Homeschool families are always looking for new and exciting places to visit and expand their insight into the world. If you live in Southern California, then you don’t have to go far! Big Bear Lake is an easy 2-hour drive from Los Angeles with many things for homeschoolers to do.
Have you heard of nature-deficit disorder? It’s a belief that children (and adults!) suffer from a lack of nature in their lives, resulting in attention disorders, physical health issues, and depression. So we try to counteract our very technology-connected lives with time spent out in nature.
Some of our favorite activities in Big Bear include hiking through beautiful mountain trails, fishing on pristine lakes, and visiting the local zoo and museums.
Why You Should Visit Big Bear Lake:
- Teach your kids how to fish! It’s an excellent way for your kids (and you!) to learn patience, knot tying, and basic survival skills.
- Cruise the lake and enjoy the impressive scenery.
- Take a hike on one of the many gorgeous trails around Big Bear.
- Explore historical sites around Big Bear and find remnants from its gold mining days.
- Snowboard down the slopes of Big Bear Mountain and enjoy hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows by an open fire afterward!
Best Things to Do in Big Bear
- Visit the Big Bear Alpine Zoo – A rehab facility and sanctuary in Big Bear, CA for native animals that have been impacted by humans. Most of the animals are able to be treated and returned to the wild, but some that have been imprinted by humans end up staying at the facility.
- Check out the Big Bear Solar Observatory (a great fishing spot as well!)
- Learn more about the region at the Big Bear Discovery Center and the Big Bear Valley Historical Museum.
- Try your hand at gold mining at Gold Rush Mining Adventures.
- Walk or bike along Alpine Pedal Path.
Check Out these Resources before Your Visit
I’ve sourced books, websites, and videos for you to utilize in case you want to make it a more well-rounded educational experience. You can easily use these resources to create a unit study about droughts, the California Gold Rush, or bears.
Learn the history of Big Bear through photographs.
Postcard History Series: Big Bear – Amazon
Venture through the last 100 years of Big Bear through postcard pictures.
Get ready for a walk on the wild side in this image-packed book all about bears! Kids will learn about different kinds of bears, where they live, and what they do. This level 3 reader is written in an easy-to-grasp style to encourage the animal lovers of today and scientists of tomorrow! – Amazon
Bear meets sandwich, adventure ensues. . . . A sly classic-in-the-making for fans of Jon Klassen, Peter Brown, and Mo Willems. – Amazon
A Caldecott Honor Book! A cheerful and action-packed adventure about the importance of friendship and community from a successful author and illustrator duo! Once there was a river flowing through a forest. The river didn’t know it was capable of adventures until a big bear came along. But adventures aren’t any fun by yourself, and so enters Froggy, Turtles, Beaver, Racoons, and Duck. These very different animals take off downstream, but they didn’t know they needed one another until thankfully, the river came along. This hilarious picture book and heartfelt message celebrates the joy and fun that’s in store when you embark together on a ride of a lifetime. – Amazon
Bear and Wolf become unlikely companions one winter’s evening when they discover each other out walking in the falling snow; they are young and curious, slipping easily into friendship as they amble along together, seeing new details in the snowy forest. Together they spy an owl overhead, look deep into the frozen face of the lake, and contemplate the fish sleeping below the surface. Then it’s time to say goodbye: for Bear to go home and hibernate with the family and for Wolf to run with the pack. Daniel Salmieri’s debut as author/illustrator is a beautifully rendered story of friendship and the subtle rhythm of life when we are open to the world and to each other. – Amazon
In 1848, gold was discovered in California, attracting over 300,000 people from all over the world, some who struck it rich and many more who didn’t. Hear the stories about the gold-seeking “forty-niners!” With black-and white illustrations and sixteen pages of photos, a nugget from history is brought to life! – Amazon
Learn how prospectors mined for gold, what life was like in mining camps, and much more. In 1848, gold was discovered in a California river, kicking off a period of time when thousands of people traveled to the West Coast with dreams of getting rich. Readers (Ages 7-9) will get an up-close look at life during the California Gold Rush as they follow the adventures of Louise and Feng, two kids living in mining camp near San Francisco. – Amazon
For fans of the I Survived series, this classic rollicking adventure about the California Gold Rush and one determined twelve-year-old has sold nearly a million copies! When Jack’s aunt is forced to sell her beloved mansion but is still unable to raise enough money to pay her debts, the twelve-year-old goes to California in search of gold to help her. Joined by his trusty butler, Praiseworthy, Jack finds adventure and trouble at every turn. Will Jack strike gold in San Francisco or come home empty-handed? – Amazon
California Out of the Box (fabulous unit on the Gold Rush) – Amazon
California Out of the Box uses story as a basis for an interdisciplinary exploration of Golden State history, life and earth science, geography, social studies, the arts, and more! – Amazon
From giant tornadoes to the smallest of snowflakes, discover all about weather conditions and how they are created. Weather we experience every day, as well as extreme weather around the world – such as tropical storms – are explained by detailed illustrations and photography alongside incredible facts and figures. As you look at the world’s weather, you’ll also learn about the history of meteorology and our obsession with predicting and understanding weather. This is a fun and interactive guide with lots of infographics, statistics, and facts. – Amazon
As children’s connections to nature diminish and the social, psychological, and spiritual implications become apparent, new research shows that nature can offer powerful therapy for such maladies as depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade-point averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that childhood experiences in nature stimulate creativity. In Last Child in the Woods, Louv talks with parents, children, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, child-development researchers, and environmentalists who recognize the threat and offer solutions. Louv shows us an alternative future, one in which parents help their kids experience the natural world more deeply—and find the joy of family connectedness in the process. – Amazon
Board Games & Puzzles
This 500 piece puzzle from Lantern Press boasts sharp detail and vivid original imagery of Facts About Bears, Grizzly and Black Bear 73708 (Premium 500 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle for Adults, 13×19, Made in USA!). – Amazon
A charming, tile-placement game, where the first player to get rid of all their cards wins! This contemplative and strategic game is one of a kind! Each of the 104 hexagonal cards is beautifully illustrated with an array of colors on each side. The various types of cards, including honeycomb, bees, flowers, and bears, add their own unique twist to the game! The Bears and the Bees is an enticing game you’ll want to play again and again. – Amazon
Have you always wanted to stake your claim, strike gold, and spark the next gold rush? Zeke’s Gold Grab is a classic “trick-taking” family card game, themed to the Gold Rush of yore, with special cards and unique game play to keep prospectors on their toes. The object of the game to win the most gold. During gameplay, players collect tricks to build their stash of gold, while special cards throw unexpected twists and turns into each round. Players must beware of Fool’s Gold, can shake things up with an Earthquake, strike it rich with a Gold Rush!, or go wild with a Burro. But players should always remember that NOTHING beats the Mother Lode. With a brisk play time, Zeke’s Gold Grab! is easy to learn, and the perfect addition to any game night. It includes 60 colorfully designed, character-driven cards, game instructions, and 5 quick-tip cards for easy reference. For 2-6 players, ages 8 to adult. – Amazon
- San Manuel Band of Mission Indians
- San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Origin
- Cruising Big Bear Lake
- Big Bear Alpine Zoo
- Big Bear Bald Eagle Live Nest Cam
- Drought Depletes Big Bear Lake
- Rise and Fall of Big Bear Lake
- California Gold Rush for Kids
- The California Gold Rush Cartoon
- A Weekend in Big Bear Lake
- Learn the history of the Yuhaaviatam clan of the Maara’yam – People of the Pines.
- Big Bear History
- Animals of Big Bear Lake
- All About Gold Mining at Easy Science for Kids
- How to Pan for Gold at Run Wild My Child
- Drought for Kids – Learn about droughts, how scientists study them, and how it affects humans.
- Keeping Track of Water in the Soil
- Drought – National Geographic Encyclopedia
- Drought Unit Study from EarthLabs (best for middle and high school-aged kids)
- Free educational material from the California Department of Water Resources
Visiting Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake sits about 2 hours outside of Los Angeles in the mountains above San Bernadino County. The community is located between 6,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation and has warm summer days with cool nights. In the winter there are plenty of snow-filled days to enjoy. Fall is also a great time to catch the changing leaves and enjoy a nice comfortable (weather-wise) hike.
If you live near Big Bear, it’s a great place to visit for the day. However, if you live more than 2 hours away as we do, then there are plenty of cabins to rent and hotels to stay at. Be sure to book in advance for holiday weekends and winter weekends often sell out quickly.
Note that many places are seasonal, so be sure to check the websites online and stop by the Visitor Center when you are in town.
See Our Field Trip to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo
Before you go, be sure to check out our field trip video to the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, and don’t forget to “like” and “subscribe” if you haven’t done so already.
Have you been to Big Bear Lake before? If so, what’s your favorite thing to do there?
Xuan Klevecka is a Southern California-based homeschool mom, wife, and sometimes purveyor of vintage goods. She’s an Enneagram 5w4, a lover of good food, and a former middle school history teacher. You’ll either find her looking at road maps and daydreaming about her family’s next epic adventure or perusing recipes and cooking up a feast for the brood.