Hwy 38 is considered the “back way” to Big Bear Lake as it takes a much longer route from the San Bernardino area to the lake. It has a few different segments with vastly different characteristics. The lower section, through Mill Creek Valley, is fairly straight and fast. That ends with a sweeping u-turn at Forest Falls where it quickly ascends into the mountains to Angeles Oaks. From there to the Santa Ana River, it winds along the mountainside with many tight turns except through Barton Flats. Beyond the Santa Ana River, Hwy 38 is much less curvy though still rapidly ascending until Onyx Summit. At 8443′, it is the highest State Highway in Southern California.
Descending to the Big Bear area, great views of the Mojave Desert can be seen to the north. In Big Bear, the route follows the north side of Big Bear Lake, finally ending at a junction with Hwy 18 at Big Bear Dam.