Snow Chains & Winter Driving

Snow Chains


Visit Caltrans for more information:

**During winter months, especially during heavy snow months, it is generally REQUIRED to carry snow chains in your vehicle for your safety. These can be purchased at the bottom of the mountain or in your local city, and can often be returned if unused. More details provided by caltrans.**

Snow chains, also known as tire chains or cables, are required for safety when snow or ice conditions cause slippery highways. Check the road conditions before you head out to see if snow chains are required. There are 3 ways up and 3 ways home from Big Bear Lake which means snow chains may be required on one highway and not the other, so you should always carry chains in your vehicle during the winter months, even if your car has snow tires.

Tire chains are typically not required on all 4 wheels. Front-wheel-drive vehicles must put snow chains on their front tires, and rear-wheel-drive vehicles must put them on their rear axle. If R-3 restrictions are in effect and you have a 4-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicle, you’ll likely have to buy 2 sets of tire cables or chains (instead of just a set for the drive wheels in a 2-wheel drive car).

Big Bear Retreat Center does not install tire chains. A limited amount of snow chains are sold in the local mountains. To guarantee chains or cables that fit your vehicle, visit your local auto parts store for tire chains availability and make sure you know how to install your traction devices before visiting Big Bear to avoid delays when traveling to/from the mountains. For questions or concerns about road conditions, please contact the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) directly at 1-800-427-7623.


You must stop and put on chains when highway signs indicate chains are required. You can be cited by the California Highway Patrol and fined if you don’t. You will usually have about a mile between “Chains Required” signs and the checkpoint to install your chains.

  • Control areas can change rapidly from place to place because of changing weather and road conditions.
  • The speed limit when chains are required is 25 or 30 miles an hour.
  • When you put on chains, wait until you can pull completely off the roadway to the right. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic.
  • Chain Installers: If you use the services of a chain installer, be sure to get a receipt and jot the installer’s badge number on it. Remember, chain installers are independent business people, not Caltrans employees. Having the badge number may help with any misunderstandings later. Chain installers are NOT allowed to sell or rent chains.
  • When removing chains, drive beyond the signs reading “End of Chain Control” to a pull-off area where you can safely remove them.


When chain controls are established, signs will be posted along the road indicating the type of requirement. There are Three Levels of Chain Requirements in California:

  • Requirement 1 (R1): Chains are required on all vehicles except passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks under 6,000 pounds gross weight and equipped with snow tires on at least two drive wheels. Chains must be carried by vehicles using snow tires. All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle. Trailers with brakes must have chains on at least one axle.
  • Requirement 2 (R2): Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles except four wheel/all wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels. NOTE: (Four wheel/all wheel drive vehicles must carry traction devices in chain control areas.)
  • Requirement 3 (R3): Chains or traction devices are required on all vehicles, no exceptions.

1 Snow-tread Tires: The California Vehicle Code, Section 558 defines a snow-tread tire as follows, “A ‘Snow-tread tire’ is a tire which has a relatively deep and aggressive tread pattern compared with conventional passenger tread pattern”. Snow-tread tires can be identified by examining the sidewall of the tire where the letters MS, M/S, M+S or the words MUD AND SNOW have been stamped into the sidewall.
2 Tire Traction Devices: The California Vehicle Code, Section 605 defines tire traction devices as follows: “Tire Traction Devices are devices or mechanisms having a composition and design capable of improving vehicle traction, braking and cornering ability upon snow or ice-covered surfaces. Tire traction devices shall be constructed and assembled to provide sufficient structural integrity and to prevent accidental detachment from vehicles. Tire traction devices shall, at the time of manufacture or final assembly, bear a permanent impression indicating the name, initials or trademark of the assembling company or primary manufacturer, and the country in which the devices were manufactured or assembled in final form.”

The full, searchable version of the California Vehicle Code is available at: Leginfo, the website for California Legislative Information.

Winter Driving

Winter Driving Tips

Visit Caltrans for more on winter driving tips:

Winter Driving in Big Bear, CA  

November to May, especially December to February 

It can snow in Big Bear from November to May. The months of heaviest snow are typically January and February. Since we are a heavily trafficked ski town with many visitors, the roads are regularly and quickly well maintained and plowed. Roads are typically clear within a day or two of a large snow storm, if not the same day. We’ve provided some recommendations and resources during our winter months.  


During our winter season, please be sure to check road conditions before driving: 

You can also monitor Big Bear weather here on Ben’s Weather or The Weather Channel.


We have 3 main roads to Big Bear: the 330/18 through Highland (from the West), the 18 through Victorville/Hesperia (North), and the 38 through Redlands/Mentone (South/East). Please check road conditions ahead of time during winter months. All three are well maintained main highways. 


In the event of road closures due to weather, you will be able to receive a full refund or apply the  balance towards a future retreat. We will only offer a refund if the roads are closed due to weather.  Please let us know well in advance if you anticipate any issues driving in winter weather conditions. Please note there are 3 ways up the mountain and an alternative route may be necessary.  


During the winter months, we recommend not driving at night up/down the mountain to reduce unfavorable or icy road conditions. 

Contact Us

Connect with us at Big Bear Retreat Center.