Big Bear!


With Jenny’s arrival in California on Friday we decided to depart the coast for a wee while and go inland, up into the hills for a couple of days. Prior to coming out here I’d heard about a resort town roughly 100 miles from San Clemente called Big Bear, which is renowned for its skiing during the winter and watersports and hiking in the summer, so it was there that we headed.

The origin of the town name not clear, some say it’s derived from this being “Big Bear Country” whereas others favour the tale that an early settler arrived back in town one afternoon, scared witless and out of breath and when asked why, was only able to gesticulate frantically behind him say “Big Bear!!”

The drive up was very pleasant as we took the lesser roads where possible so as to see a little more of small town America than we would do from the freeways. Thus, as we’d left home early we were able to stop for breakfast on the way at a cracking little diner in Lake Elsinore City called House of Eggs – don’t be put off by the rather unappealing exterior, as this place sells the king of breakfasts for $7.99.

We cruised over the Santa Ana mountains and down into the fertile valleys where Big Agriculture thrives – huge cattle ranches, citrus groves and wineries – all adding their contribution to the wider and very much booming economy of California. Once passed all of these we began to climb steadily up into the mountains, from roughly 1400ft above sea level at Redlands where we stopped for lunch to topping out at 8400ft a few miles outside Big Bear Lake less than 25 miles away. There were lots of extraordinary views back down in the valley and of the mountains above and all with a warm sun and cloudless blue sky.

Once in Big Bear and checked into the hotel – Big Bear Frontier, very nice room, right by the water and a very competitive $68/night – we thumbed through the various guides and leaflets purloined from reception and headed back out of town to walk the Castle Rock Trail. This was a lovely 90 minute round trip walk up a gulley and through the woods above the town to the top of an escarpment with 360 degree panoramic views of the lake, town and surrounding area Whether we actually got to the Castle Rock itself we’re not sure as there were two or three possibilities to choose from, but as the vistas from our spot were superb it didn’t really seem to matter if that was the actual top.

Next day we were up relatively early for a stroll along the lakeshore drive before heading along the road to Baldwin Stables where we’d booked a two hour horseride. It was a lot colder than the previous day, so in addition to the essential long trousers, we were kitted out in an extra layer or two, something that until now has been anathema to me out here. On arrival we had to sign the obligatory consent and liability waiver forms before our allocated geegees were brought out; I was given Barnaby and Jenny was given Maverick – I didn’t ask if “Goose” was available as we all know what happened to him when he went into a tailspin…

The ride was along bridlepaths and through scrub pine forest which quite uniquely is also home to cacti and Joshua trees and then up to the top of nearby mountain for the touristy snaps of us and our trusty steeds looking fully at home in this classic western environment. Part of the route we took follows some of the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a c2500 mile long-distance hiking path from Mexico to the Canadian border – film fans may recognise the name from the Reece Witherspoon movie “Wild” from a few years ago. It was great fun and our guide Tracy was very informative and helpful and ensured we made it up and back without mishap.

By the time we returned to the stables, we were pretty cold though as the weather had started closing in, so we headed back towards Big Bear Lake, pausing for lunch at the Broadway café where we had chicken tortilla soup to warm up – the chicken being in the soup and the broken up bits of tortilla being on the side along with grated cheese for the consumer to add to choice. If it sounds bizarre, well it was a bit, but it actually worked really rather well.

There then followed a quiet afternoon warming back up and a superb Nepalese curry at the Himalayan restaurant in town. I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Big Bear Lake for the walks, the fresh air, the good food and the wonderful peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the coast.