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With El Nino still in full force beating us down with 100-degree heat here in the Inland Empire (the collective term for the Southern California suburbs between LA and Palm Springs), locals are running (literally) to the mountains. And such great mountains we have surrounding us! The San Bernardino National Forest contains gems that Hollywood already knows about (these mountains have been the backdrop to many popular movies), and being on average, 10 degrees cooler and often located near a body of water, these mountain towns make for a great escape.
Fall can’t come soon enough, but before it does, here are some places to beat the heat in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Known mostly for Lake Gregory, Crestline is a small, mountain town boasting some good lake fun. In the last few years, Lake Gregory has expanded its lake options with water slides and various water activities. Hurry up there soon as the season runs until Labor Day.
Close to the town of Crestline is the hike to Heart Rock. This family-friendly stroll follows along a creek bed and then ends at (you guessed it) a heart shaped rock. This is the part that isn’t as kid-friendly, so be sure to hold hands with the littler kids at the end of the path.
This summer I did something I hadn’t before on all my many visits to Lake Arrowhead and took a tour of the lake on the Arrowhead Queen Paddleboat. It was amusing to hear the history of the lake including what celebrities have lived on the shore, along with how it came into existence. Kids were invited half way through the tour to “drive” the boat and many took full advantage of being the captain.
Along with free summer concerts until September, “The Village” in Lake Arrowhead has rides and games for kids to play as well as a fun playground boasting lake views. Have the kids try something unique and attend McKenzie’s Ski School to learn how to water-ski. The school is the oldest continually operating ski school in the US and the season runs until September each year.
Photo By Heather Erquiaga
Running Springs is home to the National Children’s Forest. Covering 3,400 acres, the forest offers several hikes of varying distances and difficulties. I took my kids (then one and five) on the short, paved path called the Children’s Interpretative Trail. They had the freedom to run and explore easily, while getting an experience of the ecology and history of this forest. For campers, the National Children’s Forest is home to one of the only group campgrounds on the west side of the national forest. While visiting, make sure to drive up (or hike if you are up for it) to the end of Keller Rd. to see San Bernardino from a bird’s vantage point at the Keller Peak Fire Lookout.
Big Bear Lake
This summer, over and over, I heard families tell me to rent a pontoon boat and cruise around Big Bear Lake. I had never done so…so why not? And I am so glad we did! My family enjoyed the leisure pace the pontoon boat afforded, and we were able to stop and drift slowly, or tour the lake at our own stride. It was one of the best family activities we have ever done together.
During the summer in Big Bear, visit Snow Summit; instead of snow skiing it offers mountain biking, a rock wall, and my favorite, the ski lift to the top of the mountain to see the amazing views of the lake.
Alpine Slides at Magic Mountain are a family-friendly “get out of the heat” alternative. If wind in your hair as you race down the slides in a toboggan doesn’t cool you down enough, the onsite water slides sure will.
Want to get on the lake but don’t necessarily have the sea legs to rent your own watercraft? Try the Big Bear Pirate Cruise Ship. Aboard the Time Bandit (an actual prop from the classic 80s movie) passengers are regaled by the pirate captain’s stories as he divulges the lake’s history. Not too cheesy for the adults and entertaining for the kids, the pirate ship is a great way to get on the water.
The Castle Rock Trail in Big Bear is a little intense at the beginning (it goes straight up for at least the first half of a mile), but throughout the trail, little climbers can practice their bouldering skills. The payoff is a panoramic view at the large rock at the top. My kids tapped out partway through the hike, but we saw many (younger) children enjoying the trail. This is definitely a “moderate” hike but so worth it. While near Castle Rock, stop at the Big Bear Discovery Center for a unique outdoor playground, complete with musical instruments and logs of various sizes for the ultimate fort building experience.
Jenks Lake, Angeles Oaks, Forest Falls, and Mill Creek
Heading back down Hwy 38 from Big Bear there are a few more stops worth trying to cool down in before you hit the “flatlands.” Jenks Lake (a small, man made lake with fishing and kayaks available) is an easy walk circumventing the water and has many shaded areas for a peaceful picnic lunch.
While driving through Angeles Oaks, be sure to stop for lunch at The Oaks Restaurant. The sweetest family owns and runs it and everything tastes fresh and homemade (which it is). Be sure to save room for a slice of pie…trust me.
Photo Courtesy of Krista Gradias
In Forest Falls, try cooling off on the Big Forest Falls Trail at the end of Forest of the Falls Drive. The trail leads to the base of a beautiful waterfall where it is recommended not to pass the lookout. It is often crowded in the warm season, but the water in the pools below are a great place to cool off in and the creek makes for some good rocky entertainment.
Before you flatten out into the town of Mentone, try dipping your toes in Mill Creek off the 38. This is a perfect stretch of water to try out creek walking and pools large enough to completely emerge yourself in. Local hikers have been working hard to keep these creeks clean this summer, so be sure to pack out what you bring in.
So get out of the heat and up to the mountains! Start exploring everything the San Bernardino National Forest has to offer before the season changes. From hikers to boaters to family day-outers, there’s something for everyone to do to beat the heat.
All photos (unless otherwise noted) byWomanInTravel.
Featured photo by: Shutterstock