L.A. Dog Lover's Escapes

Big Bear Lake

This lakeside mountain resort community isn't exactly Lake Tahoe, but that's part of its charm. It's generally more rustic, more natural, and far less crowded. The crisp, clean alpine air is a godsend any time of year.The town's old-fashioned honesty and lack of smooth public relations pros is evident as soon as you approach the old village section. There, you'll see a road sign for skiing, with an arrow pointing to the left. Immediately below that is a sign for the hospital, with an arrow pointing to the right. It's not a joke.

Several dogs we know dream of going along on their owners' annual cross-country ski trip through San Bernardino National Forest. Before Joe can join them, he has to learn that he can walk in the snow, not just roll on top of it.This is a very dog-friendly community, complete with incomparable off-leash hikes, great restaurants, and hotels where dogs are as welcome as their chauffeurs. Check out the old Big Bear Lake village. It gives a new meaning to old-style charm.

Parks, Beaches, and Recreation Areas

Although this book doesn't normally go into detail on specific trails in national forests, we're mentioning a few here because they're so integral to your pooch having a doggone good time in the Big Bear Lake area.

Cougar Crest Trail

This two-mile trail goes through a mixed conifer section of San Bernardino National Forest. It's full of juniper, Jeffrey pine, and pinyon. Obedient dogs are welcome to peruse the area sans leash, but keep in mind that this off-leash rule might be reconsidered by the authorities.We like it best here in late autumn, when a dusting of snow rests on the pine needles and the air is crisp. We've never run into another person on the trail during this time of year. Cougar Crest Trail eventually connects with the Pacific Crest Trail, which traverses 39 miles of the Big Bear area. The scenery here is outstanding.From the Big Bear Lake village, cross the lake at the Stanfield Cutoff and turn left on Highway 38. As you drive west, the trail is just over a half mile west of the ranger station, on the right side of the road. There's plenty of parking. (909) 866-3437.

Pedal Path

Here's one way to hike the Big Bear Lake area without roughing it too much. This six-mile paved path allows you and your leashed, lake-loving dog to hike along the scenic north shore of Big Bear Lake. Sometimes bikers think they own the trail (it is called Pedal Path, not Four-Paw Path, after all), so make sure your dog is close to you. The trail starts at the north end of the Stanfield Cutoff. (909) 866-3437.

Woodland Trail

This 1.5-mile nature trail in San Bernardino National Forest has 20 stops where you and your well-behaved, leashless dog may learn about the flora and fauna of this mountainous region. It's especially glorious in an early-morning mist.The trail rarely gets crowded. If you encounter more than a few people, be courteous and keep your dog leashed. Rangers are reconsidering the off-leash rule for the forest, so good pooch public relations are essential. On last call, one ranger told us dogs had to be leashed. Another said good dogs can be leashless. Joe said he feels a close kinship with the second ranger.From the Big Bear Lake village, cross the lake at the Stanfield Cutoff and turn left on Highway 38. Shortly after you turn, the trail will be on your right. (909) 866-3437.


Wag in the wagon: So you're in beautiful Big Bear Lake village with your dog. You see a gent with a huge beard, shiny top hat, and fancy coat standing beside his English draft horse and antique carriage, waiting for a passenger. "Gee, honey, too bad we have Rex with us," you say to your loved one as Rex gives you the evil eye. "That horse-and-buggy ride sure looks like a good time."Say no more. As long as Victoria Park Carriages owner and driver Michael Homan thinks Rex is cool (and not too huge), you'll all be able to take a spin through town. His horses don't mind well-behaved dogs, but some dogs don't take well to the horses, so make sure you've got your pooch under control before even approaching Homan. If you catch Homan at his carriage stand, on Village Drive across from Chad's Place, a half-hour tour will run you about $30 per couple at night, $25 in the daytime. Mini rides are a mere $15 to $20. Or you can reserve the carriage, which holds up to six people, for about $100 an hour. Homan also runs a hayride that can take up to 25 people. Dogs really enjoy this back-to-the-farm setup. Victoria Park Carriages runs year-round. You can find Homan at his stand most weekends and holidays. Call (909) 584-2277 for more information.Get hitched, with your dog's help: The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is a dog's kind of marriage sanctuary. It's got a mountain/western theme and no overly frilly froufrou.Owner Rob Hastings says he's played host to canine ring bearers and canine best men. Once he even helped a dog sign a marriage certificate (not the license, though). "We just put his paw on the ink pad, then stamped the certificate. He was a smart dog, but his penmanship wasn't good enough to sign his name," says Hastings.Hastings asks that dogs attend only midweek weddings. On busy days like Saturday, he doesn't have enough time to vacuum up dog hairs, and a few people visiting after dogs participated have complained about their allergies flaring up.The fee for getting hitched here is $85 and includes the chapel and a donation for the minister. Licenses are extra. For more information, call (909) 584-1030 or write them at P.O. Box 6489, Big Bear Lake, CA 92314.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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