Hanna Flats Camping

Last weekend, thirteen of us went to a campground near Big Bear Lake. We came from various parts of southern California and stayed varying amounts of time. Some spent four days and three nights while others stayed just one day and one night. We had two campsites at Hanna Flats Campground, a place with around 100 plots but no showers. Most of our neighbors had off-road vehicles or mountain bikes, but some were in RVs as well. Of my friends, some of us hike and camp frequently while others were borrowing equipment to car camp for the first time at least in a while. We even had two dogs with us for part of the weekend!

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Last Labor Day, a similar group went to Laguna Campground in Cleveland National Forest. We had such a good time that I decided to organize another trip. We learned last time that being in the mountains makes things cooler and increases the chances of lakes having water. So I looked into the San Bernardino Forest this time around. Unfortunately, many campgrounds do not take reservations and we never want to mess with first-come, first-serve. Especially when people are coming at different times from different places. So I picked Hanna Flats because of its proximity to Big Bear Lake and its availability (I booked the last two adjoining sites back in February).

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I was part of the first group up, arriving around 5pm. We set up several tents, unpacked our gear, and went into Big Bear City for dinner. The place we chose, Thelma’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, had home-cooked comfort food. It was decent food, but the pastries and pies looked amazing! We resisted, knowing our weekend would be full of food and snacks. Our group had decided to divide up meals, making each person responsible for one and a pair of us coordinating dinners. This kept supplies simple and divided the responsibility of shopping for and preparing the food. It seemed to work well and I enjoyed not knowing what we were having each day. It also saved me the hassle of guessing portions and items for everyone for the whole trip!

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Twelve of us trickled into camp that night and quickly put on every layer of clothes we brought. Temperatures dropped into the mid-30s and the firewood we had wasn’t burning very hot. That night was cold and restless for many of us, as our sleeping bags and blankets failed to protect us from the temperatures. But the sun came out Saturday morning and spirits rose with the temperature. A delicious and warm breakfast of eggs and bacon helped too! Our plan was to hike Castle Rock trail, a short but steep two-mile trek near the lake that promised amazing views and a rock scramble. Everyone made it up without a problem and we enjoyed running around on the rocks for a while, talking to fellow hikers and enjoying the scenery.

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After wandering back down along several different routes, we went back to camp for an easy lunch of chicken salad croissant sandwiches with sides of chips and fruit. Most of Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing around camp in various forms. Several people napped, a group of us played card and dice games, we gathered firewood for that evening, a group played bocce around the sites, some read books, and we were all serenaded by a guitar. The beauty of a group that large was that there always seemed to be someone else interested in what you wanted to do, and you didn’t have to feel bad for breaking off from the herd. As the sun dropped and the cold rolled in, we cranked up the fire for dinner. In true camping fashion, an assortment of sausages, hot dogs, buns, and beans was on the menu and they hit the spot! We played games and told stories by the campfire until it was time for bed.

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Sunday morning started with another big breakfast of pancakes and bacon before a group of us headed into Fawnskin, the town on our side of the lake, to explore their park and quaint shops. Then we broke into several groups, some hanging at camp and some exploring different areas right around camp. I went up into the hills to check out a rock fortress, inhabited by a few rogue middle-school boys. The views were impressive and we had fun climbing and scrambling about. Lunch on Sunday was a gourmet PB&J bar, with more types of jelly, jam, and peanut butter than you can imagine. Bananas, banana chips, regular chips, and honey were also seen making their way onto a variety of breads.

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Around 2:30pm, most of us hit the trails again to hike Cougar Crest Trail. Another 750+ feet of elevation gain, but this time spread over a four-mile round-trip trek. The summit of this trail met up with the Pacific Crest Trail and we paused to enjoy the scenery while several of us ate our packed PB&Js. We made it back down without any issues, as all of the trails were well marked and populated. After our hike, there were more games and bocce around camp until it was time for dinner. This time we were treated to beef and chicken kebabs, grilled over the fire. It’s no surprise that we devoured these along with the rest of the leftover food. After night fell and most of the group went to their tents, three of us hiked up to a group of large, flat rocks to watch the stars. The moon was almost too bright, but we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet while searching for constellations.

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Our last morning at camp started off like the rest, with pancakes and eggs to warm our bellies. The temperatures had risen throughout the course of the weekend but the highs never got out of the 50s. Several groups headed out to get back to reality while a small group hiked around camp for a bit before leaving. Sean and I decided that we wanted to get out on the lake while we were there, so we drove into Fawnskin and rented a canoe. I love being out on the water and it was good exercise to paddle against the windy and choppy conditions. We didn’t see much wildlife, but we could look up the hills at where we’d been hiking and enjoy the views along the lake. There were a number of pontoon and powerboats out, but the lake wasn’t overly crowded.

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Heading back down the mountain, we were fortunate to miss most of the holiday weekend traffic. Overall, it was a wonderful weekend away from the world and I appreciated the time spent “unplugged” with my friends. We are still trying to find the perfect camping spot that isn’t too hot or too cold and has enough water but not too much population. For now, I can just be grateful to have friends that enjoy escaping to nature like I do! Thanks to everyone that came out and for those that feel like they missed out, let’s all plan another trip soon 🙂

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