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A Budget-Friendly Guide to Exploring Big Bear Lake in California

Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge is a charming, clean and affordable lodging option in Big Bear Lake

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Big Bear Lake, California


In July, we decided to celebrate Andy’s birthday up in Big Bear, California. Having only visited that particularly area for brief visits, we did a fair amount of research before heading up the mountain, and then picked a place that not only worked for us financially but also in terms of comfort. Now, I’m passing that info on to you!

Let’s talk lodgings.

We aren’t CouchSurfers – it seems too awkward as a couple, and I haven’t gotten to the point where I’d feel comfortable as a solo female traveler to try it. I know it’s the cheapest option but ruled it out immediately for this trip. Airbnb exists up there, but if you want to be near the lake, it tends to cost you, particularly during the high summer months and the peak winter skiing season. So, we ruled that out pretty quickly, too.

Is camping an option in Big Bear? Yes! Loads of RV and tent spots are available in the parks, though most of the ones near the lake are on the north side (which we liked quite a bit, but most of the restaurants, etc. are on the other side). Here’s the trick – while Andy might have been willing to grab his camping gear, I’m a pain in the ass. I camped a lot as a kid, but as an adult, I really enjoy things like beds and flushing toilets.

What did that leave us?

Once we ruled out those options, we reviewed the hotels, inns and cabins. We had stayed in a cabin down in Crestline the year before and really liked them, so we were hopeful we would find something that could accommodate us for three nights and not break our budget. Happily, we did just that.


QuailCoveLakesideLodge, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California


Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge 

Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge (in the community of Fawnskin) caught our attention right away. They have five cabins. Most can house up to four people; the others can accommodate two (we chose one of those). We loved having a full kitchen, as well as a barbecue grill and front patio – we made good use of both. It was also very handy having an inside kitchen table that doubled as a desk space, and we found ourselves relaxing in the comfy living room every evening. It was very warm while we were there, but starting even in early fall, the fireplace at night will take the chill out of the air and bring a touch of romance. We had ample closet space, and we had a full, very clean bathroom. Bonus points! Parking is free. Double bonus points!


Kitchen, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California

Living Room, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California

Bedroom, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California

Andy Grilling, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California

Andy was in the zone!


All of the rooms technically have water views off the back of the cabins. Here’s the trouble – most have views of Grout Bay (though you can see Big Bear Lake and the slopes in the distance depending on your angle). Grout Bay has been deeply impacted by the drought. So impacted by the drought that it and the creek that ran directly behind the cabins are completely dry. And I mean completely. We walked the creek, and all that remains is sand and vegetation. Hard to believe that people used to fish and kayak there. This is not to dissuade you from staying at Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge – we really enjoyed it, but you should be aware that you may be facing much drier conditions than anticipated.


drybay_byAndySmaller, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California, drought, Grout Bay

These docks used to bring you to Grout Bay, but the drought has taken all the water. Photo by Andrew Gerngross.


Dry creek, Grout Creek, Big Bear Lake, California, drought, Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge, Big Bear Lake, Fawnskin, California

Grout Creek

What did we love?

  • Because we were staying off of N Shore Drive, it was quiet, secluded and had far less tourist action than the other side of the lake.
  • The full kitchens and living rooms make these cabins good writing destinations. I would go back when I’m looking for a writing retreat.
  • It was super clean.
  • The bathrooms were well stocked.
  • Even staying on N Shore Dr, the “downtown” is only a 7-9 minute drive.
  • We were close to hikes and camping – so it’s easy to meet up with people.
  • It was inexpensive during the week. We paid $119 based on two people occupancy. It seemed like a steal given how many amenities the cabin had.


What should you keep in mind?

  • A lot of light filters in through blinds in the bedroom, so if you are light sensitive, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep if you are in a cabin facing the security lights. After all the hiking we did, this ended up not being a problem for either of us.
  • If you are cooking, beware of the super sensitive smoke alarm in the kitchen. Breakfast potatoes and bacon will set it off. Trust.
  • It’s not right on the water anymore. It is still lovely and relaxing, but if your goal is to walk out your door and immediately launch your kayak, this is not the spot.
  • Big Bear is a rise of about 7,000 feet, so winter comes early here. Watch the weather if you are coming up after mid-October.


Would we return?

Yes! Quail Cove Lakeside Lodge was comfortable, clean and affordable. The owners were lovely, and we very much enjoyed our time there.


20 Comments on A Budget-Friendly Guide to Exploring Big Bear Lake in California

  1. Those cabins look great! I don’t mind camping but sometimes a bit of extra comfort makes all the difference 😉

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 7, 2016 at 7:41 pm // Reply

      And they really were comfortable! I loved being close to everything while still being a bit removed and cozy.

  2. Sometimes staying a little further away is better. I like less crowds and more quiet especially at a place like Big Bear Lake.

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 7, 2016 at 7:42 pm // Reply

      Me, too! We really preferred being on the quiet side of the lake and choosing when to enter the busy parts of the “downtown.”

  3. What a great place to spend some time. The outdoors, some bbq, and that cabin looks perfect!

  4. I’m not a camper nor a couchsurfer… this cabin looks perfect! Having a kitchen (and BBQ grill!) is awesome!

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 7, 2016 at 9:36 pm // Reply

      Andy loved having the option of the kitchen and the grill. Food was great, and it really helped us keep to our budget while we stayed up there.

  5. It seems such a shame that the water has receeded. Is it likely to come back? Still looks like my kind of place as I love log cabins by nature and those beds look super comfy

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 8, 2016 at 1:33 pm // Reply

      They are really hopeful that they bays will fill up again. Unfortunately, that will probably require more than one of year of really big snows up in the mountains. SoCal is so dry!

  6. For me this is the quintessential US image that pops up – it’s like the movies…everyone seems to have a log cabin in the woods or near a lake. I would simply love to stay here and would love a big fire in winter. Awesome place.

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 8, 2016 at 1:34 pm // Reply

      I never thought about it, but you are right!! I certainly wish we owned the place so we could go whenever the mood strikes. It would be so much fun!

  7. Oh your cabin looks really cute! I think it is important to choose the accommodation that you are the most comfortable with, rather than just what is the cheapest. Darrell and I use couchsurfing as a couple so it is definitely possible! We have met some amazing people through our stays.

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 8, 2016 at 1:35 pm // Reply

      The cabin definitely turned out to be the right choice for us. That’s so great that you’ve been able to couchsurf as a couple!

  8. What a cute spot! It’s crazy to think a creek can vanish like that.

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 9, 2016 at 2:25 pm // Reply

      It really is! All of SoCal is so dry. I fear how long it will go on like this — hopefully, they’ll get a good snow up in the mountains this year and start to make some progress towards getting the water rising again.

  9. I’m still apprehensive about couchsurfing myself so it was good to read that someone is in the same boat as me. More and more California lake destinations are cropping up in my feed. I feel like I have just discovered more about the USA in this year than in the 24 years I’ve lived there! I love how much exploring there is to do! The cabin looks lovely, what is it about stone fireplaces that get to me? 😀

    • PatriciaSteffy // September 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm // Reply

      There is something very romantic about stone fireplaces! We’ve done quite a few California lake spots in the last couple of years — we’re hoping that the drought recedes so that they get up to full capacity soon.

  10. Love how you’ve described the place. It’s always important to have your priorities in order while travelling and you’ve got it bang on! Would love to stay in the cabin with the water views someday when we are in the region! Thanks for sharing

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