A Summer Spent at Big Bear Lake
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 in the mountains of San Bernardino is a small city tucked in an alpine forest and set next to a huge lake. Big Bear Lake is a popular destination for Angelinos who want to escape the city and enjoy the great outdoors. From our home in West LA, it only took us between two to two-and-a-half hours to get there.
At 6700+ feet above sea level, the city of Big Bear is the perfect place to enjoy winter sports as it gets a lot of snow during that time. In the summertime, the snow melts and the weather is perfect for a swim in the lake. Most people we know who have visited the lake say you can visit Big Bear in a day, but we thought we’d camp overnight instead.
Our first stop was a park called Boulder Bay Park. Here, there was access to a small beach and views of large boulders that protruded from the lake. A few weeks ago, we had introduced Lil’ Chips (our dog) to swimming and kayaking so we were super excited to come here and do these activities with her.
The weather was nice and warm, and the water was cool making it enticing to go for a swim. Jeremie, however, was not a fan of the murky waters and so we decided to rent a kayak to explore the lake instead. I initially had reservations about swimming in the lake not knowing what could be lurking beneath. But I pushed these thoughts aside thinking there were so many people (and kids!) swimming, that there was absolutely no way anything scary was down there.
One of the things that surprised me about the water was how quickly it became deep. Just a couple of meters from the shore where the water was ankle-deep, the water suddenly submerged my body up to my shoulders. I also did not expect to be shivering hard 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 deeper parts at first but quickly became braver after a couple of rounds. It was entertaining to watch her try to swim toward some ducks or floating plants to investigate them.
But the best part of this experience was being out on a kayak and just navigating around the lake. As we paddled, we went up close to the large boulders that poked out of the water and enjoyed the mountains that surrounded the lake. We saw a couple of large fish jumping out of the water, but I have no idea what type of fish they were.
Camping at Big Bear Lake
After a few hours of swimming and then filling our stomachs with burgers and fries at a nearby restaurant, it was time to set up our tent. We chose to camp at Pineknot Campground, which, despite being close to the city, felt like you were deep in the woods.
Our campsite was big and far enough from other people that we were able to let Lil’ Chips off-leash. One of the things that make me happy is seeing this creature run wild outdoors. There’s just nothing but pure joy on her face when she’s not tied up.
However, this was only her second time camping so she was a bit nervous about every little movement or sound. Knowing that we were in bear country, perhaps her loud barks could help scare away bears who happen to stumble close to our camp.
With a town called “Big Bear”, one of my first thoughts was whether we would encounter one during our trip. 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 on the campsite.
When the light started to fade, we went inside our tent and waited for the stars to come out. Despite the incredibly hot weather just a few hours ago, the temperature started to drop as soon as the sun was out. Thankfully, we were prepared and brought sweaters and pajamas as well as insulated sleeping bags to keep us warm.
I turned to Jeremie and realized he was quickly falling asleep. Meanwhile, Lil’ Chips was feeling uneasy being trapped inside the tent and kept poking her head up the mesh windows to see outside. She stood on her hind legs which made her look like a meerkat! I tucked her in my arms so she would relax and pretty soon she was fast asleep.
As I waited for the sky to become completely dark, I suddenly couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was exhausted from waking up early on top of swimming, kayaking, and hiking all day. I decided I would just close my eyes for a few hours and wake up at 4 AM so I can see the stars.
Suddenly, I was awakened by animals screaming in the distance. It sounded like dogs but I figured it probably was coyotes. They sounded like they were fighting or arguing. Lil’ Chips let out a small boof unsure of how to react. The screams kept going on for minutes before it suddenly became 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 of 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 glanced over at Lil’ Chips who was also looking up, curiously looking at the flickering lights above us.
I wondered whether she was aware of the vast universe above us. What did she think of these stars? How did she feel about them? For a few minutes, we just lay quietly and stared at the sky. It was magical.
I drifted into sleep but woke up again when I felt movement and saw a silhouette outside the tent. It was something big, and it took me a second to realize it had huge 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 when I opened my mouth. I was paralyzed. This was it. We had nowhere to go, we were trapped inside this tent.
But then I woke up–for real this time. I had a nightmare and there was no bear outside. Phew!
My nightmare was so vivid, it didn’t even feel like a dream. I stayed up for a little bit processing the images when suddenly, I hear a car horn going off at the campsite next to us. It went on for a solid minute before whoever was pumping on 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 too tired from the constant disruption, so I decided to give up and went back to bed.
The next thing that woke me was this very bright light that pierced through the mesh windows of our tent. This time, my watch told me it was 3 AM. Outside, it looked like someone decided to turn on a street lamp. I thought, why would the camp host suddenly decide to turn on the lamp near our camp at 3 in the morning? Was it to help ward off the animals? Is this just a camp feature to help us see in the dark?
Then I realized that I had walked around our campsite when it was still bright out and didn’t see any form of street lamp amidst the trees. And it wasn’t 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 this light was, and it turned out to be…drum roll…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 feeling energized. I didn’t get any sleep 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 losing my breath even after just a few steps up an incline. We looked out for rattlesnakes as there had been plenty of sightings from other visitors in the area. We also made sure to avoid stepping over fallen trees as they could be hiding there from the sun.
We saw piles of large boulders, a few squirrels and 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 but the first few minutes involved a steep incline. 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 hoped to go back one day. Lil’ Chips was so tired, she slept the entire journey back home.