Camping in Big Bear With Your Dog

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When you first think of Big Bear, most people immediately picture one thing, snow.  I am hear to tell you that you need to look at Big Bear for much more than your annual ski trip. Big Bear offers year round outdoor adventures, for you and your dog, and over the last two years, I have found some great campsites out there.  I don’t know what has stopped me from camping up here frequently in the past, but I have been up to Big Bear a few times in the last two years, and I must stay, there is something for every type of camper.  The campgrounds range from sites with potable water and outhouses, to the more primitive, Yellow Post sites, which only have a fire ring and a table.  So whatever adventure you’re in the mood for, Big Bear probably has it.

Now, even though some sites are available year round, in my opinion, the best time to camp in Big Bear would be either late spring, or early fall.  During these times, temperatures are in the 70’s during the day, and 40’s at night, and oh ya, no snow! This is perfect weather for almost all outdoor activities, including my favorite, hiking. Speaking of, All Trails has a great list of some of the most popular hikes in the area, all of which should be dog friendly, here is a link…All Trails Big Bear.  In a soon to be released post, I will review one of the hikes we went on, as well as some other activities do do while at the lake.  So now let’s get to actual campgrounds…

Hanna Flats Campground 

This campground is a great place for first time campers, family camping, or if you’re just looking for a quick get away that doesn’t require quite as much prep work.  Dogs are welcome, and as long as you keep them on a leash, you shouldn’t have any problems.  At 2.5 miles away from the main road, the campground is far enough away from the city, the only sounds you hear are from nature, unless of course you include your camping neighbors :). It’s also close enough, if you forget something, have an emergency, or just don’t want to cook dinner, you can get back to civilization in less than 15 minutes.

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This particular campground does take reservations on some of the sites.  During the summer months, it can get pretty full, so if you set a vacation date early enough, it’s not a bad idea to book your site so you’re guaranteed a spot when you get there.  You can even use campsitephotos.com to pick out the best site for your needs before booking it.  Some of our favorite sites are: #2, #5, #51, #57, and #67.  The campground is surrounded by trees as well as hiking trails.  I recommend going exploring an hour or so before sunset, so you can find a great spot to sit and watch the sun go down.  We saw some beautiful sunsets there.  Just make sure you don’t wander too far, Big Bear is not a place you want to get lost at night!

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Because Big Bear is located in a National Forest, dogs are welcome pretty much anywhere as long as they are kept on a 6 foot leash, are not left alone at camp, and are picked up after.  There is supposed to be a two dog limit at each campsite, but I don’t know how strictly that is actually enforced.  As long as they are well behaved, and don’t bark at everything that comes by the campground, you should hopefully be OK.

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A word of caution, if you do bring your dog, as always, please look at the weather forecast before you go.  Because of the high elevation, it can get extremely cold at night, even during summer months, so make sure you pack something to keep your dog warm at night just in case, especially if they have short hair.

Yellow post Sites

If you are looking for a more primitive camping experience, check out one of the many Yellow Post sites in the more remote parts of Big Bear and surrounding forest.  You can get to some of the sites with a standard truck or SUV but 4-wheel drive is definitely recommended, especially if it rained recently, as mud, and two wheel drive do not mix well.  These spots are great to get away from all of the loud and crowded campgrounds.  Each spot is in a location by itself, so in most cases, there is literally no one within miles of you.  If you want to experience the unspoiled sights and sounds of nature, these are the types of campsites you are looking for. To camp at one of these spots, you will need to bring everything with you.  This includes water, a shovel, and some biodegradable toilet paper.  If you haven’t squatted over a hole outdoors to go to the bathroom before, it’s something I recommend doing at least once in your life.  There is nothing better than a crisp breeze, the beautiful scenery, and a squirrel giving you the stink eye, while you relieve yourself, to really get you in touch with nature!

Before you head out to your Yellow Post campsite, you will need to pick up a Fire Permit, and possibly, an Adventure Pass.  The official website for Yellow Post camping states that you don’t need an Adventure Pass to camp, but I have heard others say that have been fined for not having one while driving around up there.  Also, if you park at some of the trailheads without it, you might be ending your hike with a nice fine hanging on your wipers.  If you plan on doing any, out of the campsite driving, or hiking, while up there, I recommend picking one up just to be safe.  They cost $5 for each day you are up there, but if you’re outdoors often in Southern California, it might be better to just buy an annual pass for $30.  The Adventure Pass can be purchased in advance at a Big 5 or Sports Chalet.  For the Fire Permit, you will need to stop by the Big Bear Discovery Center.  If you get caught having a fire without one, there is a pretty steep fine, and also, depending on the time of year, as well as other weather factors, fires restriction may be in effect.  You can call ahead to find out the conditions, or just be told the conditions once you check in. One of the nice things about the Yellow Post sites is the cost to camp, which is free!  The downside is that they are also on a first-come-first-serve basis.  They don’t usually fill up as fast as standard campsites in the area, but it’s worth noting, so you can make alternate plans in case your first choice is taken.

Pictures and other info on these sites are pretty hard to come by on-line, so unfortunately, a lot of times, you really just have to go out there and survey them yourself.  We have stayed at site #7 before and it’s not bad, but there weren’t a lot of trees, or hikes in the area, so next time we head up there, we will probably look for a new one.  To start planning your trip, check out this link to a map with all of the Yellow Post locations…Yellow Post Sites.

One thing that can be easily overlooked when planning a trip to a Yellow Post site, is the communication factor.  We all assume that cell signal is universal now, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  The lack of cell signal, and having the sites be first-come-first-serve, can lead to a confusing, and frustrating, start to your trip, especially if you have multiple cars coming up at different times. Ideally, you would be able to have someone go out there a few hours before everyone else, find a spot, create a drop pin on whatever map application they are using, and then drive back down to town, so they can get cell signal, and instruct everyone else where to go. The other option, is for everyone to meet up in the city, and drive to a site together, so if your first choice is taken, you can all drive to the next one without having to call each other.

Another thing I recommend doing before you head up the mountain, is to download a map of the area onto your phone, this will allow you to have paper map type functionality on your phone, so if you get lost, with no signal, you have something to go off of to find your way back out.  Here is a video to show you how to download a Goggle map for offline use…Download Google Maps for Offline Use.  You could also pick up an actual paper map from the Big Bear Discovery Center, because you will most likely be going there anyway for the fire permit.  This way, you don’t have to rely on your phone’s battery life when trying to navigate the multiple off-road trails up there. It’s also much larger, and easier to navigate with, than a 4-5″ phone screen.

Dogs are welcome at all Yellow Post sites.  Because of the wildlife, I suggest keeping your dog on a leash or close by, especially if they like chasing squirrels, or other small animals.  There have also been sighting of rattle snakes, as well as the occasional mountain lion, in the area so it’s really in the dogs best interest for you to keep a close eye on them.  Like I stated above, these sites are remote, so I also recommend packing at least a basic first aid kit for you and your dog.  If your dog gets hurt at one of these remote sights, it could take up to an hour to get to help.  Make sure you are prepared!  Just like you, when exercising at higher elevations, your dog will drink more water, and burn more calories than usual.  Make sure you pack extra water and food for your pup to help sustain him through whatever activities you have planned.  I recommend packing at least 25% more food and water than usual to be safe.

With enough preparation, Big Bear can be an excellent place for you and your dog to escape for a fun filled week or weekend.  There are so many activities available year-round, that it might just become your go-to spot for not just winter, but for the other three seasons as well!  If you had any experiences camping with your dog in the Big Bear area, please share!  There are too many places for me to cover all of them on my own 🙂

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