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Big Bear Lake

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Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, Big Bear Lake is a popular tourist destination, offering a rustic, woodsy feel not generally associated with an area known for Los Angeles and the neighboring desert. Once there, you would be forgiven if you thought you were in Oregon or Maine. Big Bear Lake is both a lake and a town, a small village home to some 5,000 residents next to a lake measuring 22 miles around.

Originally home to the Serrano Indian and called "Yahaviat" the area got its name when Benjamin Davis Wilson (the future first Mayor of Los Angeles and grandfather to General George S. Patton) rode in and found it swarming with bear. Evidently not a man of subtlety, he named it Bear Valley, and it later became Big Bear. However, the lake itself was man-made years later. The original Big Bear Lake, now known as Baldwin Lake, is further east. Tourism started in 1888 with the opening of the first hotel, but it wasn't until 1949 that the town got its first ski resort and began its reign as the winter resort of the area. A small historical museum in town has more information on the town's history, as does the visitors center.

Big Bear Lake's Four Seasons
The altitude and geography of Big Bear Lake provide four distinct seasons, something of a novelty in Southern California. Summer can see temperatures as high as 90 degrees, while winters can dip to well below freezing. However, the area seems blessed with sunlight, boasting 300 sunny days a year. If you're planning a trip, a quick internet search for Big Bear Weather will lead you to several real-time weather sites. Some even offer webcams of local conditions.

Most visitors to Big Bear arrive by car. The last leg of the roughly two hour drive from Los Angeles along Highway 330/Route 18 offers an ear-popping, breathtaking journey. For the jet-setters who want to avoid possible congestion along the narrow road, there is a small airport with service to and from Las Vegas and Los Angeles. But either way is a lot more efficient than the original wagon trail used by 19th century gold prospectors whose back-breaking work was key in developing the region.

Big Bear Lake is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. Summer months offer fishing, biking, kayaking, hiking, boating, golf, horseback riding, parasailing, swimming and tennis. There's even a pretty formidable water slide. Wintertime offers skiing, snowboarding, and an alpine slide. For the less adventurous, there is also shopping and dining, though they are not the primary attraction. The town also has convention facilities and is used often for corporate "retreats."

What About the Bears?
Mining and logging efforts in the 19th century stripped the area down to its core, and the bears were forced to move on. However, this activity met with local resistance and active citizens petitioned Congress for something to be done. What emerged was the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, which grants the President authority to set aside land for conservation. The area has since regained a great deal of its original beauty and wildlife.

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