Big Bear Valley encompasses the first mountain recreation area in Southern California history.
The area initially grew as a result of the California Gold Rush of the second half of the 19th century. But subsequent generations found recreational value in the Valley for both summer and winter activities, situated 100 miles east of Los Angeles.
A flat, marshy area in the Valley was dammed in the late 1800s to form Big Bear Lake. Again the area was dammed in the early 1900s to increase the volume of the lake.
The City of Big Bear Lake, which surrounds this man made body of water, and the neighboring unincorporated area immediately to the east, Big Bear City, house the majority of Big Bear Valley residents, over 17,000 people. During busy weekends throughout the year the Valley’s population can swell to 100,000.
Primarily a ski-town, most Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers won’t see the Valley in full bloom.
In normal years, thru-hikers might exit the trail at Mile 252 or 266 to seek modern amenities in Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake. Because of the long stretch to the next trail town, Wrightwood, hikers may also choose to enter and exit the Valley from Mile 275.
Most thru-hikers needs can be met in the Valley. But not in one place. Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake stretch thinly along roughly nine miles of CA-18.
Hitch hiking is the least efficient way to navigate the businesses of the Valley. Stops must be planned in advance due to the layout of critical stops such as the grocer or sporting goods store. The Valley has a bus system that runs along CA-18 (but stops by 7pm) as well as a network of cabs to get hikers from “Point A to Point B”. (At the time of this article, bus rides run $1.50 one way, and cabs operate for a flat rate, $20 fee.)
But maybe the most efficient way for hikers to travel the Valley is renting a car from the Enterprise service located at “The Lodge” Holiday Inn Resort in Big Bear Lake.
However a hiker chooses to navigate the Valley, they tend to gravitate to two locations when it comes time for bed: the Big Bear Hostel, and Papa Smurf and Mountian Mama’s place.
Despite a slew of hotel/motel options, hikers will gather until there are no more vacancies at the Big Bear Hostel during peak PCT season. And the Sarge is there to greet them. The hostel is centrally located near most of the bars and restaurants open for business.
With over a decade of service in the United States Marine Corps, Sarge runs the show at the Big Bear Hostel.
During a normal year Sarge is busy. But this year busy would be an understatement. The fire closure has thru-hikers rolling into the Valley off the bus from San Bernardino (by way of Ziggy and the Bear’s) at 9am, 3pm, and 7pm. This keeps the Sarge busy 7 days a week from the morning to 10 at night during the 6 weeks of peak PCT season.
But despite the chaos caused by the fire closure, Sarge makes sure those staying at the Hostel get a ride back to the trail, whether that’s Mile 252, 266, or 275. He’s all in on hiker accommodations during peak season, and as soon as that fire closure opens up, he’ll get right back to supporting some legendary trail magic.
Sarge isn’t the only local watching out for PCT thru-hikers. The Valley is also home to a pair of trail angels in Big Bear City, Papa Smurf and Mountain Mama.
This couple does it all. They’ll take in hiker boxes for those planning a stop to the Valley. They’ll field calls throughout the day, taking hikers not only to and from the trail, but also down to wherever they need be.
If you see Mountain Momma’s Pathfinder around town during peak season, and there’s not a hiker inside, she’s probably on her way to go pick one up.
Poppa Smurf and Mountain Momma have been taking thru-hikers in to their home for five years now, and they’ve been feeding them too. They’re true trail angels in every sense of the word.
As with the trail itself, there’s more to the towns of the PCT than one can glean from looking at a map or even reading this hardly comprehensive article. Plan a stop and experience Big Bear Valley for yourself.