Lake Arrowhead is a vacation getaway located in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest, Lake Arrowhead has plenty to offer those looking for a quick weekend getaway from the noise and bustle of city life as well as for those looking for a good vacation spot with plenty of outdoor options. The area is also home to many permanent residents.
Lake Arrowhead Village has an annual Summer Concert Series and the annual Oktoberfest celebration. The area is known for plenty of other events and activities including a Home Expo, Tour de Lake Arrowhead, and the Antique Wooden Boat Show.
The entire area is a go-to destination for tourists from all over the world. Some compare Lake Arrowhead to a Swiss village, complete with skiing. There is a historic inn at the lake, plus camping, hotels, Airbnb, etc.
Lake Arrowhead wasn’t always known as “the Alps of Southern California”. The area was once (in the late 1800s) known more for logging thanks to the Brookings Lumber Company’s work on some eight thousand acres of local land.
The terrain was so challenging in those early days that in order to install railroad lines in the mountain area, the locomotives had to be disassembled and put back together in the high country.
Circa 1905, work began on a semi-hydraulic fill dam in the area, which would ultimately be completed much later–the original company abandoned the project after getting to roughly 80% completion in 1912. The property was transferred to a different corporation, which used the man-made lake (filled with runoff from the original dam project).
The Arrowhead Lake Company acquired the land with a plan to develop the man-made lake into a mixed-use recreation and residential zone. The dam was finished in 1923, along with a new village, dance pavilion, outdoor movie theater, and beach. Once development got underway in the area it would not be long until a number of hotels, inns, and drinking houses were built.
The area grew in both ambition and popularity. Hollywood films were shot at Lake Arrowhead, and movie stars including Clark Gable and Bette Davis were known to frequent the inns and pubs. Some even purchased homes in the area.
Come World War Two businesses would suffer due to rationing and other economic woes. But Lake Arrowhead endured. Come 1960, some developers from Los Angeles purchased Lake Arrowhead and began further developing residential areas, a golf course, and other amenities.
Lake Arrowhead would change hands again in 1971–a group of businessmen from Chicago but only a few years later it was foreclosed upon, and changed hands multiple times. Come 1978 an unusual event occurred.
A group of investors acquired the property and some decisions were made that ultimately led to a move in 1979 that saw the entire Lake Arrowhead Village deliberately burned to the ground in a firefighter training exercise called “Burn To Learn”. The razed village was completely rebuilt and now includes a shopping center, specialty stores, and factory outlets.
Today Lake Arrowhead hosts some four million tourists each year, with different outdoor recreation options available depending on what time of year you travel. It also features what the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce official site describes as a “year-round Alpine residential community” at 5100 feet.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in the area, you should explore your options at the Saddleback Inn at Lake Arrowhead. This three-story, 28-room lodge, called a “castle” by its founders, features whirlpool baths, fireplaces, and fine dining.
The Saddleback Inn is about five minutes from Lake Arrowhead Village and while it’s not the only place to stay in this part of California, it’s one of the more aspirational options. It definitely has a reputation in the area for quality. You can also find vacation rental houses in the area including “treetop” cabins or check Airbnb listings for the local area.
As mentioned above, the seasons dictate how you will enjoy some of the major attractions at Lake Arrowhead. One of those isn’t affected by summer or winter; you’ll want to see a tour of Lake Arrowhead on a year-round paddleboat tour which lasts an hour and tours the lakeshore including drifting by celebrity-owned properties and local favorite sections of the man-made lake.
SkyPark at Santa’s Village is another year-round attraction featuring an outdoor adventure park offering hiking, fishing, 10 miles of trails, and other outdoor fun. SkyPark has a village center with dining, shopping, and entertainment.
Lake Arrowhead features plenty of indoor options for those trying to beat the heat or cold; indoor rock climbing is one of those, and some are “covered” activities such as the skating rink–you won’t be full indoors, but not totally subjected to the elements, either.
Summer season activities at Lake Arrowhead include a waterski school, while wintertime activities naturally include a ski school and December holiday-themed events in Santa’s Village. Snow Valley might sound like a winter-only Lake Arrowhead attraction, but this outdoor adventure operation has both summer and winter activities.
Summertime options at Snow Valley include mountain biking, hiking, and related activities. The season for these options often starts in May. Snow Valley activities in the winter months include skiing and snowboarding. Lessons may be available and there are kid-friendly options for both learning how to ski or snowboard as well as for actually experiencing the slopes.
Lake Arrowhead Ski Options
- Snow Valley Mountain Resort – Located less than 15 miles from Lake Arrowhead Village
- Snow Summit Ski Resort – About 30 miles from Lake Arrowhead
- Bear Mountain Ski Resort – About 30 miles from Lake Arrowhead
- Rim Nordic – Located on Highway 18 just five miles outside of Running Springs
Camping at the Lake is also an option but you may only camp in approved areas.
This facility is not a public park. Lake Arrowhead is privately owned and the use of the lake itself is restricted to area residents and their guests. That includes swimming, which is also intended for residents and their guests only.
Being a “guest” and being able to use the lake is as simple as booking a stay in one of the area resorts or hotels, inns, cabins, AirBnBs, or campgrounds. But if you are coming in for a day trip, going out on Lake Arrowhead may not be technically legal. There are no restrictions on visiting Lake Arrowhead Village.
If you are a guest of an area establishment and plan to stay for multiple nights, remember that knowing the road conditions in this mountain area can be very important. Even in the summer months, it pays to be mindful of the roads, the weather, and issues that may complicate travel to or from Lake Arrowhead.
Parking on Lake Arrowhead roads is not permitted. No “domestic animals” are allowed without leashes, local dumpsters are for residents only, and you are not permitted to feed wild birds at the lake due to overpopulation issues.
All boats and other vehicles must be properly licensed according to state law. No overnight docking is permitted without prior permission. You may not leave a vehicle at the boat launch overnight. Short-term parking is available in the main park and in other designated areas.
Lake Arrowhead vs Big Bear
To the unfamiliar this is a common question since they are both mountain lake resort communities situated about 15 miles apart and there are a lot of commonalities between the two. However, we’re here to discuss the differences so here they are.
- Travel Time: They are only 15 miles apart but it is an additional 45 minute drive or more up the mountain to Big Bear. The 15 mile stretch is also much more windier for the easily motion sick travelers.
- Lake Use: Big Bear Lake is a public lake and Lake Arrowhead is a private lake.
- Winter Sports / Snow Play: Lake Arrowhead sits at a lower elevation and thus the better skiing is at Big Bear.
- Summer Sports: Both have mountain biking but only Snow Summit has lifts to the top.
- Amenities: They have similar amenities but options are much smaller at Lake Arrowhead.
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Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, The Pentagon Channel, Veteran.com plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.