned from
wind-surfing, kneeboarding or using jet skis. As you may
have surmised, the roughly 11,000 folks who live here earn
about twice as much money as those in Big Bear (so says
the Census Bureau). Lake Arrowhead Village (28200 State
Route 189, Lake Arrowhead), almost entirely rebuilt in
faux Tudor style in the 1970s, is basically an outdoor
mall with specialty and outlet stores such as Bass, Coach,
Izod and Pendleton, along with the Lake Arrowhead Resort
& Spa. (Resort guests have beach access.) You could
rent a vacation home in or near Arrowhead through AAA
Resort Rentals ((www.lakearrowheadrentals.com)
or Arrowhead Property Rental ((www.arrowheadrent.com).
But maybe youíll bunk just up the road from the village
at the Saddleback Inn (300 S. State Route 173, Lake
Arrowhead), which dates to 1917 and offers 10 handsome
rooms and 24 cottages. Then meander down to the village,
take in the calm water and pine-studded surrounding
slopes, and buy a bag of duck food for 50 cents at Pine
Cone Coffee Co. (Suite E-100) and shatter the silence by
setting off a riot of ravenous waterfowl. To escape
prosecution, you duck into Waffle Works (Suite E-150) for
a sugar-sprinkled breakfast or browse the art in the
nonprofit, co-op Mountain Arts Network Gallery (Suite
E-120). Later on, maybe youíll take a child to enjoy the
carousel and miniature golf in the villageís Lollipop
Park. Or perhaps youíll duck into LeRoyís Board Shop
(Suite C-100) to buy a $16 adult ticket for a 50-minute
cruise on the 65-passenger Arrowhead Queen. Tiny Lake
Gregory ó small enough to circle on a long family walk
ó is less than 10 miles away in Crestline.
you live to ski or snowboard, stay away from Idyllwild ó
nothing for you here. But everybody else, including
rock-climbers, listen up. Idyllwild (population 3,500;
altitude 5,300 feet) sits in the San Jacinto Mountains,
fairly bursting with artsiness. Mountain Mikeís (54360
Ĺ N. Circle Drive, Idyllwild) has been selling custom
leather work, hats, moccasins, straight-edge razors,
holsters and elk hides ($10 a square foot) for more than
30 years (For $400, you can have a pair of slippers
hand-sewn of sheepskin, elk skin and deer hide, with
bull-hide soles.) Candy Cupboard (54250 N. Circle Drive,
Idyllwild) is a tiny space full of taffy, chocolate and 28
flavors of shaved ice. Cafe Aroma (54750 N. Circle Drive,
Idyllwild), which often has live music on weekends, has
tasty food (maple-leaf duck breast, anyone? Garlic
bisque?) and a patio area that fills up whenever thereís
mild weather. While youíre here, keep an eye out for
posters advertising concerts by students or faculty at the
well-regarded Idyllwild Arts Academy (52500 Temecula Road,
Idyllwild-Pine Cove). But while the sunís still shining,
head to Humber Park, at the northeast end of Fern Valley
Road, for its breathtaking views of 8,750-foot Tahquitz
Peak to the east and Suicide Rock to the north. From
there, two trails will take you into the landscape ó the
more challenging Devils Slide Trail, which climbs to a
mountain saddle, and the flatter Ernie Maxwell Scenic
Trail. Before hiking, buy an Adventure Pass ($5 for a day)
at the U.S. Forest Service San Jacinto Ranger District
office (54270 Pine Crest, Idyllwild). When itís time to
crash, one source for cabins is Idyllwild Vacation Rentals
which handles about 40 homes. Or you could try the
Fireside Inn, which has eight cottages and cabins on the
main drag and eight more on the edge of town. For a
grown-up experience thatís more B&B and less rustic,
check out the Rainbow Inn, a handsome old house with five
rooms for rent upstairs and so much space downstairs that
it gets rented for weddings and parties.
PALMS AND PACIFIC CREST
youíd rather enjoy your mountain scenery without getting
dirty or sweaty, grab your convertible or motorcycle (or
just roll the windows down) and try the Palms to Pines
Scenic Byway. It begins at Banning (on the way from L.A.
to the Coachella Valley) and under the name State Route
243, it climbs steeply to Idyllwild. You might prefer the
less vertiginous part ó State Route 74, which wriggles
for more than 40 miles as it connects Idyllwild to Palm
Desert, about an hour of two-lane blacktop, winding past
the promised pines and palms, but also oaks, granite, the
Pacific Crest Trail and some seriously calendar-worthy
Mountain Retreat & Conference Center, 30778 State
Route 18, Running Springs; (909) 867-5743, www.paliretreat.com.
Retreat packages (open to groups of 25 or more) range from
about $70 to $120 per person per night (including
bunkhouse bed and cafeteria meals).
Roadhouse, 32150 Hilltop Blvd., Running Springs; (909)
Sandwiches and salads up to about $9. Patio in back.
In Big Bear Lake about 100 miles east of downtown Los
Bear Mountainís sibling and neighbor.
In Running Springs, about 85 miles east of downtown Los
Manor Cafe, 41268 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake; (909)
Breakfast and lunch, big servings, prices up to about $9.
Anchorage, 42148 Moonridge Road, Big Bear Lake; (909)
Surf-and-turf available at dinner only. Main dishes about
Bear Restaurant, 583 Pine Knot Blvd., Big Bear Lake; (909)
Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Dinner main courses up to about
Bear Alpine Zoo (formerly Moonridge Animal Park), 43285
Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake; (909) 878-4200, www.bigbearzoo.com.
Open daily. Admission $9 for adult, $6 for children ages
Jacalito, 535 Pine Knot Ave., Big Bear Lake; (909)
Dinner main courses about $11-$17.
Forest Cottages, 426 S. Eureka Drive, Big Bear Lake; (909)
Sixteen cottage units plus three houses, $139-$209 on
weekends, $40-$60 less on weekdays.
Bay Park, 39148 State Route 18, Big Bear Lake. No phone. www.bigbearlake.net/lakes-trails-parks/Parks/Boulder-Bay-Park.
Bear Mountain Brewery, 40260 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear
Lake; (909) 866-2337, www.mountainbrewery.com.
Beer, burgers, salads and sandwiches. Up to about $11.
Barn, 40625 Lakeview Drive, Big Bear Lake; (909) 878-2695,
Sixteen lanes of all-weather fun.
Inn at Fawnskin, 880 Canyon Road, Fawnskin; (888)
Log cabin B&B, five rooms, across the street from the
north shore of Big Bear Lake. Rooms $235-$265 nightly,
with one room at $165.
Johnís Fawn Harbor & Marina, 39369 North Shore
Drive, Fawnskin; (909) 866-6478, www.fawnharbor.com.
Bear Discovery Center, 40971 State Route 38 (North Shore
Drive), Fawnskin; (909) 382-2790; www.nationalforestassociation.org/bigbeardiscoverycenter.php.
Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Info on local hiking,
biking and the natural environment.
Pedal Path, north shore, Big Bear Lake between Stanfield
Cutoff and solar observatory.
Marsh boardwalk and wildlife preserve, Big Bear Boulevard
and Stanfield Cutoff, no phone or website.
Arrowhead Village, 28200 State Route 189, Lake Arrowhead;
(909) 337-2533, www.lakearrowheadvillage.co.
Restaurants, stores, a resort and other businesses at
Inn, 300 S. State Route 173, Lake Arrowhead; (800)
Ten rooms, 24 cottages. Weekend rates usually $159-$215,
more for holidays or multiple bedrooms, less for weekday
Property Rental, 28200 State Highway 189, Lake Arrowhead;
(909) 337-2403, www.arrowheadrent.com.
Resort Rentals, 337 State Highway 173, Lake Arrowhead;
(800) 743-0865 or (909) 337-4413, www.lakearrowheadrentals.com.
Mikeís Custom Leather, 54360 Ĺ N. Circle Drive,
Cupboard, 54250 N. Circle Drive, Idyllwild; (951)
Aroma, 54750 N. Circle Drive, Idyllwild; (951) 659-5212, www.cafearoma.org.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner main dishes about
Arts Academy, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild-Pine Cove;
(951) 659-2171, www.idyllwildarts.org.
Park, northeast end of Fern Valley Road, beyond 24400,
Forest Service San Jacinto Ranger District office, 54270
Pine Crest, Idyllwild; (909) 382-2921.
Vacation Rentals, 54280 N. Circle Drive, Idyllwild; (951)
Inn, 54540 N. Circle Drive, Idyllwild; (951) 659-2966, www.thefiresideinn.com.
16 cabins and cottages, half near the middle of town, half
on the edge, 15 with fireplaces and kitchens. Weekend
Inn, 54420 S. Circle Drive, Idyllwild; (951) 659-0111, www.rainbow-inn.com.
Five rooms. Weekend rates for two people usually
$115-$155, about $20 lower on weeknights.
to Pines Scenic Byway, 67 miles of winding mountain road
(State Route 243 and State Route 74) connecting Banning,
Idyllwild and Palm Desert. www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sbnf/recarea/?recidequals26521