CP Exlorations: Big Bear Lake

Cali Paddlers are known for their passion of exploration. A desire to paddle our waters, and pay respects to the amazing wildlife and nature that lives in our waterways. Thank you to Bret Warner from Stand up to Alzheimer’s for exploring this great state and sharing new areas to paddle. -C.P.

Paddle Big Bear

Like many, I suppose, my first trip to Big Bear was for skiing/snowboarding. Piling multiple hungover college bodies into a jeep to drive from San DIego all the way to Big Bear for one day of snowboarding was my first experience there, and I don’t even remember noticing the lake. A few years later, when I lived 45 minutes down the hill, I went again to go rock climbing at Holcomb Valley, which would deserve a whole additional article if this were a climbing website, and after living farther from the ocean than I ever had almost jumped out of the car into the lake to achieve some sort of high altitude ocean placebo.

As anyone who has ever moved away from the beach already knows. This wouldn’t have worked. At the same time the paddling at Big Bear is certainly good enough that I would still make trips there even if I was close to the ocean again. A paddle around the lake will get you over 12 miles, as evidenced by the 20k around the lake challenge at Big Bear Paddlefest every year. There are numerous bays and launch areas to pick from as you drive around the lake as well. Boulder Bay, on the south side of the lake pretty close to the western end has some relatively new picnic areas and a good place to launch. It’s also decently protected from the wind throughout the day. Unfortunately you are not supposed to climb the namesake boulders in this area, but as mentioned above there is plenty of climbing elsewhere in Big Bear. Further down on the south side of the lake is the Pine Knot Marina, and Veteran’s Park. This is the site of Big Bear Paddlefest, and also can be a good place to launch and play.

On the other side of the lake are both the launch ramps for boats. These are easy places to buy a lake permit, which is 20 for the day, but only 50 for the year. The east launch ramp is a great place for a takeout for a downwinder. You could launch from the west ramp for a downwinder, but you will lose about a mile of lake that way. If you have a forest adventure pass, a pass that will let you park in most areas of the San Bernardino and Los Angeles National Forests, you can park near the dam for a downwinder of about five miles. I have had solid 20 plus mph winds here, that usually get faster as you get to the eastern end of the lake. As you would expect the wind picks up in the afternoon.

Like I mentioned, it’s no ocean replacement, but it has a charm to it, that would bring any ocean goer back.

Things to know

Launch Areas: The West boat launch does not have enough space to rig on OC-1 very easily if the lake levels are normal. Instead go to the East Boat launch, Captain John’s Fawnskin harbor, or Boulder Bay.

Coffee and food:

I am a big fan of the Tea and Coffee Exchange on the south side of the lake. They serve paninis and other sandwiches along with a large selection of tea and coffee drinks. A few years back when I couldn’t finish the 20k race at Big Bear due to a lightning storm I, and several other racers, drowned our sorrows in breakfast sandwiches and dessert crepes here. The North side of the lake is home to the North Shore Cafe, which has both solid breakfast and lunch plates. I have broken my vegetarian diet for the Duck Sandwich here more than once.


Very close to the North Shore Cafe is the North Shore Trading Company. They have been integral in putting Paddle Big Bear over the past ten years, and are super knowledgeable about many types of paddlecraft. They are happy to chat paddling too.

Other important details:

The time it takes to get to the lake is not always predictable. If you get stuck behind a tour bus, or just a slow moving car in one of the single lane areas it can add 15 - 30 minutes going up the hill. I have actually been within 5 minutes of missing a race at Paddle Big Bear because of this.

Apart from paddling the climbing here is, in my opinion, the best summer climbing in California. There are tons of options, with varying difficulty levels if you need to step away from you paddlecraft for a bit.

Quagga mussel inspection is required on Big Bear Lake. We suggest you contact North Shore Trading Company to help direct you on getting this quick formality accounted for and get your inspection sticker.

Map: https://goo.gl/maps/uov3ePgBEem

This is part of our Cali Paddler Explorations Series. We have the ambitious goal of paddling and sharing every body of water in our great state. We would love for you to share with us something by you and help us continue quest!

Team Writer Bret WarnerTeam Writer Bret Warner - Paddling truly got its hooks into me when I, on a whim, watched the 1999 Santa Cruz Paddlefest with my dad. I had kayaked a little before, but from then on the addiction was palpable. My first kayak, a purple and turquoise Necky Rip, came soon after. The following year I was that kid at UCSD who had a surf kayak in the common study area instead of a surfboard in my dorm room. I also taught sea kayaking all through college in San Diego, and up in Santa Cruz after I graduated.

When SUP came around, however, the paddling addiction became even more rabid. The garage started to fill up with different types of boards, and is now more than half full of hollow wood boards I have built myself,both for environmental reasons, and because it’s awesome to get to talk about how you built your own board when people ask you about it after a race. I love the paddle racing scene in California right now. Everyone is so stoked to be on the water competing, and the fierce competition is matched by the smiling faces when the race is over. I have gotten to paddle crafts that I never really considered before, and can see myself getting hooked all over again on something else: prone, OC-1, surfski,whatever, I just need more garage space.

Three years ago I founded the non-profit Stand up to Alzheimer’s. An organization that raises money and awareness for Alzheimer’s research through paddle races. This organization was born from lacking a tangible way of dealing with my father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, but has now become a way, hopefully, for other to help cope as well. Our next event is on July 9 in Monterey at Del Monte Beach, just a little north from Monterey Bay Kayaks. Visit us at www.sup2alzh.weebly.com.

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