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Beat the Heat! 9 Family Activities for a Southern California Mountain Getaway

By on October 23, 2015

Camping this weekend sounded awesome until Thursday rolled around and you still have no idea where to even go. Plopping down on that couch the moment the kids go to bed sounds so much better than pouring through Internet pages for places to stay or entertaining things to keep the kids from saying those dreaded words — “I’m bored”. I’ll admit I want to plant a big ole’ smooch on my husband when he’s already done the work and hands me “the plan” for our camping weekend. That huge burden is lifted and I can focus on the easier “what to feed” plan. Well, here’s your guide mama! (You don’t have to smooch me though. :) )

Your Guide to 9 Family Activities in the San Bernardino National Forest 

First, download the Forest Service visitor guide found here. (Note: Some of these activities listed below require the Adventure Pass. If you are military, your free Interagency Military pass will work as well. Just flip it to the back and leave visible on the dash in your car.

1. Visit a Fire Lookout:

These volunteers are eager to show you around the observation room and teach you how the equipment is used. We visited Keller Peak (not recommended for smaller kids because of the ladder climbing they have to do).Keller Peak Lookout Peak Lookout Keller Peak Lookout Keller Peak Lookout

2. Hike the 3/4 mile Children’s Forest or nearby 4.5 Mile Exploration Trail

They have some good rocks for climbing here as well.
Children's Forest's Forest

3. Drive the Rim of the World Scenic Byway

Perfect for nap times in the car. Just drive and enjoy the view.

Rim of the World Scenic Byway

4. Visit the Big Bear Discovery Center

There wasn’t too much inside but it’s a good 1st stop to pick up maps and guides. Ask for the Off Highway Vehicle Map here. They have a fun outdoor discovery play area for kids for unstructured play.  Kids can make music, build a fort from driftwood, or dig in dirt. Sit and make a plan from the brochures you picked up while the kids play.

5. Hike the Woodland Trail (near Big Bear Discovery Center)

1.5 mile loop, some up and down on the hills but mostly easy for kids.

Woodland Trail, Big Bear

6. Bike the Alpine Pedal Path

An easy and flat family bike path along Big Bear Lake.

7. Go Off Roading:

After you pick up your OHV map at Big Bear Discovery Center, a fun road to take is 3N14 just past Hanna Flat Campground. Don’t even try 3N93 as a shortcut unless you have someone to winch you out. Stay on 3N14 to Big Pine Flats and take 3N16 through Holcomb Valley. So much fun going downhill. Just watch out for the OHV’s.

Image below is 3N93 from the northern part (right image) and where the road meets 3N16 again (left image). 3N93 San BernardinoOHV Trail San Bernardino Forest

8. Drive the Gold Fever Trail

This is a self-guided auto tour that starts a bit slow. It’s a wonderful homeschool tour through the backcountry if you’ve been studying the California Gold Rush and want to put a place to the stories. You’ll need a 4-wheel drive higher clearance vehicle for the portion near Metzger Mine and Gold Mountain Mine. Pick up map from the Big Bear Discovery Center. Hubby biked while I drove most of this route. Gold Fever Trail Fever Trail Fever Trail

9. Camping

That first night we nestled in close and watched the stars overhead. It was finally cold and felt so good to have that heavy blanket over me. A week of ninety degree weather in San Diego in October with no a/c had all of us a bit grumpy. Camping was the perfect antidote.

Recommended Campgrounds

Crab Flats Campground near Arrowhead. This is where we stayed but there are a few things to know about this campground:

    • It’s noisy during the day with Off Highway Vehicles (OHV’s). If you have a dirt bike or 4-wheeler you are bringing up, this is your campground.
    • You need a high clearance vehicle to get to this campground. You’ll be driving through a 2-ft deep creek. (see picture below)Crab Flats Campground Flats Campground

There are lots of places for kids to explore and climb. The campground is fairly small too. You’ll feel comfortable with them biking the loop on their own. Crab Flats Campground Flats Campground Flats: We will likely stay here next time. This campground is near Big Bear Lake and seemed quieter and closer to hiking and biking trails.

Big Pine Flats was closed, but we did a drive by and it seemed fine too. It’s off one of the OHV roads so I imagine it also gets noisy during the day.

Serrano Campground: Closest to Big Bear and Fawnskin. It’s big and busy, but one of the few with showers in the area.

With numerous campgrounds options (there’s even more in the Forest guide mentioned at the beginning of the post), pay attention to the features you are looking for in a campground. Most have no showers but have drinking water nearby. A few have flushing toilets but most are pit toilets. What’s your comfort level with camping? 

Yellow Post Sites: This is also an option we will explore for next time. These are quiet, secluded sites on the back roads. Our favorites were the sites off the road going up the Children’s Forest and Keller Peak. These have no restroom or drinking water.

Have you been to the Big Bear area? Any fun activities or places to see that you’d recommend? Leave a comment and share!Camping San Bernardino National Forest San Bernardino National Forest that you’ve got your camping plan, let’s get you taking those rockin’ iPhone pics of your kids so you can remember those special trips! Head over to my Facebook page and sign up for A Mama’s Guide to iPhone Photography! Did I mention it’s FREE?!

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