Big Bear Lake; Home Sweet Home

Big Bear Lake
People don’t believe me when I tell them Mom threw us outside and told us to play all day. It may not have come from an iPhone but I have proof.

Even before I moved to Big Bear Lake California eight years ago I would call myself a mountain woman. As a tried and true mountain woman, I spend my day’s trekking just as many miles of mountain trails as I possibly can. While out on the trails I’m constantly on the lookout for wild edible plants like pungent wild garlic.

The Hungry Mountaineer’s Guide to Big Bear Lake

As an always-hungry hiker I love to search for wild foods. I often pick wild raspberries growing in a tangle down by the creek beds. Here in the wilderness of Big Bear Lake in the summertime, I pick fresh miners lettuce for a quick salad break on any given hike. I spend my hikes scouting for the best dead and downed trees to come back later and add to our firewood collection or the best-hidden swimming holes with rainbow trout swimming through the crystal clear waters. I was basically raised outdoors as a mountain child.

I have lived in these mountains practically my whole life near scenic Big Bear Lake. My parents moved our small family from the concrete jungle of the Los Angeles suburbs to the San Bernardino Mountains in 1985. At the time my family lived in Norwalk; which is not as well known for its gangs and crime as nearby Compton but it’s a very shady area and not a good place to raise a family. My dad used to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles when he was in his thirties raising his young family so close to Los Angeles and after being threatened by a gang member one day he had enough of life in the city and decided to get his family the hell out of there. I’m thankful every day he made that decision as I grew up in a forest full of Jeffrey pine trees with not a gang member or drive-by shooting insight. I’m thankful every day; My life could have been a lot different.

Growing up in the eighties in a rural town in southern California is something a lot of Californians who live spitting distance to Los Angeles can not say. Growing up in the forest, we did not have shopping malls, palm trees, the Pacific Ocean. We did not have sandy beaches or fancy restaurants. We might be Californians but we did not surf . I can count on one hand how many times I put my toes in the ocean eighty miles away from our mountain range before I turned seventeen and could drive myself. My two brothers and I might not have had surfboards or the latest Nikes from the Galleria. What we did have was miles of hiking trails right outside our front door. We had alpine lakes to swim in the summertime and an icy cold creek to fish out of basically in our neighborhood. For as long as I can remember my mom insisted that all the kids “Get outside” from sunup to sundown. Thank God my mom was insistent that I get outside because I basically went outside and never stopped.Big Bear Lake

As an adult now, I live fifteen miles as the crow flies from the mountain town I grew up in, a few alpine villages to the east.  As an adult about to turn forty this year, I live in Big Bear Lake. Big Bear Lake is basically the big city of all the mountain towns. Yes, we have a Kmart. Yes we are proud of that fact. Life in Big Bear Lake feels like home to me. This alpine town feels like the town I was meant to spend my life in. I spend every waking hour I’m not at work hiking or mountain biking or just relaxing in our backyard with our plethora of rescue pets. I even work as a hiking guide in Big Bear Lake, taking vacationers out in the snow to explore my favorite snowy trails.

Book a hike with me here!

Book this hike now!

Hidden away sixty miles up a winding mountain road is Big Bear Lake at nearly seven thousand feet. When most people think of southern California they think of Disneyland, the Santa Monica Pier and celebrities on Rodeo Drive. The rush rush rush world of Hollywood are worlds away from our laid back mountain town. Here in Big Bear Lake, we have miles of lakeshore for fishing and acres of forest trails for hiking and mountain biking. Big Bear Lake is a fantastic place to live or vacation and I feel so thankful to call this wilderness set on the edge of southern California my home. Yes, sometimes I wish we had a Whole Roods down the street and not a two-hour drive to the west but that is a small price to pay for living in paradise.

Life in a ski town during a global pandemic

Now that it is winter 2021 and most Americans I know are going stir crazy and just dying to get out and do something, why yes I would love to go out for sushi at an actual restaurant. I can almost taste the ahi sashimi and spicy wasabi on my tongue but living amongst the pines in this paradise is well worth it to have the chance to hike every day with the deer and the coyotes. As much as I miss my job, early January with nothing but time on my hands gave me time to snowshoe so many epic miles of snowy alpine trails with my favorite pup at my side.

I’m so thankful that I get to spend my life in Big Bear Lake, a small town in the mountains of California that feels made for me and my outdoor lifestyle. Just like a lot of people in this big wide world, I can not wait to spend time with friends again when this is all over. I can’t wait to hug my grandma again sometime before she turns ninety-one. I can’t wait to go back to work and spend time with my coworkers but this wilderness town I live in is not a bad place to ride out a pandemic. I feel so blessed that of all the places in the world this forest is the place I get to call my home.


  1. Marco

    Just in 2019 I got a house near Bear Mountain and I just love it for all the reasons you listed but mostly I love to MTB and hike with my family and dog. I just feel so lucky to have the privilege of enjoying such beautiful place.
    I would love to hit you up for MTB ride, as I bet uou know some awesome trails/hiden gems.
    Anyway great story and beautiful life.
    Stay healthy!

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      Amber Woodyard

      I do know the BEST trails BUT I have barely ridden my mountain bike in a year. I am NOT in shape for mountain biking. I did briefly offer a mountain bike tour but since I have stopped riding my bike I have stopped giving that one but I hope to get back on the bike again when the snow melts in March. Email me at if you would like to book a tour at some point.

  2. Tannis Soto

    Lovely article! I love Big Bear Lake also. My dream is to retire there in our little cabin in Fawnskin.

  3. Heidi Fernandez

    I used to feel the same as you. No longer… for several reasons.

    Kmart (sorry, but unlike you I am not proud of that fact!) is closing for good and I cross my fingers a much better store moves in to that location (Walmart sounds absolutely awesome right now after attempting to purchase women’s clothing at Kmart to no avail). The store has always been poorly stocked and overpriced.

    The area is over run with tourists. AirBNB owners completely ignored the governor’s recommendations and allowed more visitors than in have ever seen up here… to converge on our little city, bringing their germs with them. They park in the street and ignore the fact that snowplows will be coming by.

    The bar in my neighborhood has been open inside for dining/drinking for weeks already, and they are not alone.
    I am more than disappointed.

    I get small businesses owners need this income to survive, but I need to survive too and all this entertainment for our visitors is putting my life at risk.

    Traveling up the 38 (past all those miles of destroyed/burned forest by some idiots) you come to Jenks Lake where all these visitors who on their way up to my mountain and leave so much trash that the turn out areas need dumpsters??!! I am beyond disgusted.

    And the children sledding… Just this morning when it was finally safe enough to head down the mountain, I observed dozens of cars, parked illegally on the side of the semi-cleared highway, so their kids can sled. The speed limit is 55 for a good portion of the drive, but you need to drive slowly and carefully to avoid the children of these negligent parents.

    Yeah, I’m more than disappointed in how life in Big Bear is these days.

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      Amber Woodyard

      You know I have noticed this year MANY dumpsters in turnouts where we never had them before. But it’s not enough. Our forest is just trashed. It’s heartbreaking. I used to go out to pick up broken sleds and trash once a week during the winter but I have not been doing it as much during COVID for my own health.
      I so hear you about how overrun with tourists Big Bear is. And I hear what you are saying; Our community needs them for the economy but they don’t care at all they are bringing their germs into our small town with our one tiny hospital.
      I remember our mountain communities in the 90’s when I was growing up and it was so much nicer, more secluded before Airbnb, social media, All-Trails and the like.

    2. Brenda

      I’m in absolute agreement with you. At this point I’m saving money in order to move to New England. My late husband and I had planned to retire and live in Big Bear. I thought I’d fulfill our dream which has now turned into a nightmare.

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        Amber Woodyard

        It’s so sad. Our mountains used to be such a nice place to live. I miss the 90’s feel of our mountain communities!

  4. Jessica Sheehan

    I loved reading your short story. I visit bb very often. My father and step mother moved up there in 2009. I eventually want to move up there with my 3 boys and live how you explained your childhood for my own kids. We live 90 miles out towards desert area so farther away from la. Id love to book a hike with you ond day we this pandemic is lifting. Best wishes.

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      Amber Woodyard

      Big Bear is such a great place to hike! And it’s a great place to raise a family too. So many fun things to do outdoors as opposed to in the city. I do many family-friendly hikes that are great for kids too. Right now my snow hikes are SO popular (It’s just so gorgeous hiking in the fresh snow!

  5. Gail

    Sounds idyllic Amber, you’re lucky to have had the trails and mountains to explore since you were a child. When I was a kid we were also sent out to play all day and told not to come back until tea time. I grew up in a large city by the sea. There was a lot of countryside and fields to play in, so we used to pick wild flowers and make dens. Plus ride bikes and fight with the kids at the other end of the road. Nowadays kids don’t really play outside, so I think I was very fortunate.

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  6. Jesus Orabuena

    Live up in Sugarloaf.big the mountains.35 yrs up here.just retired from butchers block and riffs.35 yrs in lumber business up here.this my home

  7. Big Jim

    I have always loved the area, I’m just disappointed that San Bernardino thought it’s a great idea to import section 8 people up there and it’s turned into a tweaker s***hole, nothing like driving up in the mountains going past cabins with piles of trash and junk lying about it’s not the big rare I remember going up to in the ’70s.

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