Big Bear is an amazing dog friendly gem of a mountain town in Southern California that's a 2-hour escape from the hustle and bustle of LA. During winter, most people drive up for snow activities like skiing, boarding, tobogganing and tubing, but the hiking trails are open even while covered in snow! So if you don't mind trudging through snow like us (bring snow boots or rain boots and a hiking stick), it's pretty fun to explore an entire snowy wonderland of a trail all to yourself.
In the winter, be sure to check the weather and call the Big Bear Lake Visitor's Center before your trip to inquire if snow tires or snow chains are needed on your car for mountain access. Halfway up the mountain on the 18, we were required to stop and apply chains to our tires (which we bought the day before at Autozone) before proceeding through a checkpoint. Snow chains can be a bit tricky so definitely practice putting it on your tires before heading up the mountain! We have a Subaru Outback, which has all wheel drive, so chains were required for the back two wheels. Otherwise, for two wheel drive vehicles, the chains are required on the front two wheels. (Better yet, if you plan on driving up often in the winter, invest in snow tires to avoid all the hassle!) The checkpoint can also cause a bit of a backup on the roads, so it's best to head up early in the morning if possible.
As a side note, the roads going up to Big Bear are narrow and windy, with sharp turns at some places, so if your dog is prone to car sickness, like mine, I've always found it useful to have some barf bags handy in case of emergencies! Surprisingly, Hoku handled this drive like a pro, even though we could tell he was starting to feel nauseous at some points (incessant lip licking is usually the telltale sign for us.)
After you arrive in Big Bear, head over to the Big Bear Lake Visitor's Center on 630 Bartlett Road to pick up a hiking trail map. The nice folks there can point you to dog friendly trails to suit your preferred difficulty level. (Note that the San Bernardino National Forest Service requires all dogs to be on leash on any hiking trail! This is for the protection of the pup as well as preventing disturbances to the wildlife.) Then, don't forget to stop by one of two of the 7-11 locations located on Big Bear Blvd to purchase an Adventure Pass, which is needed if you plan to park basically anywhere - off the road, trailheads, parks, or anywhere in the forest. The daily pass is $5 and the yearly pass is $30.
Hoku had such a great time seeing and hiking through fresh powder snow for the first time. He was so pooped afterwards that he slept in the car all the way home. As they say, a tired dog is a good dog is a happy dog! Looking forward to visiting Big Bear again in the spring.