Bewitching, Beguiling Big Bear

By Greg Niemann

I didnít expect play detective, running through the newly remodeled pedestrian-friendly Big Bear Lake Village looking for clues. But there I was, smart phone in hand, following cryptic messages that led me to the finish line. It was fun and I felt smarter than my phone after I correctly counted plaques and benches in Veterans Park, deciphered hidden clues from street numbers and scrambled business names, and solved a secret code from a gateway plaque.

It was an Urban Scavenger Hunt and it was a perfect climax to a busy four days at 7,500 elevation Big Bear Lake, about a three hour drive from San Diego. At a writersí conference there (Outdoor Writers Association of California), I was able to sample numerous activities that make Big Bear Lake Southern Californiaís premium four season resort area.

There was plenty to choose from. Several of us took advantage of a self-drive Jeep tour where our guide Desi Hauer led us over some pretty dicey roads. Negotiating over and around those huge rocks not only increased our confidence in the Jeepís versatility, but moreover our own driving ability.

Action Tours offers several Big Bear adventures and I was able to try a couple of them. They have a two-hour Segway Tour that takes riders around the Village and lakefront. It was fun, informative and seemed easy. But I learned not to get too comfortable after riding along smoothly for a while. When you hit something like a curb, you will go down. I know.


Zipping along at 45 mph

It had been a couple of years since Iíd challenged my aging body to a zip line tour. Action Tours also offers a three hour, nine leg Zipline adventure that is not for the faint of heart. Iíd signed up and thought about chickening out, but my 76-year old machismo won that internal argument. Reaching speeds up to 45 mph, it was thrilling and Iím glad I did it.

Action also offers what they call Flyboarding, a unique sport where water pressure actually has you up and soaring along over the lake. I was curious but not too curious.

Some of my colleagues fly-fished the upper reaches of the Santa Ana River, while some went bass fishing in the lake. Others hiked the nearby mountains, or biked around the lake, or kayaked in the crystal-clear lake. A few of the more athletic members enjoyed a tree rope climbing adventure.†

Eight of us shared two boats to troll for trout in the lake. John Cantrell of Cantrell Charters took our pontoon boat to where the trout were and we brought ten of them in one morning. The others fared equally well.

We had cocktails one evening aboard the paddlewheel boat Miss Liberty, and the next night rode the Scenic Sky Chair at Snow Summit for a barbecue at the Summit Haus. In the summer both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are heavily used by mountain bikers. But we rode the lift back down.

Rounding out my Big Bear adventures, I visited the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. It is a unique zoo that has been saving and protecting wildlife since 1959. It is the only zoo in the United States specializing in alpine wildlife and is currently home to about 160 non-releasable orphaned and injured wildlife representing over 89 species.†

There is so much to do at Big Bear for all ages, with scads of shopping (think hand-carved wooden bears), and dining choices (I liked the Peppercorn Grille and El Jacalito, both on Pine Knot Ave. in the Village). Thereís the 9-hole Bear Mountain Golf Course, the Pirate Ship 90 minute tour, and several gold mine tours.

While I liked the active adventures, that Scavenger Hunt was pretty cool. I kept expecting to find Phil Keough of The Amazing Race at the finish line telling me where Iíd be flying to next.†††††

If you go

Where:† Four season adventures in and around Big Bear Lake

What:†† Action Tours:† 909-866-0390†† ††††††

††††††††† † Big Bear Jeep Adventures 909-420-5828 †††

††††††††† † Cantrell Charters (fishing)†† 909-585-4017

††††††††† † Smart Phone Scavenger Hunt† † †† ††

Directions: †From San Diego, I-15 to Highway 91 to I-10 in San Bernardino; east to Highway 38 (Redlands), Highway 38 to Big Bear.

††(Greg Niemann is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS.

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