Running Springs, just 17 miles from Big Bear Lake, is a quiet enclave nestled in the glorious pines of the San Bernardino Mountains. This off-the-beaten path spot is often overlooked in favor of more popular destinations in the area. Good thing you’re in on the secret.
In winter, the family-run Snow Valley ski area boasts scenic slopes and updated lifts without the crowds. However, this is a great weekend vacation year-round. Summers here offer ample opportunities for viewing wildlife, hiking easy trails, mountain biking, and just enjoying quality time with family or friends at a private lakeside cabin. This is one tiny town that’s not to be missed!
The low-key ski town of Running Springs is 453 miles from San Francisco, wholly contained in San Bernardino National Forest. This is a long drive, so bring a friend and crank up the stereo. Merge onto I-80 E toward Oakland and keep left toward Berkley/Sacramento/I-580 W/San Rafael. Merge onto I-580 E via exit 8B toward CA-24/Hayward-Stockton. Follow this road for about 63 miles until I-580 E becomes I-5 S. This is the longest portion of your road trip and it’s a straight shot down the 5 for almost 290 miles. Look out for the fork and keep left to stay on I-5 S, then take exit 161A for I-210 toward Pasadena.
You’ll continue on I-210 E for 24 miles, then keep right at the fork, following signs for I-210/San Bernardino/Ventura/CA-134. Keep left, continuing to focus on that signage for I-210 E/Fwy San Bernardino.Merge onto I-210 E and continue as it turns into CA-210. 36.7 miles later, you’ll reach exit 81 for CA-330 N toward Mountain Resorts. Follow CA-330 N/City Creek Rd for just under 15 miles, then head down the ramp to Running Springs.
Lake Arrowhead Cabin is a privately-owned two-bedroom property in Running Springs that’s just five miles from Lake Arrowhead. The large cabin features comfortable beds and a kitchen equipped with a microwave, oven, and toaster. There’s a flat screen TV, a BBQ outside, and a cozy patio where you can enjoy your morning coffee nestled in the trees. You’ll have easy access to hiking trails, picnic areas, fishing, and so much more from this quaint cabin in the woods.
Tao Cabins are private cabin properties located throughout the Running Springs region. Cabin 4 is a guest favorite. This cabin features stunning mountain views, a roaring fireplace, and a second-floor sun terrace. The two bedrooms and the seating area are spacious, and the kitchen is well-equipped with full-size appliances. Free Wi-Fi is included.
The Arrowhead Mountain Inn is a top pick for visitors to Running Springs and Lake Arrowhead. The boutique-style rooms have modern bathing facilities, including some with spa tubs or hot tubs. Guests will also enjoy TVs, sitting areas, free Wi-Fi, and access to amenities like the spacious sun deck. The courteous, attentive staff aims to please and the somewhat secluded location means that the surrounding grounds are private and quiet even in the height of the season.
Rocky’s Roadhouse is a cute little deli in Running Springs that’s open seven days a week. You won’t find any trendy sandwiches or gourmet salads here. Rather, it’s a quick stop that serves up hearty meats like the incredible corned beef or flavorful chicken salad on their famous bread. There’s plenty of seating both indoors and outside. Kids will love the quirky décor and parents will love the prices.
Neo’s Pizza House is a local mainstay that’s open daily for lunch and dinner. It’s a casual spot that’s perfect for groups, with charming red checked tablecloths and standard pizza shop fare. Service can be a bit slow, especially during the high season, but the flavorful crust, tangy sauce, and perfect ratio of toppings on the pizzas are worth waiting for. There’s also an arcade downstairs and sports on the TV, so sip a cold draft beer and make an evening of it.
This tiny diner wins raves from visitors as the best breakfast spot on the mountain. Stop in when the doors open at 6 am to fuel up with piping hot coffee and a delicious omelet served with a smile. Old Country serves typical diner fare with a Mexican twist – and the tostadas are just as good as the corned beef hash. They’re open through dinner until 8:30 pm most days, with extended hours until 9:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.
Snow Valley is a hidden gem in southern California. Most skiers opt for the more popular resorts at Big Bear, which means the slopes and recently-updated lifts here are far less crowded. The prices are excellent for the area and the scenery is truly spectacular. Friendly staff offer lessons to beginner skiers. Advanced-expert level skiers will probably not find the terrain here to be much of a challenge, but the small resort does have suitable options to keep novice and intermediate snow bunnies happy. Snow Valley now offers night skiing.
Southern California isn’t exactly known for its cross-country skiing, but Rim Nordic is set to change that. The machine groomed trails span 10 miles, though there are an additional three miles of natural trails that are great for snowshoeing. Varying difficulty levels mean there’s something for everyone, from the easy quarter-mile Deep Creek Loop to expert trails like Big Cedar and Lone Pine. Rim Nordic doesn’t shut down when the snowfall stops. The center is open year-round and it’s an excellent place to hike or bike. The single-track mountain bike park hosts races throughout the season. Bike, ski, and snowshoe rentals available.
Keller Peak Fire Lookout is about five miles east of Running Springs and not far from Snow Valley. It’s the oldest remaining fire lookout station in San Bernardino National Forest. The view from the top stretches as far as Catalina Island on a clear day. The Keller Peak Fire Lookout is a relatively easy trek and volunteers are available to welcome visitors. The lookout is open from Memorial Day through late fall and visitors are welcome between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Heaps Peak Arboretum is located in Skyforest, a short drive for visitors to Running Springs. The short, well-marked trail is an easy stroll through tranquil pine trees. Be sure to pick up one of the blue brochures at the entrance. There are more than two dozen markers along the trail that correspond with info in the brochure. You’ll leave with a better understanding of the natural plant life and why it’s important to preserve the delicate balance of the eco-system. There are picnic tables and bathrooms available. This educational activity is great fun for small children.
Wildhaven Ranch in Lake Arrowhead is a wild animal rescue sanctuary and education center. Please contact them in advance – visitors are welcome but must make an appointment for a personalized tour. The ranch provides a safe, peaceful environment for animals that have been injured, domesticated, or otherwise cannot be released back into the wild. Wildhaven offers three tours. Bear Watch tours allow guests to view and even feed the bears. The Wings ‘n Things tour will bring you up close and personal with birds of prey. The Claws ‘n Paws tour includes encounters with indigenous animals like deer, coyote, and raccoons.