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A History of Big Bear

HomeA History of Big BearA History of Big Bear

Big Bear, California is a destination that calls to vacationers from across the map year-round with good reason. Adventurers with a passion for time in the great outdoors arrive in droves alongside those looking to relax and relish the moment at a slower pace with a great view included. Home to fascinating wildlife, attractions, and easy access to activities immersed in nature, there’s no shortage of options for fun when travel plans bring you this way. If you happen to be a history buff, you’ll find Big Bear is also a destination that’s steeped in stories dating back thousands of years. The following is a brief history of Big Bear to help frame your fantastic getaway in the context of time the next time your travel plans bring you this way.

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Original Area Inhabitants

Before white settlers ever arrived in the area now known as Big Bear, it was called Yuhaaviat and home to an indigenous population known as the Yuhaaviatam. It’s believed the Yuhaaviatam inhabited the greater Big Bear Valley for more than 2,000 years before they were displaced by Spanish explorers. The name of the area (Yuhaaviat) translates roughly to “Pine Place” reflecting the forested terrain that still remains and enthralls visitors today. By 1772, Spanish soldiers who had deserted their ranks at the San Diego Mission made their way to the San Bernardino Mountain range. Eventually, more settlers and explorers would arrive, and the expansion and development of the area would result in the removal of the Yuhaaviatam from the area that they knew as their ancestral homeland.

A Mining Past

While Big Bear is a popular tourist destination today offering guests access to fun in all four seasons, its original growth and popularity began with gold mining. The story goes that in 1860, William Holcomb was out hunting for bears but instead of finding wildlife, he discovered gold within an area that’s now referred to as the Holcomb Valley. The gold was discovered as flakes in a stream, and it didn’t take long for word of his discovery to spread. From 1860 until 1875, modern Big Bear was overrun with prospectors and their families pursuing gold at every turn. As with the greater gold rush, the Big Bear finds would eventually die down and today, all that remains of this feverish search are some well-preserved relics. While the gold discoveries didn’t last, the influx of visitors and the increase in population brought attention to the scenic area that would eventually earn Big Bear its place as a popular vacation destination.

Mountains in Big Bear, California

The Naming of Big Bear

Far from the original name of Yuhaaviat, Big Bear’s name is believed to date back to the mid-1800s. In 1845, a man by the name of Benjamin Davis Wilson headed into the Big Bear Valley with a group of 20 men. They were on the hunt for criminals who had been raiding nearby ranches, but instead of finding the individuals they were looking for, they found the valley packed with a robust population of grizzly bears. From that point on, the stunning scene lent itself to the area being referred to as Big Bear and it has stuck ever since.

Big Bear Becomes a Tourist Hub

Big Bear wasn’t originally meant to be a place for visitors to gather in the name of recreation, but the arrival of Big Bear Lake changed everything. Originally, a dam was built in 1884 that flooded the valley as a means to collect water for crops that were being grown in nearby agricultural areas. However, this would create a massive lake that’s today known as Big Bear Lake. The dam was completed in 1911 and the impressive body of water provided the perfect setting for guests to come and enjoy time in the great outdoors.

Unique Historical Facts and Attractions

The beauty of Big Bear hasn’t been lost on Hollywood over time. Cinema enthusiasts visiting the area will love knowing that Big Bear has worked as the backdrop for films like “Gone with the Wind,” “The Parent Trap,” “Old Yeller,” and even “The Last of the Mohicans.” If you’re looking to connect with Big Bear’s rich past, there are still structures standing that let you step back in time. Make sure your visit includes a stop at the historic Belleville cabin which sits along the former Gold Fever Trail and can be explored on a self-guided tour. Big Bear visitors can also check out the Big Bear Dam keeper’s house which dates back to 1890 and hosted more than a dozen keepers and families through time.

A more recent testament to Big Bear’s past is found in the form of the Big Bear Solar Observatory, which was built in 1969 and houses three telescopes including the largest operating solar telescope on the planet. If you’re interested in a comprehensive overview of Big Bear’s history, it’s worth your while to drop by The Bear Valley Historical Museum which covers the timeline from Native tribes to Gold Rush days and well into Big Bear’s emergence as a tourist destination. Over at the Big Bear Discovery Center, you can pick up self-guided history brochures with a focus on the area’s Wild West past.

Book your Big Bear vacation rental today

Book Your Big Bear Vacation Rental Today!

Enjoy Big Bear Today

Make more of your stay in scenic Big Bear by booking your vacation rental through Big Bear Vacations. Reach out today to learn more about our incredible lineup of property options available and how we can help you elevate your stay in comfort, convenience, and style.