A Summer Spent at Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake cover

Realizing that it was already midnight, I looked up and saw the sky full of stars. I stared in awe, amazed at how beautiful they looked

Somewhere high up the mountains of San Bernardino is a small town tucked within an alpine forest. Big Bear Lake is a popular destination for Angelinos wanting to escape the city and enjoy the great outdoors. From our apartment in West LA, the drive was about two-and-a-half hours to get there.

At 6,700+ feet above sea level, Big Bear Lake is a perfect place to enjoy snowboarding/skiing as it gets a lot of snow during the winter season. In the summertime, the snow melts and fills up the lake–making it a perfect spot to cool down from the heat.

Due to its proximity to LA, most people take day trips to Big Bear Lake, but we thought it would be a great idea if we’d camp overnight instead.

Our first stop was at Boulder Bay Park. We chose this location because it had access to a small beach and stunning views of boulders protruding from the lake. A few weeks ago, we introduced Lil’ Chips to kayaking and taught her how to swim so we were super excited to come here and enjoy these activities with her.

The weather was nice and warm while the water was cool–perfect for a swim. I initially had reservations about swimming in the lake not knowing what could be lurking underneath. But I pushed these thoughts aside considering there were so many people (especially kids!) in the water, that there was absolutely no way anything scary was down there.

One of the things that surprised me about the water was how suddenly it became deep. The water was only ankle-deep in the first couple of meters but then, a step further I was submerged up to my shoulders. I also did not expect to be shivering as soon as I got out of the water and was exposed to the breeze. Perhaps I’m just not used to swimming in higher altitudes yet.

Lil’ Chips, however, did not mind going for a swim. She was scared of the deep at first but quickly became brave after a couple of rounds. It was entertaining to watch her try to swim toward some ducks or floating plants to try and investigate them.

The best part of our lake experience was being on a kayak and just navigating around the water. As we paddled, we went close to the boulders that poked out of the water and enjoyed the view surrounding the lake.

Camping at Big Bear Lake

After a few hours of swimming and then filling our stomachs with burgers and fries at a nearby diner, it was time to set up camp. We chose to stay at Pineknot Campground because despite being close to civilization, it had a sense of being deep in the woods.

Our campsite was big and far enough from other people that we were able to take Lil’ Chips off-leash. One of the things that makes me happy is seeing this creature run wild outdoors. There’s just nothing but pure joy on her face when she’s able to explore freely. Of course, we still keep a close eye on her and make sure she doesn’t cause any problems or get lost in the woods.

This was her second time camping so she was a bit nervous about every little movement or sound. She was doing her best to be our little guard dog. Knowing that we were in bear country, perhaps her loud barks could help scare away bears who happened to stumble close to our camp.

With a town called “Big Bear”, my first thought upon coming here was whether we would encounter any of them in the woods. Fortunately, the only bears left in the area are black bears which are less aggressive compared to grizzlies. Nonetheless, we kept our guards up and made sure to store food in the bear box provided at our campsite.

As soon as the sun went down, the temperature began to drop despite being incredibly hot earlier. Thankfully, we were prepared and brought sweaters and pajamas as well as insulated sleeping bags to keep us warm. We went inside our tent waiting for nightfall and for the stars to come out.

Jeremie quickly fell asleep as soon as he tucked himself in his sleeping bag. Meanwhile, Lil’ Chips felt uneasy about being confined inside the tent. She kept trying to stand on her hind legs (like a meerkat) and poked her head to see outside through the mesh windows. I tucked her in my arms so she would relax and pretty soon she was fast asleep.

I’m always looking forward to seeing the stars whenever we go camping so I stayed up waiting for the sky to go completely dark. I tried my best for a few hours but couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was exhausted from waking up early, swimming, kayaking, and hiking all day. I decided to just close my eyes for a few hours and wake up at 4 AM so I could see the stars.

I was awakened by animals screaming in the distance. It sounded like dogs but I figured they probably were coyotes. They sounded like they were arguing about something. Lil’ Chips let out a small boof–unsure of how to react. The screams kept going for several minutes before suddenly becoming quiet again.

Realizing that it was already midnight, I shifted my gaze up and saw a sky full of stars. We left the rain fly off our tent that night which gave us a perfect, almost panoramic view of the sky. I stared in awe, amazed at how beautiful they looked. I wasn’t the only one enthralled by the flickering lights.

While Jeremie continued to doze off, I caught a glimpse of Lil’ Chips also looking up, curiously looking at the lights above us. I wondered what goes in her head when she’s looking at the stars. Did she have a sense of the vast universe that we live in? For a few minutes, we lay quietly and stared at the sky. It was magical.

Then I drifted into sleep but woke up again when I felt movement outside. What could it be? There was a sudden movement–something big–and it took me a second to realize it had claws. My heart raced. I tried to wake Jeremie, but he seemed to be deep in sleep and ignored me. I wanted to scream but nothing came out. I was paralyzed. This was it. We had nowhere to go, we were trapped and had nowhere to go.

Then I woke up–for real this time. It was all a vivid nightmare. Phew!

I stayed up for a little bit while processing my dream when suddenly, I heard a car horn going off at the campsite next to us. It went on for a solid minute before whoever was pumping the horn decided to stop. When encountering bears, we are taught to make loud noises as a first line of defense to scare them away.

Could it be…?

I stopped myself from considering the thought. I was so tired from the constant disruption that I gave up and closed my eyes.

The next thing that woke me was a very bright light that pierced through the mesh windows of our tent. This time, my watch told me it was 3 AM. Why did the camp host suddenly decide to turn on the lamp near our camp at 3 in the morning? Are they trying to ward off animals?

Then I realized that I had walked around our campsite earlier and don’t remember seeing any form of street lamp anywhere near us. And it couldn’t be a neighbor’s flashlight because it was way too high up from the ground.

I finally put on my glasses and sat up to try to investigate what it was, and it turned out to be..the moon! I’ve never seen the moon that bright before. It illuminated the forest so that I could see everything clearly outside–individual branches from the trees, rocks on the ground, everything!

And again, as much as I was intrigued by this, I was too tired to process it. I rolled my sleeping bag up to my face and finally dozed off again.

Exploring and other fun stuff

The next morning, I was surprisingly energized. I didn’t get any sleep at all but as a morning person, seeing the sunrise peek from behind the trees boosted my spirits. After breakfast, we decided to go hiking.

We went on the nearby trails. With the high altitude, it felt like I was catching my breath after just a few steps. We looked out for rattlesnakes as there had been plenty of sightings in the area. We also made sure to avoid stepping over fallen trees since they could be hiding from the sun.

We saw piles of large boulders, a few squirrels, lizards, and a lot of fallen trees.

Castle Rock Trail

One of the trails we hiked was called Castle Rock Trail. It was a short 2.5-mile trail with plenty of shade and a steep incline in the first part of the trail. We climbed on top of the boulders and saw a scenic view of Big Bear Lake from the top.

Before noon, we were ready to leave and drive back to LA. We said goodbye to Big Bear Lake and told ourselves we would go back one day. Lil’ Chips was so tired that she slept the entire journey back home. As for me, I’m happy to finally be able to stop worrying about bears and sleep comfortably in our Casper bed.


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Forest Interlude

Beautiful and amazing wonderful view