Camping Big Bear

When it comes to camping, everybody has to start somewhere. Usually, there are hijinks involved, bears break into coolers and someone always freezes their ass off. I’ve camped with a lot of newbie campers. Yes, they are usually the first ones to not listen and have the bears eat all their food the first night. Thank God for this great article on Camping 101! When it comes to camping Bear Big there are a few great do’s and don’t’s to be aware of even before you plan your trip. Just because you are in southern California, mountain camping is still the wilderness and there are a few helpful hints you should know before you buy a tent or a RV and get started.

Big Bear Lake is known as southern California’s finest alpine tourist destination. Yes in the winter months, we are most well-known as a ski and snowboard destination. But in the summertime Big Bear Lake is known for three things; Hiking, mountain biking and camping. Are you planning on camping at Big Bear Lake this coming summertime? Just where should you book in advance? Or should you just show up whenever you feel like it for some dispersed camping in the forest? Are you looking forward to tent camping? Did you just buy a motorhome or a Sprinter van? When it comes to camping outdoor adventures there is more to it than just pitching a tent these days!

Bring Fido!

First of all, camping Big Bear Lake is a great idea without driving as far as the eastern Sierra, Yosemite or Sequoia National Park. I personally am not a fan of national park camping as I tend to avoid crowds and I also take my dog everywhere with our family. Our pup joins us on every family vacation and dogs are treated like second-class citizens in our national park system. Our national parks have a saying “Paws on pavement” Which means your dog must always travel where the road is paved in a national park. Basically no national park hiking and exploring for your Fido when it comes to our U.S. national park system.

Big Bear Lake however is a very dog-friendly place! Your pup is always invited to join you out in the national forest.  Big Bear Lake has so many dog-friendly restaurants. (The Social, Nottingham’s, Hacienda, just to name a few) The shoreline of our 3,000-acre lake is awesome to take your pup for a swim in the summer months as well.

Camping adventures in Big Bear Lake

Camping Big Bear is so close to the urban jungle of Los Angeles. With the price of gas in Califonia it’s a less pricy option than driving your motorhome to the central coast or Mammoth Lakes for a week of camping. Big Bear Lake has plenty of campgrounds to choose from that can fit you and your family’s needs. Unlike a lot of national parks, you won’t need to make reservations at midnight a year in advance to camp in Big Bear Lake either.

When you plan your camping trip to Big Bear first of all you want to ask yourself how close to the amenities and the town of Big Bear do you want to be. Are you traveling in a recreational vehicle? Do you want to stay at a motorhome park with all the hookups? Or do you want to camp away from all those other tourists in the middle of the wilderness?

Our family personally loves to disperse camp in our motorhome away from the crowds. We tend to stick to well-graded dirt roads where we have a clear view of the northern sky and our Starlink works well. We also like to camp closer to the best hikes that we love to do like the Manzanita Maze or back in Historic Holcomb Valley in the springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom. Rural campsites like these are perfect for setting up our outdoor camp kitchen and whipping up a delicious Butter Chicken after a full day of hiking all over the Big Bear Valley.

Serrano Campground

Serrano Campground is the most popular in Big Bear Lake by far. It is located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake and you will often see bald eagles fishing here down by the lake in the summer months. Go for an early morning walk along the lakeshore and keep your eyes on the sky! Serrano Campground is great for lakeside access but you will be very close to your neighbors here.

Pine Knot Campground

Pine Knot Campground is one of the best campgrounds right in the town of Big Bear Lake. Pine Knot is just not as crowded as the uber-crowded Serrano Campground. There are so many great hikes you can do right out of the Pine Knot Campground.  There are a lot of tall Bristlecone pines in this area though and if you are looking for Starlink reception, you will have a hard time finding it. If you are visiting Big Bear Lake in the summertime for the mountain bike park, you can ride your bike to the park from Pine Knot Campground.

Hanna Flat’s Campground

Hanna Flats Campground is my favorite of the U.S. Forest Service-managed campgrounds in Big Bear Lake. I do like to stay in a forestry-established campground sometimes because I enjoy having a campfire while camping. All of our dispersed campgrounds in Big Bear do not allow campfires. Camping in an established campground means you are very close to other campers.

Happy campers

Asmuch as I prefer my space while camping, sometimes it just does not feel like camping if you don’t sit around the campfire and make smores in the evening hours. Hanna Flats Campground is about five miles down a well-graded dirt road. If you are into mountain biking this is a great area to stay and recreate. There are also epic hiking opportunities back here like the scenic Butler’s Peak fire lookout or hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. You can also easily off-road back to Holcomb Valley from Hanna Flat’s campground or take a lovely day hike to the top of Delamar Mountain.

To glamp or not to glamp

Many people come to Big Bear for glamping, not camping. If you are the type of camper who is looking for full hook-ups you will want to book far in advance. The options are limited. North Shore RV is the best option. They are a great location if kayaking is your thing. Always remember to get a permit before putting your kayaks in the waters of Big Bear Lake!


Heart Bar Campground

Heart Bar Equestrian Camp is the best place to camp if you are bringing your equine friends with you. Heart Bar sits right below San Gorgonio and the views of San Gorgonio’s peaks from Heart Bar are epic. This area is far more situated in the wilderness and that means more wildlife sightings. It also means this campsite is far on the outskirts of Big Bear Lake. If you hope to have a grocery store nearby or go bar-hopping in the evening, Heart Bar may not be the place for you. It is an extremely gorgeous area for camping, however. It’s also very close to the South Fork Trailhead for those hikers eager to hike at San Gorgonio. I love that the campsites at Heart Bar are not too close to other campers as well.

Check with the forest service to see when Heart Bar will reopen as the road in was damaged by Hurricane Hillary in the 2023 flooding.

Mill Creek dispersed camping

Mill Creek is the place to be in Big Bear Lake for car camping in the summertime. You can disperse camp anywhere in Big Bear Lake for up to fourteen days at a time Mill Creek is one of the prettiest areas for hiking and camping in Big Bear Lake so you will definitely see a lot of people camping out here, especially on weekends, all summer long Mill Creek is also very close to the heart of Big Bear Lake so visitors find it very convenient.

The Mill Creek area is also very well-known for having a lot of homeless people living off of Mill Creek Road in the summertime. If you do set up camp at Mill Creek, you don’t want to leave valuables out if you leave camp. Big Bear Lake is known to be very safe but we do have a huge amount of homeless people who live in the forest all summer long. Car camping at Mill Creek is so very popular in the summertime but the dirt roads stay open until the first snow and this area is even more scenic in the autumn months!

Autumn camping Big Bear

Car camping is great in the autumn as long as the low does not go below thirty. If the low is below thirty degrees you definitely need a Mr Heater Portable Heater (Find one on Amazon) in your tent or a fluffy canine to snuggle with in the back of your SUV.

The camping situation at Mill Creek is just gorgeous in the autumn in Big Bear as long as you are ready for lows near 20 and the elements. You can also find some epic camping spots up Knickerbocker Forest Road if you have a hard-core SUV or four-wheel-drive truck to get up the sometimes rugged dirt road. There are some just gorgeous dispersed campsites up Knickerbocker with insane views of Big Bear Lake. Plus the Black oak trees up Knickerbocker Road are just bursting with vibrant yellows and burnt oranges in October.

Wintertime dispersed camping in Big Bear Lake

If you happen to have a camper van, yes you can still camp in Big Bear Lake in the winter months. It may be a little chilly but the mountain wilderness of Big Bear is a beautiful place to experience winter camping at its finest.

Many of the dirt roads in Big Bear Lake are closed in the winter months but some of the dirt roads like Holcomb Valley Road, Polique Canyon and Burn’s Canyon Road stay open through the winter. If you have the right rugged SUV to handle snowy icy dirt roads, camping back in these wild places is indeed still a snowy winter option.

So you want to live in a van down by the river

Campers and custom vans are a big deal in Big Bear Lake where I live. It was so interesting as when I left southern California all summer and traveled to the east coast, I didn’t see any Sprinter vans or custom vans at all! Is it a southern California thing? Every autumn Big Bear Lake is thrilled to host the Adventure Van Show. We get a lot of tourists coming into town to show off their fancy built-out hippie vans. Camping Big Bear Lake is a big deal for these adventurists who like to get off the beaten path. Dying to have a custom van of your own built for you? Check out Big Bear Vans!camping Big Bear

Overland camping 101

To the outdoor extremists, Overland camping is simply the best way to go. Are you the type to want to get away, far away from the crowds?

Cheers! To camping Big Bear Lake!

Then you need to learn how to Overland camp. Overlanding in a nutshell is a self-reliant journey into the wilderness to find yourself and get away from the world. It’s my kind of outdoor adventure! I have a few hidden favorite overland camping destinations sprinkled throughout Big Bear Lake

Yes, there are places you can overland camp in Big Bear without being more than a few hours from Los Angeles! There are areas such as Kidd Creek, Holcomb Valley and Clark’s Grade. Yes, Clark’s Grade, the original dirt road to Big Bear Lake from the late 1800’s. Those were the original Overlanders! There are miles and miles of dirt forest roads you can travel in these areas if you are looking for adventure yes even in the wilderness of southern California.  But when it comes to Overland camping, just where do you start? KUHL has a great beginner’s guide to how to become an overland expert.

No matter how you intend to camp in Big Bear Lake whatever season, there are so many fantastic options for you and your family. Have a great time wherever you decide to camp in Big Bear Lake whatever season. Just remember to leave no trace and exit the forest leaving her as wild as you found her!