kayaking on big bear lake

Kayaking – the Best Way to Explore Lake Big Bear

Big Bear might be synonymous with skiing, but Big Bear Lake is the best place to beat the Southern California heat in summer. The sparkling jewel sits in the middle of the gorgeous San Bernardino forest and offers abundant fishing, swimming, hiking, and mountain biking, as well as all types of lodging, from camping to five-star resort hotels.

One of the most enjoyable ways to explore Big Bear Lake in summer is by kayak. The water of Big Bear Lake is calm and easy to navigate, and the stunning backdrop of lush green forests and snowy mountains will make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Kayaking allows visitors to get up-close and personal with the wildlife and plantlife on the lake and offers the unique chance to visit areas of the lake that are not accessible by foot, boat, or swimming. Kayaking is also great exercise, and fun for the entire family!

Best Big Bear Lake Kayaking Activities

Kayaking Across the Lake

Big Bear Lake is only one mile wide at its widest point. That means that most people should be able to kayak across it in only 20-30 minutes. One mile is also a manageable distance for children. Why not challenge your friends and family to a race across the lake?

kayaking across the lake

Athletic kayakers seeking more of a challenge might want to try kayaking the length of the lake instead, which is a respectable seven miles. Not for the faint of heart, this could easily be a 3-4 hour endeavor or even an all-day affair, so plan accordingly.


Though it’s possible to take a guided fishing charter on Big Bear Lake, some fishermen and women might prefer the peace and quiet of fishing from a kayak. Bring your own reel or rent one from one of the marinas on shore, pack a picnic lunch and spend the day bobbing around on the lake fishing for your supper. You’ll be so close to the fish you’re almost guaranteed to catch something!

Big Bear Lake is a popular fishing spot, known for its abundance of Rainbow Trout, Panfish, Channel Catfish, and Largemouth Bass. Make sure you have your California fishing permit with you if you plan to fish. Day-use permits can be purchased for $20 from the public boat launches or marinas. Seasonal permits can be purchased for $50 online.

Bird Watching

The north shore of Big Bear Lake is home to a number of bird species, including loons, geese, ducks, coots, gulls, herons, and egrets. Hawks make Big Bear Lake their year-round home, and in the winter you can also spy bald eagles, white pelicans, and ospreys. Bird Watching is a fascinating and relaxing pastime that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

A quiet and unobtrusive kayak can sometimes allow you to get closer to birds than you normally might on shore, and offers the rare opportunity to see birds like the bald eagle and osprey fishing on the water. Just make sure to maintain a safe and respectful distance from the birds, and do not disturb their nests.

Best Places to Rent a Kayak in Big Bear

big bear marina

It is recommended to call in advance and reserve a rental at all of these locations.

1. Captain John’s

  • Call for pricing – (909) 866 – 6478

There are two Captain John’s locations – Captain John’s Fawn Harbor & Marina on the north shore, and Captain John’s Marina Big Bear on the south shore. The north shore location is also known as Big Bear Marina, and is a full-service marina, offering boat tours, moorings, boat repair services as well as watersport rentals. The south shore location is strictly for non-motorized watercraft rentals. Both locations rent kayaks.

Captain John’s is family-owned and proud to be the only eco-friendly marina on the lake. In addition to the amenities listed above, they also have a lakeside beach, picnic area, and offer water sport classes including paddleboard yoga!

2. Paddles and Pedals

  • Single: $25/hour or $90 for eight hours
  • Tandem: $35/hour or $90 for eight hours
  • Triple: $45/hour or $200 for eight hours

Located on the north shore, this rental shop also rents paddleboards and bicycles, and is the only shop with direct access to the Alpine bike path. They also boast easy access to and from the water with kayaks – their kayaks are kept in the water so renters don’t need to lug them from the shop to the water.

3. Pine Knot Marina

  • Single: $35 for 2 hours, $59 for 4 hours, or $89 for eight hours
  • Tandem: $45 for 2 hours, $65 for 4 hours or $95 for eight hours

This full-service marina, located on the south shore, is very close to downtown Big Bear Lake city, and easily accessible. They offer a midweek discount of 15% on all rentals. In addition to kayaks and paddleboards, they also rent pontoons and fishing boats.

Pine Knot Marina also runs the Miss Liberty paddleboat tours, which is the only paddleboat tour on the lake, and an excellent activity for children. Miss Liberty is a 64 ft Skipperliner built in 1994, and features a very comfortable shaded upper deck for summer tours, and a heated enclosed lower deck for the winter.

4. Big Bear Marina

  • Single or double: $25/hour
  • Triple: $30/hour

Big Bear Marina is probably the best-known marina on Big Bear Lake, and offers a large assortment of boats and watersport equipment, including wave runners, fishing boats and pontoons, as well as kayaks. They require a $50 refundable security deposit for kayak rentals.

Big Bear Marina notes on their website that due to high demand they cannot process reservations by email – you must call the reservation hotline in order to reserve a kayak.

Recommended reading: Best boat rental near June Lake

Bringing Your Own Kayak to Big Bear

If you own your own kayak, it is absolutely possible to bring it to Big Bear Lake with you. There are two public boat launches you can launch your kayak from: the Duane Boyer West Public Launch Ramp, which is west of Fawnskin on the north shore, and the Carol Morrison East Public Launch Ramp, west of the Stanfield Cutoff. Both launch ramps request that you show up with your kayak drained and dry to help prevent the spread of invasive species. Be aware that both boat launches are closed during the off-season.

In addition to the free public boat launches, most marinas on the lake – including Big Bear Marina and Pine Knot marina – will allow you to launch your own kayak from one of their launch ramps for a fee. The cost to launch at Big Bear Marina is $15 for a single launch, or $130 for unlimited launches for the season. The cost to launch at Pine Knot Marina is comparable.

In order to kayak on the lake, you will need to purchase a $20 day-use permit from either a public boat launch or one of the marinas. Your kayak will also need to be inspected for Quagga Mussels, which are an invasive species in North America. Once your kayak clears inspection and your permit has been purchased, you are free to kayak to your heart’s content!

Paddle Boarding in Lake Big Bear

Paddle boarding is a water sport similar to kayaking which has been gaining popularity in the last few years, and it’s another great option for exploring Lake Big Bear. A paddleboard is a large, flat board similar to a surfboard, which you kneel or stand on and paddle with one large oar. Some people prefer it to kayak because it can be more comfortable to stand or kneel than to sit in a kayak. You also stay drier on a paddleboard than you do in a kayak – as long as you don’t fall in!

Renting a paddleboard in Lake Big Bear is very similar to renting a kayak – in fact, all of the rental places mentioned in this article rent paddle boards as well as kayaks. The cost to rent a paddle board is the same as renting a one-person kayak, and it’s possible to fit two people on a single paddle board, so if you’re paddling the lake with a friend, a paddleboard can be a cheaper option.

Captain John’s rental location also offers a paddle board yoga class, which can be a fun way to challenge yourself to try something new. Just be aware that paddle board yoga requires a good sense of balance, and it’s highly likely that you might fall in the lake, so make sure to wear your swimsuit!


Kayaking Big Bear Lake offers the unique chance to feel at one with nature. It can be as relaxing or as invigorating as you like – the choice is up to you! Spend a lazy day casting a fishing line over the side, or get your blood pumping by challenging yourself to paddle across the lake.

Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker with your own boat or a complete newbie looking to try out this sport for the first time, Big Bear Lake kayaking has something for you.