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Driving To Big Bear During The Winter Months – Some Advice

This post is inspired by the pleasure (not really) I had of driving off of the mountain recently, and to educate those who plan to make the trip to Big Bear this winter.

With all the snow we have received so far, the driving conditions on the various Hwys. and roads to & from Big Bear are bad.  Couple that with the thousands of people who are trying to come up or leave the mountains, and you have some pretty frustrating & dangerous driving conditions.

Weekends are typically the worst, especially after a good snow storm. The local news stations really pump it up, and that is great.  But, that brings a lot of people to the mountains.  Add the bad road conditions and lots can go wrong.

I have a lot of clients that come up on the weekends to look at property and just getting to Big Bear can be tough.

Here are few tips to help prepare yourself before you come up to Big Bear this winter –

The drive up the hill can take anywhere from 1 to 4 or 5 hours.

It is important to know that there are three Highways that come up to Big Bear.  Most people are familiar and use what we call the “front way” up to Big Bear.  This is the route up to Big Bear on Hwy. 330, which intersects Hwy. 18 in Running Springs and then up to Big Bear. While this is the quickest way during normal traffic and driving conditions, there is nothing normal during winter. Using this route during the winter is playing against the odds.

The other routes, which can take 15-45 minutes longer during normal traffic and road conditions, can be a lot quicker during the winter months.  Taking Hwy. 38 from the Redlands area is my best bet during winter. There is generally a lot less traffic on this route and a more enjoyable drive. The other route is through the high desert, Victorville and Lucerne Valley area, from Hwy. 15 to Hwy. 18 and up the “back way” to Big Bear. This is probably the safest bet to eliminate traffic and less mountain driving. Both of these routes drop into the east end of the Valley, near Big Bear City.

It is all a bit of a gamble, but as they say in Big Bear, “going east is least,” so I would recommend taking the latter two options prior to heading down the “front way”.  This especially applies to those who come up for the day to go skiing, look at property, or just enjoy the mountains.

Bring chains and other items.

This goes without saying, but many people still make this mistake.  Even with 4-wheel drive, it is important to carry chains with you at all times when driving in Big Bear during the winters months.  If they are checking for chains and you don’t have them with you, you may have to drive all the way back down and buy some.

It is always nice to have a shovel just in case you need to dig out, or help someone else dig out.  A first aid kit, along with some rope for towing would be good to carry as well.

Check the road conditions.

The road conditions can and do change at any moment.  Falling rocks, accidents, land slides, you name it, it can happen and close down these roads.  Be sure to check before leaving, and maybe even give your real estate agent, or local friend or contact, a call before heading up.

Here are some recommended sites to check on road conditions & chain requirements.

Cal Trans

KBHR 93.3

Rim of The World

Big Bear Road Conditions on Twitter

Don’t park or stop on/along the Hwy.

I see this all the time and it is really a major pet peeve of mine.  People will just stop in the road, or partially on the side of it.  They are either trying to put chains on, looking for a spot to go sledding, or whatever else.  Not only is it dangerous, it slows everyone else down.  There are plenty of place to go sledding or put chains on.  Try to find one that is not in the middle or next to a major Hwy. with a lot of traffic.

Snow in Big Bear is not a new thing.  It is one of the main reasons why people buy homes in the area and is also a fun part of the year.  Getting to Big Bear during this time of year can be stressful, but keeping some of these tips in mind might just help lower that stress level.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great info. My family is planning a trip to Big Bear on a weekend very soon. We also have a Jack Russell. They are great dogs. We don’t have a lot of experience driving in snow. Are there places along the way where people will put the tire chains on for you? We will be staying at the Apple’s Bed and Breakfast. We’re coming from Santa Maria and are thinking about taking the high desert route since it seems this “back way” might serve us better. Please write back with any advice….thanks, Jesse

  2. Hey Jesse –

    Thanks for the comment. Yeah, Jack Russells are a unique breed!

    I think it depends on when you come up. Right now, the road are pretty clear and you don’t have to worry as much. If we get another storm before you come up, scratch that.

    I know there are people sometimes that will hang out along the front way up to help put on chains (about 10-15$) but not necessarily on the back way. Either way, you might want to practice putting them on once before coming up to Big Bear. That way it is not totally new when you do it.

    I do recommend the back way from your location. Have a safe trip up!

  3. So I’ve never been up to Big Bear but am planning a trip with my family fairly soon, this weekend in fact. We own a minivan and my partner is very nervous that a minivan won’t cut it in such terrain. Do you recommend we rent an SUV with rear wheel drive instead?

  4. Hello Claudia,

    It really all depends on the weather this week and how the roads are. Right now, they are fine and the minivan will work. But, we are supposed to get some snow/weather this week. I would recommend at least a front wheel drive car, but an SUV with all-wheel or 4-wheel drive is better. Either way, you should have chains just in case.

  5. what is the safest way to go to big bear this weekend from ventura county?

  6. Hello Brenda,

    You can come the front way, very safe and clear right now, just might take more time with traffic. From Ventura, the 101 to the 210 East all the way to the 330 up to Running Springs and the 18 to Big Bear. Or, less traffic is coming thru the high desert, either the 126 or going thru Simi Valley to the 14 and then Pear Blossom Highway over to the 18 the back way thru Victorville. Might be a little more time but less traffic. Good luck!

  7. Hi thanks for taking time to view this…I have been invited to go to Big Bear in the next couple of days and am absolutely terrified of heights/ cliffs!!! Is the back road that you talk about really cliffy? If so how long is that part of the drive? Is it steep the whole way up or hlf way? I would be coming from Studio City, Ca. Thank you!!!

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Brittney,

      I would recommend Hwy 38 thru Redlands as the best. Take the 10 or 210 to the 10 and get off at University in Redlands, go left (north) about 2 miles, then you will see Hwy 38 to Big Bear. There are not that many cliffs and the traffic should be less. You can also try the back way thru Lucerne but that could take a while. The mountain drive is less but there are a couple steep spots plus longer drive.

  8. Hi,
    I know Brittney has already asked, but for my peace of mind I would like to see if there are any pictures available of the drive going up to Big Bear. I am very terrified of heights and cliffy roads as well. All my children want to go up there, but because of my fears I have prevented that from happening. I want to know which route is the least cliffy and windy. Please help out, oh and we would be coming from Encino Ca. Thanks

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Lucy,

      I am sure there are some pics out there online if you look hard enough but I don’t have any. The front way from Hwy 330 and Hwy 18 is probably the steepest & scariest. So, I’d recommend Hwy 38 thru Redlands or Hwy 18 thru the High Desert – that is the least amount of mountain driving and should be less scary for you. All are a little windy but the last option sounds like the best for you and your family.

  9. i am coming from redondo beach whats the safest way to get there to big bear do i need chains?i am coming march27 staying 4 days what else should i bring hate the snow i love to surf but gf wants to go lol thank you anyway great comments realy appreciate your kindness replying to all this people best wishes

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Louis,

      Thanks for the comment and questions. Safest way? I think the back way thru the high desert is probably the safest as it has the least amount of mountain driving. All are pretty safe to be truthful, just take your time and drive carefully. The front way, hwy 330 is still closed for road work. Hwy 38 is one of the prettier drives but is about 45 minutes of mountain driving as compared to about 15 minutes on the back way. We are supposed to get a lot of snow this weekend, not sure about the 27th. Be sure to check the weather before coming up. http://www.bensweather.com/ I always recommend having chains with you during the winter months, just makes sense in case you get in a bind. So, yes, I’d recommend having some with you. I’d bring some snow boots or shoes, pants, jacket in order to have some fun in the snow. You can rent a lot of the stuff too at a local ski shop should you decide to go that route. Have a great time!

  10. Hi!
    My daughter is going to Big Bear this weekend. I am so worried about her driving there. We live in LA County. What would be the best route, with the least about of cliffs and windy roads for a nineteen year old?

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Alisa,

      The quickest route is the front way, up 330. Easily accessible from the 10 or 210 freeways. It’s pretty safe, and the roads shouldn’t be too bad. We may get some snow this week so keep tabs on that. Hwy 38 is a bit longer, less cliffs. Hwy 18 thru the high desert from the 15 freeway is the least amount of mountain driving. So, that may be the safest, it just takes 30-45 min longer to get here.

      Safe travels!

      Tyler

  11. What is the safest way to Big Bearfrom Anaheim, CA? We are not in a rush to get there, we are mainly concerned with safety. Also, what is the best time to drive up to Big Bear? We are planning on leaving tomorrow, Saturday the 27th. Thank you!

    • Hi Karen,

      All of the routes up to Big Bear are safe right now (no snow on the roads), though 2 of the 3 have more mountain driving. The route up from the 15 freeway thru Apple Valley and then up the back way up Hwy 18 has the least amount of mountain driving & traffic. That route will add about 20-30 minutes of driving, though with all the traffic coming up the other 2 ways, it might be about the same amount of time. Hope that helps.

  12. Hi Tyler! I am planning a trip to big bear for the first time. I want a place where I can just sled with my kids and make a snowman. Do you know a place where I can do that? Do I have to pay parking or parking is only for attractions like snow play?

  13. What is the safest way to Big Bear from Orange, CA? We are not in a rush to get there, we are mainly concerned with safety. And do all front and rear wheels have to have chains or just the rear tires? Also, what is the best time to drive up to Big Bear? We are planning on leaving Friday January 8.

  14. Hi
    I am going up to big bear in two weeks and I was thinking of going the Redlands route but to be honest this is my first time driving a mountain and I’m terrified… Any tips ?

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hi Erika,

      The roads should be totally clear in two weeks. They are clear now. 🙂 The weather is supposed to be really warm the next week or so as well.

      Always check the road conditions before your trip, and be sure to have chains with you for the car. http://kbhr933.com/big-bear-roads/

      If the roads are clear, the front way thru Hwy 330 or back way thru Hwy 38 (Redlands) will be fine. If there’s a lot of snow, coming up the back way Hwy 18. thru the high desert is the best option in my opinion.

  15. Hi Tyler
    We are going to Big Bear Mar 4-6 from Mission Viejo. I’m a big baby when it comes to heights and cliffy roads. The roads will likely be clear on the way up but there’s some snow expected on our way down. What are the safest, least scariest routes? Thanks so much for your advice.
    Cherie

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hi Cherie,

      The roads should be clear, and snow isn’t expected til Sunday or Monday. They are clear now.

      Always check the road conditions before your trip, and be sure to have chains with you for the car. http://kbhr933.com/big-bear-roads/

      If the roads are clear, the front way thru Hwy 330 or back way thru Hwy 38 (Redlands) will be fine. Hwy 330 will be the most busy however, with the 38 less busy. If there’s a lot of snow, coming up the back way up Hwy 18. thru the high desert is the best option in my opinion. That route is usually the least busy and less mountain driving, it just adds about 30 min to the trip.

      I hope you have a great trip.

  16. Should the roads be clear on Tuesday after its snowed for two days?

  17. Hi Tyler,

    We are supposed to drive to Big Bear this weekend and we do not have four wheel drive, so we have to put chains on. We watched a you tube channel of how to put them on, but is there anywhere they put on chains for you before you go up the mountain? I heard in Tahoe they have places you can pay to have someone put them on for you.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Chelsea,

      There should be plenty of people out there looking to make a buck by installing chains. I think the front way up Hwy 330/18 would have more people than Hwy 38. I am not sure how many installers there would the back way up thru Hwy 18 thru the high desert. We are expecting some more weather this weekend, so be sure to have chains and drive careful. Also, plan for 1-3+ hours extra on your commute as the roads can be pretty special with lots of drivers out there. Take care.

  18. Heather Hull says:

    Hi Tyler,
    My sister invited me to stay at their rented cabin in Big Bear for a couple days in the middle of January 2017. There’s just one problem. I would have to drive by myself in my 2012 camry from Huntington Beach to Big Bear and meet up with the rest of the family. I have mixed feelings about this adventure. To be honest, I have never driven in the snow before. What do you think? Should I go? Any driving suggestions. Im terrified I won’t be able to call my family in case of an emergency. Is there cell reception? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Heather,

      I would check the weather conditions several days before the trip in order to make that decision. If we are expecting snow, I’d really consider how much you want to come up. Also, check the road conditions as well. As long as the roads are clear – no chains needed – and no snow is expected, I think it is pretty safe. Either way, I’d recommend having chains with you, just in case. The easiest way to get up here with less mountain driving is the back way thru Victorville and Hwy 18. Cell reception is spotty on the way up the hill (Verizon is best). So, be sure to check the road conditions and weather forecast several days before your trip. If there’s any sign of snow, you’ll want to consider the risk & reward. Hope that helps.

  19. Hello Mr Tyler Woods,
    I am horrified with heights and steep cliffs but my husband is adamant to go to Big Bear tomorrow on new Year’s Day! I don’t want to go specially when it’s raining, ! but just to be on the safe side, even with our SUV is with four wheel drive, do we still need to bring chains with us?

    Thank you so much!

  20. I am planning on going to Big Bear this weekend. We are driving up Friday from Orange County. Its supposed to snow on Friday. What’s the safest way for us to get there?

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Driving up the back way thru the high desert, taking 15 freeway to Victorville (Bear Valley Rd.), then and up Hwy. 18 thru the east end of town has the least amount of mountain driving and should be the safest, with least amount of traffic.

      • Is it okay for us to drive up in the snow? We want to go for two nights (Friday and Saturday night), but we can only stay for one night if we go up Saturday morning. I am also hearing of a lot of people headed there this weekend and I think most people are going Saturday morning. I am hoping to miss some traffic by going up on Friday morning. I don’t want to do the drive if its unsafe though. If we do the back way, is it okay in the snow? Do we need to watch for road closures or check to see if its plowed or anything? Do you recommend we only do Saturday night because of the Friday snow forecast?

  21. Hi tyler how are you? We are planning to go to big bear this coming weekend to stay for 2 nights we have never drive on snow and im very afraid of cliffy i have a big family but i don’t want to have a bad experience could you tell me whats the safety way to arrive if is snowing we are coming from long beach o and thanks for your advice

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Linda,

      It’s going to be a busy weekend with 3-5 feet of snow expected, starting on Wed. evening thru Monday. Please be sure to have chains with you and a good idea of how to put them on. Driving up the back way thru the high desert, taking 15 freeway to Victorville (Bear Valley Rd.), then and up Hwy. 18 thru the east end of town has the least amount of mountain driving and should be the safest, with least amount of traffic. I think the 10 freeway to the 15 north is the easiest.

  22. Tiffany Love says:

    Hi Tyler,
    I’m going to Big Bear this upcoming weekend with a few girlfriends (checking in Saturday leaving Monday). We are aware of the storm that is approaching which is making us a bit nervous for the drive. Do you think we should be ok for the drive as long as we drive EXTREMELY careful and have chains? The cabin we booked has a strict cancellation policy and we’re not sure if we should just go or take the loss and not go because of our safety. Also, if you do feel we should be fine for this weekends drive. What would be the safest route? We’re coming from Pasadena area. Thank you!

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Tiffany,

      I think you’ll be safe. It just might take a little longer to get to Big Bear than usual. I’d recommend you try to install the chains (as practice) before you get up here just to make sure they are easy to install and there’s no hiccups. You don’t want the first time you try to install them to be in the middle of a snow storm on a mountain road. There’s some people you can hire that will install the chains on the way up, worst case scenario. The 210 freeway to the 15 freeway north, and up the back way thru Victorville via Bear Valley Road & Hwy 18. will be the quickest, and least amount of mountain driving. Take it slow, use the chains, and you should be fine.

  23. Hi Tim. I just hit ice on 38 bear onyx summit (sat). Now I’m scared to drive down. Is there anyone who will drive my car down for a fee? Or do u recommend I take 18 backway? I realize it will be warm so while I me be clear of ice I expect roads to be wet. It is the windy and wet that scares me

  24. Hi Tyler great article. My family and I wanted to head up Saturday Feb 18th and I have a 2014 Dodge Challenger. I’m concerned my car is too low to the ground to make it there. Do you think I will have trouble getting there? Thank you so much for your advice.

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hello Ron,

      We are expecting some weather Thursday the 16th thru the following Monday. Snow is expected. That said, it could be difficult with a lower clearance car. Be sure to have chains if you do come, but I’d recommend monitoring the weather sites to see how much snow we are expecting before making the call on that.

      • Hello Tyler,
        I have the same concern as Ron. I will be driving with Acura TL, which also has very low ground clearance. Would you recommend getting an SUV and also advise if you know the best time to travel to bear the mountain traffic. We will be coming from Laguna Beach.

        Thanks,
        Jay

        • Tyler Wood says:

          Hello Jay,

          The main issue will be the clearance. Depending on the snow amount, 1-2 feet is expected from Friday night thru Sat., and if the roads are cleared, will answer your question. Generally speaking, yes, the higher the clearance the better. But, mainly people driving in Big Bear during snowy conditions with lower clearance cars. The main thing to to check the road conditions thru Cal-Trans, have chains, and make the call from there. Here’s a good site to track the weather as well http://www.bensweather.com/ Big Bear is notorious for getting a lot less snow than expected. We could get 1-3 inches too, you never know. That’s why it’s good to have chains and keep informed via the sites above. Thanks.

  25. Hello Tyler,
    I’m coming up with my son this weekend,If you could Please let me know the least cliffs and least windy way to get to big bear from San Diego, I really don’t like driving where there’s cliffs thank you! :).

    • Tyler Wood says:

      Hi Lauren,

      Hwy. 38 coming up from Redlands with have less of the “cliff” driving, but it’s a bit longer of the total mountain driving. Coming up Hwy. 18 from the high desert and Victorville area is the least amount of mountain driving, but has a few of the “cliff” sections. Roads should be open and clear, so you should be safe going either way. Take care.

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