Museums & Big Bear History

Welcome to Yuhaaviat

The Big Bear valley was home to the indigenous Yuhaaviatam (a clan of the Serranos) for about 2,000 years. These natives inhabited what they called Yuhaaviat or 'Pine Place'. The name 'Serrano' or 'mountaineers' was given to the natives by Spanish explorers. The development and expansion of the California Mission System marked the first contact and initial removal of the Serrano from their ancestral land.

1772 - The first white men to see the San Bernardino mountain range were deserting Spanish soldiers from the San Diego Mission.

1812 - The entire area was rocked with repeated earthquakes resulting in a native uprising because they thought the Great Spirit was angry with the Padres.

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Quite a “Rich” History

Big Bear Lake was a mecca for gold mining before it was a popular four-season resort. History records show that in 1860, a bear hunter named William Holcomb discovered gold in the area now called Holcomb Valley. After tracking a bear’s blood trail to a creek, he found gleaming flakes of gold in the water. Word spread and Southern California’s largest gold rush began! Until about 1875, the area was heavily populated with prospectors and their families.

All that remains of the gold rush days are some relics and weathered structures from days of yore. Self guide brochures for visitors looking to rediscover Big Bear's 'wild west' are available at the Big Bear Visitor Center, the Big Bear Discovery Center, and the Big Bear Museum.

How Big Bear got its name…

Modern Big Bear history begins around 1845 when Benjamin Davis Wilson rode into the valley with a posse of 20 men. They were searching for suspects who had been raiding their ranches in Riverside. As they entered the valley, they found it crawling with grizzly bears. Nope, not a misprint, they were indeed grizzly bears! It was with this discovery that Big Bear Lake got its' present day name.

It should be noted that this name referred to what is now Baldwin Lake. Today's Big Bear Lake did not exist until the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Originally, Big Bear Lake was never meant to be a tourist hub. The first dam (1884) that flooded the valley was designed to collect water for irrigation of crops in the newer Redlands agricultural areas. At the time, the dam created the largest man-made lake in the world, and was - for a while - considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. The existing dam was completed in 1911 and multiplied the size of the lake into what it is today.

Notable Landmarks in Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Museums