Driving Routes to Big Bear

It seems reasonable for those living in the Greater Los Angeles Area that Big Bear is far beyond the known world. Yes, I've met people who never went east of the San Diego Freeway for anything! We all know what they are missing.

Welcome to the Big Bear Advantage! Big Bear is so close to LA, we have friends who have gone skiing in the morning and surfing the same night.

You can too! Fill 'er up. Load 'er up. We'll see you here in a few hours.

Los Angeles to Big Bear is not a problem. Go East! Take the 210, the 10, or the 60. These are the main arteries out of LA, and once past the downtown interchanges, you can sit back and enjoy the drive, the stereo, and the thought of that fresh mountain air filling your lungs.

People always ask about the best way to Big Bear. Here's the thing, the "longest" way and the "shortest" way are only about 15 minutes different in time. The difference is what you may expect from each route. When you arrive in the San Bernardino area, you have 3 choices to come to Big Bear. The 15, the 18, and the 38.

No matter which way you are coming to Big Bear, the locals basically say, "It takes about an hour from the bottom of the hill." When you reach that last exit in Highland, and head into the canyon, you are at "the bottom of the hill". If you are taking the 38 from the Orange Exit off the 10, consider that "the bottom of the hill". When you start up the Cajon Pass, where the 15 meets the 215, consider that "the bottom of the hill". If it is a clear day, you'll know when you are at "the bottom of the hill". You can expect around an hour more and you'll be breathing Big Bear's pristine mountain air.

When coming out the 60, plan on coming north on the 15 or 215 to either head up Cajon Pass, or merge onto the 10 East, prodeeding to the 330 or 38.

In non-icy weather, the fastest route from the bottom of the mountain is on the 330/Big Bear exit from route 10. This is the same as the Highland exit from the 210. Driving the 10, there is a very visible exit sign with 2 lanes leading north. A few short miles across the valley floor and the mountain exit is waiting. You get one last chance for chains, gas, shopping, fast food and certain aspects of "civilization" at the Highland offramp. If you don't exit, you're on your way up the mountain.

Please notice the road and the turnouts. 2 large communities use this road every day. Running Springs, including Lake Arrowhead, and the Big Bear community. This road is very curvy and steep, taking you to the Rim Highway in a very short time. There are several passing lanes and turnouts on the way up the mountain. All of them are large and safe.

There is ample room for pulling out of traffic and slowing down. Here's a tip: If you see a short pullout, try to avoid it, unless stopping for an emergency. There are plenty of longer, safe pullouts on both sides of the highway.

Keep winding up. You'll pass Running Springs and Snow Valley. On a clear day, you'll know when you are at, "First Look". The climb takes you to Arctic Circle, cut out of the side of the mountain, and your first view of Big Bear Lake. That pullout is worth it, if you want a perspective of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Coming up the 38 from the 10/210 is a delightful alternative drive to Big Bear. From the 10, continue past the 330 interchange and prepare to exit on Orange Street. Make a left on Orange/38. Continue to Lugonia.

Make a right and keep on going. The 38 is well marked.

After Mentone, you'll pass the Ranger Station, enter the Santa Ana River canyon and head up the hill. If you need a "last stop" before heading into the mountains, there is a lovely picnic area a couple miles up the road.

The road rises quickly, going through several groups of tight curves, past Seven Oaks, and opens up to the Jenks Lake area. There are many public, private and church camps in this area. The Santa Ana River begins nearby. Open your windows here and test the air!

There is one more set of tight curves to the river crossing and you're headed to the top. From Onyx Summit into Big Bear City, you can practically let your car drive itself. The highway is set for a perfect 55mph. Try it!

The "last" route into Big Bear is the smoothest. Some say it takes too long, but many prefer it. From Los Angeles on whichever of the 3 freeways you chose, head north on the 15, up Cajon Pass. Exit on Bear Valley Blvd., heading East. Keep right on going. It gets quieter, the further you go from the freeway. You'll come to a large pile of rocks (Yes! These are REAL Directions!) and the road veers to the right onto the 18. Watch the cross traffic and head into Lucerne Valley. When you reach the town center, continue on the road to Big Bear.

A few miles and you will enter the Cushenberry Grade. This part of the road is steep and very curvy. There are 3 extreme hairpins on this part of the road, and at least 3 more before the crest. Take your time and let the locals pass.

Here's the difference between this and the other 2 roads to Big Bear; you only spend about 15 minutes on curvy mountain roads at the very last part of the drive. The other 2 routes have curves throughout.

Inexperienced mountain drivers who find the other routes a bit nervy, only have to deal with the curves at the end of the drive. You enter Big Bear from Baldwin Lake and arrive along the North Shore in Big Bear City. Signs are well placed.

If you are driving in winter, please carry tire chains. And, PLEASE know how to install them. During snow storms, each route has a designated chain install area. The CHP and Sheriff's Dept. stop everyone. R-2 conditions state, if you have a 4x4 and snow tires, you may be allowed to drive without chains. You still must have a set in the car, even with a 4x4. 2-wheel drive vehicles are required to install chains on the drivewheels. If you can't do it, installers are usually available for a price.

If it is storming really hard, all 3 routes to Big Bear could be closed to vehicles without chains, including 4x4's. These are called R-3 conditions. Hopefully, everyone is tucked in before driving in that much snow. Wait until Caltrans has cleared the way. They are very good at what they do and will save you a lot of stress in a snowy road condition.

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