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Snowshoeing on trails through the San Bernardino National Forest, just a few minutes from the heart of Big Bear Lake Village, is an easy sport that almost anyone can do. Participants are rewarded with clean air, the smell of pine, unspoiled scenery and quiet. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
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Big Bear: A change of seasons in a couple of hours

A bandanna is a versatile tool when you’re on the trail.

It can wipe sweat, cool the neck, blow the nose, tie up hair, become a hot pad, look cool and do some other things I can’t mention here.

It also can serve as a tourniquet, which is what I needed when I pulled my purple-accented bandanna from the bottom of my backpack during a snowshoeing adventure on Pine Knot Trail in the San Bernardino National Forest, minutes from the town of Big Bear Lake. I had been carrying the unused bandanna for years; this was my chance.

The day was perfect: 48 degrees, clear skies, empty trails and enough snow for snowshoeing, sledding and great photos. Our guide, Dan McKernan, publisher of the twice-yearly Big Bear Guide, was in the lead. Good thing — we could see nothing of a trail, so were free to immerse ourselves in this alpine wonderland.

Then, returning to the trailhead, my husband slid down a small embankment. No injuries except a nasty abrasion just above the elbow — not serious but bloody. I pulled out the dormant bandanna and applied pressure.

The wildflower show in and around Big Bear Lake, like this one in 2013, should be explosive this spring because of copious snow this past winter. Photo by Jerry Ondash

It held well enough until we made a quick visit to Walgreens for real bandages, then it was off to some superb eats at Stella Luna in Big Bear Lake Village. Opened in 2021, the airy, contemporary space, complete with a big screen for watching Big Bear Valley’s bald eagle cam, caters to those who need or prefer gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options.

“Both my husband and I have a severe gluten allergy,” said owner Alicia Betzler, “and Ryan and I saw a need in this community for a different kind of restaurant.”

There is plenty for omnivores too, and all offerings from the scratch kitchen are made with sustainability in mind.

“We’re very conscious in picking vendors,” she added. “We use compostable paper products and plates made of recycled clay. We partner with smaller farms in our local area and avoid big-brand labels for alcohol and wine.”

Big Bear Lake Village and environs, which sit at 6,800 feet and near a portion of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, is our go-to getaway when we crave a change of seasons. The less-than-three-hour drive from North County brings visitors to the pristine, 824,000-acre national forest, 7-mile-long lake and spectacular peaks. The winter snow, spring wildflowers, cool summers and fall colors draw enthusiasts who love skiing, hiking, biking, boating and kayaking.

You can find equipment and advice on many of these pursuits at Goldsmiths Sports, one of the few shops that offer snowshoes and electric mountain bikes, which negate the need for acclimating to the altitude.

“We can send customers out to best places to find the fluffiest snow (and best trails),” said Danielle Goldsmith, the area’s first snowboard safety patroller and whose family has been on the mountain for four generations.

There also are plenty of no-skill-required activities: snow tubing, ziplining, ropes course, miniature golf, and alpine slides and coasters.

For an accessible outdoors: Stanfield Preserve Boardwalk, an elevated boardwalk that traverses a wildlife preserve at the lake’s southeast end. (Waterfowl feed in the morning and late afternoon.) And the 3.2-mile Alpine Pedal Path on the lake’s north side. For animal lovers: the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, which rehabilitates grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, eagles, snakes, owls, wolves and more.

The immensely popular annual Oktoberfest runs from September to early November and celebrates the community’s German heritage. And on Memorial Day weekend: Maifest, “Oktoberfest’s little sister.”

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