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Travel Logs July 2014


Beat the Heat in Family-Friendly Big Bear, California

By Bobbie Green

An absolute must see is the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, formerly known as Moonridge Animal Park. It is the only true alpine zoo in the country. The animals here are only high mountain species. Yes, they have grizzly bears -- even a three-legged bear named Hucklebeary.

At a cool 7,000 feet, Big Bear, California, is a family-friendly destination to beat the desert’s summer heat. Mingle among the Jeffery Pines and the red-barked incense cedar trees, Big Bear offers 20 endemic wildflowers not seen anywhere else in the world. However, the real attraction here is the abundance of summertime multi-generational family fun.

Although known for its winter skiing, summertime fun is plentiful. Off-roading in Big Bear gives adventurers plenty of mining sites, challenging early wagon routes and historic roads to explore. If you do not have your own vehicle to use, there are companies like Big Bear Off-Road Adventures who will take the whole family in enough comfort for grandma, and as few as two, into the wild with a very knowledgeable guide. From the guide you will see and hear the history of the area, the varied plant and animal life, an entertaining learning experience.

We stopped at the old Bellville gold campsite. Here we could see what they call the Van Dusen cabin. The huge site at one time held many gold rush tents and cabins creating a temporary town. Nearby is an un-picturesque tree stump – the hanging tree. Each time they hung someone they cut off a limb. In this gold rush camp, they hung so many the tree died, said our guide Doug Walton.

The beautiful lake, which still has plenty of water, offers many pleasures such as swimming, boating, jet skiing, canoeing and kayaking. If you are not a seasoned angler with your own boat, you may wish to use Cantrell Fishing and Guide Service. They offer the visitors covered pontoon boats that can hold up to 10 people and “Guarantee you will catch a fish.” Their boat is equipped with a state-of-art fish finder.

The key word here is covered -- adults can watch their child or grandchild catch a fish without messing up their hair-do while protected from the sun. The crew are professionally licensed fishing guides and amateur entertainers. The wait time for the fish to bite which some of us classify as boring -- is now filled with family-friendly jokes and great fishing advice.

The Big Bear Discovery Center works with the National Forest Association to bring enrichment to every resident and visitor to Big Bear. They have an interesting visitor center with many stuffed alpine animals and birds. They offer a variety of classes, hikes, guided canoe and kayaking tours. Yes, they will teach you how to paddle. They have a Summer Campfire Series that includes Moonridge Animal Park, Lightning Show, Astronomy Program and Adventure Travel Series.

Paddlewheel boats have been an attraction on Big Bear Lake for 50 years. The newest edition is the Pine Knot Landing Boat Tour with a pleasant 90-minute narrated tour on a very comfortable boat for a leisurely change of pace.

If you are a golf addict, you can get your fix at the Big Bear Mountain Golf Course. The course is a nine hole but, you can play 18. It has a rustic look to it, fitting right into the Big Bear terrain. Special here is the laid-back friendliness of the staff and a couple of unique tees.

An absolute must see is the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, formerly known as Moonridge Animal Park. It is the only true alpine zoo in the country. The animals here are only high mountain species. Yes, they have grizzly bears -- even a three-legged bear named Hucklebeary. You can see a bald eagle up close. Even though they have great wildlife and birds to see, it is a small, intimate zoo and seniors can handle it easily. I saw wheelchaired visitors there too. Tip: 3:00pm is the feeding tour; kids and dads love it. Mom may gross out.

If you have a grizzly-size appetite, try Grizzly’s Cafe on the Boulevard. It is the local’s place with all the flavor of a small mountain town. You will get a fabulous mountain of a hamburger or grizzly-size hot cakes with a dose of local politics and humor. They are only open for breakfast and lunch. If you are looking for Big Bear atmosphere for dinner, try Captains Anchorage, a lively old place once owned by Andy Devine. The better than average meals include a soup and salad bar. The place sports a copper-topped bar in the saloon that locals say is haunted. Who knows, the bar bottles may fly while you are there.

When looking for a place to stay, Big Bear can accommodate all needs –  B&Bs motels, RV parks and cabin rentals. Big Bear Vacation Rentals also specialize in fully equipped private home rentals large and small. The cool inviting mountain of Big Bear welcomes intimate getaways to group retreats.

Benjamin Wilson discovered the valley in 1845 while looking for game. He came across the valley with big grizzlies bears wandering in it. Other mountain men came to hunt and found gold. The wild grizzly roams no more – however, there are black bears. The valley is no longer hidden, but waiting with open arms for all to enjoy its many amenities in both winter and summer.



Big Bear Lake Resort Association



Big Bear Off-Road Excursions



Bear Mountain Golf Course



Cantrell Fishing Service



Big Bear Discovery Center



Moonridge Animal Park



Big Bear Vacation Rentals



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