Big Bear vs. Lake Arrowhead: A mountain getaway comparison

Published Date: September 14, 2022

There’s a lot to love about both Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. Both are charming California alpine towns nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, less than two hours from Los Angeles. And while both boast summer lakefront fun and winter snow play, there are five key differences you’ll want to know before picking your favorite.

1. Lake access: Big Bear 

Both towns have mountain lakes as their centerpiece, but Big Bear Lake is much larger than Lake Arrowhead. And that’s not the only difference. If you’re headed to Lake Arrowhead for some watersports fun, it’s important to know that the lake is privately owned. That means lake access is limited to local homeowners and their guests living right on the water or within about a one-mile perimeter, known as Arrowhead Woods. Without a home here, the only way to enjoy some time on the water is if you’re staying at a waterfront resort, camping at the campgrounds on either side of the lake, or enjoying a guided boat ride on the Lake Arrowhead Queen.Big Bear Lake is open to all and offers a wide range of watersports, thanks to multiple marinas and boat launches dotting the shoreline. For a day, a weekend or longer, enjoy boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, fishing or guided tours.

2. Winter sports: Big Bear 

While both Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead get enough snow in the winter to give you that cozy winter wonderland feel, Big Bear is far and away the better option for those looking for snowsports activities. Big Bear sits at an elevation of roughly 7,000 feet — 2,000 feet higher than Lake Arrowhead — and averages 50-plus inches of snow a year, compared to 37 inches in Lake Arrowhead.  And there’s even more snow at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, two ski resorts in the Big Bear area. They’re known for some of the best skiing and snowboarding in Southern California, with a combined 400 acres, 25 lifts and 55 runs. Snow Summit is a great destination for beginners and families, while Bear Mountain delivers more challenging terrain.

3. Village offerings: Lake Arrowhead 

Both mountain towns have a downtown “village” that serves as the hub for locals and visitors alike. While both villages offer dining, shopping and entertainment, Lake Arrowhead Village is especially big on charm.You’ll find over 50 shops and restaurants, plus plenty of special events throughout the year. Perhaps the most popular event is the Summer Concert Series, which runs from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend with tribute bands performing on the Center Stage multiple times each week. 

4. Ease of access: Tie 

Which destination is easier to get to? That depends on where you’re coming from. From Los Angeles, both are fairly easily accessible by car, but Lake Arrowhead is a bit closer. In fact, you’ll pass Lake Arrowhead on Highway 18 en route to Big Bear. Also, since Big Bear is larger and more popular, you’re more likely to hit weekend traffic heading in and out of town. If you’re traveling by air, you’ll only have one option: Big Bear. The town has a small airport, Big Bear City Airport, that’s popular with jet setters who travel by private or charter plane.  

5. The vibe: Tie 

Which mountain retreat you fall in love with depends on your preferences. Lake Arrowhead is widely considered to be an upscale retreat, with more private residences than resorts and far fewer visitors each year. Many call Lake Arrowhead their home away from home for its solitude and slower pace of life. Big Bear is a better known vacation destination, which means more people — and more activities. Adventure travelers and outdoors lovers flock to Big Bear all year to enjoy their favorite adrenaline-pumping activities and active pursuits.

Find your second home in the mountains 

Whether your style is Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead, you’ll find great Pacaso co-ownership opportunities. Discover your dream second home today and start exploring this unique part of Southern California.

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Jen Lyons


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