Mammoth vs. Big Bear: which resort is right for you

Big Bear Lake at Sunset Armand Sicat/Lariat

With winter in full swing, many southern-Californians have decided to pack up their snowboards, skis and winter clothing and head to the snowy mountains. Big Bear and Mammoth have been hotspot winter destinations for those seeking the snow. Here are some factors to determine which place is best for you.

Big Bear

Having been discovered in the late 1700’s by Spanish soldiers, Big Bear has evolved from a gold mining town to a four-seasons resort. 


Big Bear City is closer to Orange County of the two hotspots remaining around 100 miles away. It is nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest, just north of the city of San Bernardino.

With Big Bear being the closest of the two snow resort cities, it is undoubtedly the most frequently visited. With that comes traffic, especially during peak season in the winter. Expect your drive time to double when incorporating traffic going up the mountain, and be aware of the weather and road conditions when planning your trip. 

Anticipate the drive up to Big Bear to be more mountainous, as the final leg of your trip to the mountain involves navigating steep hills and declines, tight turns and switchbacks. Don’t be surprised to feel a little dizzy or claustrophobic.

“It really does make me sick,” says snowboarder Sam Mirandas. “The drive is definitely not the fun part.”


After finally conquering the twisty ride up the mountain, Big Bear City has a wide variety of activities for travelers of any age.

The most popular attractions in Big Bear are the two Ski Resorts: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Both resorts offer many ski trails with varying difficulties for both skiers and snowboarders. Bear mountain however has more trails that gear toward advanced athletes. Both resorts offer equipment rentals and have many food options. 

The ski resorts often draw large amounts of skiers and snowboarders, and with only 32 trails, it can be crowded when on the slopes. The crowds also result in long lines for rentals and ski lifts. On peak days, expect a lot of lines when in the resorts. 

Over 120 local vendors provide entertainment, shops, dining and nightlife activities in Big Bear Lake’s Village. Due to the increasing popularity of Big Bear, Big Bear City is constantly expanding with more activities, amenities and accommodations. Snow tubing, bob-sledding and visiting the Big Bear Alpine Zoo are some of the most popular things to do other than going to the Ski Resorts. 

“I enjoyed the ambiance of Big Bear,” says Anthony Cracchiolo. “I enjoyed being out in nature and away from the everyday life.”


Big Bear has plenty of budget-friendly accommodations as well as rental cabins, so there’s a variety of choices. Most hotels and cabins are situated within or next to Big Bear Village so most restaurants and shops are within walking distance.

Be sure to book your accommodations well in advance, as vacancy tends to run dry in the peak of winter. 


If you’re looking for a quick weekend or day trip to see the snow or visit the ski resorts, Big Bear is a wonderful choice. Big Bear’s countless activities ensure that there is something to do if you’re willing to wait in line for it. If you’re game to compete with traffic and large crowds, Big Bear is a fun and exciting place to satisfy your winter plans.


Originally inhabited by the Paiute Native tribe, Mammoth Mountain and the surrounding region transformed into a premier winter resort over the course of around 100 years.


Unlike its rival Big Bear, Mammoth Mountain is a ways away from Orange County. Located in the Inyo National Forest of the San Bernardino mountains, expect a drive to Mammoth to take about double the time it takes to get to Big Bear.

If you’re a fan of road trips, the approximately six hour drive to Mammoth may seem more appealing. Throughout the majority of the drive, roads are relatively flat and straight,hardly resembling a drive up a mountain. 

Traffic on the way is still unavoidable through LA county but loosens up during the rest of the drive. On the road to Mammoth you’ll pass through some historic, old towns and landmarks such as Bishop and the infamous Manzanar internment camp. 


Many activities await your arrival in Mammoth. Compared to Big Bear lake’s Village, The Village, the dining and shopping center of Mammoth contains 12 shops and 15 dining establishments to satisfy many visitors. 

The ski resort, Mammoth Mountain, is the main attraction for many visitors. With 176 skiing and snowboarding trails with varying difficulties and a free gondola to get you to the mountain from the Village, visitors can enjoy a less crowded and more efficient environment.

“The slopes in Mammoth are much better,” says snowboarder Cameron Torres. “They’re less busy which means there’s more room to ride.”

Additionally, a complimentary bus is available to take visitors around the resort’s hotels and The Village. 


Accommodation at Mammoth is less budget-friendly than Big Bear. Besides the four, primary high-end hotels around the Mammoth resort, rentable luxury homes and townhomes comprise much of the alternative accommodation in the area. 

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly accommodation, plan on staying off property. 

If you plan to stay on site, Mammoth’s hotels and homes provide many luxury amenities such as in-room fireplaces and modern furnishings. 


If you’d rather stomach a long drive than rugged one, Mammoth may be the more appealing of the two winter resorts. Mammoth is less family-friendly and budget-friendly due to its lack of kid-friendly activities but draws significantly less crowds and has much more trails to ski and snowboard at. 

Big Bear’s unique activities and wide array of activities accompanied by its relatively close proximity to Orange County make it an attractive weekend getaway.

If you’re planning to spend more than a weekend, Mammoth is the perfect destination for you. Its mountain trails, restaurants and shopping opportunities accompanied by free transportation provide a wealth of entertainment.