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Lakes - Bear Valley

Big Bear Lake

Boulder Bay, Big Bear Lake

Elevation: 6,752'
Area: 6.425 miČ

The History of Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake, nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, boasts a rich history that intertwines the lives of Native Americans, European explorers, gold miners, ranchers, and modern-day tourists. This picturesque region has evolved from a serene natural habitat to a bustling recreational destination, all while preserving its unique heritage and natural beauty.

Native American Roots

Long before European settlers set foot in the area, the Serrano Indians inhabited the region they called "Yuhaviat," meaning "Pine Place." The Serrano tribe lived in harmony with the land, utilizing its resources for sustenance and cultural practices. Their deep connection to the region laid the foundation for Big Bear Lake's historical significance.

Exploration and Early Settlement

The mid-19th century marked the arrival of European explorers, drawn by the allure of California's Gold Rush. In 1845, Benjamin Wilson, also known as "Don Benito," led an expedition into the valley. Wilson's group, primarily focused on trapping grizzly bears, left a lasting mark by naming the area Big Bear Valley due to the abundance of bears they encountered. This marked the beginning of the region's transformation as settlers and ranchers soon followed, attracted by the valley's fertile grazing lands.

Development of the Lake

The construction of the original Bear Valley Dam in 1884 by civil engineer Frank E. Brown was a pivotal moment in Big Bear Lake's history. Built to supply water to the burgeoning Redlands area, the dam created the first iteration of Big Bear Lake. Though initially small, the lake began to attract visitors seeking the tranquility and recreational opportunities it offered.

Expansion and Recreation

The early 20th century saw a surge in tourism as more people discovered the area's natural beauty and recreational potential. Activities such as fishing, boating, and hunting drew visitors, and the demand for infrastructure grew. Recognizing the need for better water management and increased capacity, a new, larger dam was constructed between 1911 and 1912, significantly expanding the lake.

World War II and Post-War Era

During World War II, Big Bear Lake served as a training ground for military pilots, thanks to its clear skies and secluded location. This period added a unique chapter to the lake's history, as the area contributed to the war effort. Following the war, the region experienced a boom in development, with ski resorts, lodges, and vacation homes emerging to cater to the growing number of visitors. Big Bear Lake evolved into a year-round destination, offering skiing and snowboarding in winter and boating, fishing, and hiking in summer.

Cultural and Environmental Significance

Big Bear Lake's cultural significance extends to its role as a filming location for movies and television shows, capitalizing on its stunning landscapes. Additionally, the Big Bear Valley Historical Society preserves the area's rich heritage through a museum showcasing artifacts and stories from its diverse past.

Efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment have been paramount. The Big Bear Discovery Center plays a crucial role in educating the public about conservation efforts and the importance of maintaining the region's ecological balance.


From its early days as a Native American homeland and a grizzly bear hunting ground to its current status as a premier recreational hub, Big Bear Lake's history is a testament to its enduring allure and resilience. The lake's blend of natural splendor, historical depth, and recreational diversity continues to captivate and inspire all who visit its shores. This historical journey of Big Bear Lake highlights the intricate tapestry of nature and human endeavor, making it a cherished destination in Southern California.

Aerial tour

Big Bear Lake Shoreline

Big Bear Lake from Boat

Big Bear Lake Dam

Dam Keeper's House

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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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