Lake Arrowhead: Holiness, Healing, and Hotels

The arrow above Lake Arrowhead. Photo:  michael c.
The arrow above Lake Arrowhead. Photo by Michael C

Lake Arrowhead gets its name from the huge arrow shape emblazoned on the face of one of the mountains in the San Bernadinos in Southern California. As a child, I had always thought it was shaped by people, but it turns out the 1,375 ft tall and 449 ft wide arrowhead is natural. The shape on the mountainside exists from a bizarre mix of bare rock ledges and vegetation contrasts. The arrow shape is made of exposed quartz, gray granite, and light green wild sage. It is surrounded by darker vegetation (greasewood and chaparral) which is why the arrowhead is visible.


Many legends exist as to how the arrowhead came to be, but the most popular story told is from the Cahuilla Indians. The God of Peace, also known as the Great Spirit, shot a fiery arrow across the sky to guide the Indians to their new homeland. During their trek, the Indians saw the arrow soar through the sky and embed its head into the side of a mountain. The tip of the arrowhead pointed down to a natural hot springs below, pointing the way to their new home. They considered the hot springs to be holy ground because they believed it had healing powers.

In 1851 Brigham Young, founder of Salt Lake City and early leader of the Latter Day Saints (or Mormons), had a vision of an arrowhead on the side of a mountain pointing to a valley down below. He then sent two followers to find the location and start a new branch of Zion. The Mormons found the hot springs underneath the arrowhead and ultimately built many of the original roads in the area.

Healing Waters

After the Mormons left the springs, David Noble Smith opened up Smith’s Hygienic Sanatorium to treat sick people with the hot, medicinal mineral water. Smith enlarged his sanatorium into a hotel as word spread quickly about the nearby healing waters. People were also drawn to the hotel because of the crystal clear waters from the area’s streams. The spring water’s popularity prompted Seth Marshall to bottle it in the hotel’s basement. This was the beginning of what is known today as the Arrowhead Water Company.

Serious Hotels

Healing those with consumption, dropsy, and other incurable diseases was not financially lucrative. In 1883 Smith was forced to lease his sanatorium to Messrs. Darby and Lyman of Los Angeles who renamed it “Arrowhead Springs Resort.” They were unhappy with the small hotel but could not do what they wanted as Smith held title. Smith died in 1885. Darby and Lyman secured title and within three days the property burned down.

Panorama of Arrowhead Hot Springs, San Bernardino, August 1907. By Pilsbury Picture Company via Wikimedia Commons.
Panorama of Arrowhead Hot Springs, San Bernardino, August 1907. Photo: Courtesy of
Pilsbury Picture Company

Three additional hotels occupied the area, one built by Darby and Lyman in 1886. Perhaps ironically, it burned down in 1895. A third, built in 1905, was bought by a Hollywood Consortium in 1930 and became a hangout for the rich and famous. It burned in 1938 from a forest fire. The last and still standing Arrow Springs Hotel was built in 1939 as a luxurious affair designed to lure back the Hollywood set. It didn’t really work. It was taken over in 1944 to become a naval hospital. Over 6,000 Navy battle casualties received treatment there between 1944-1946. After that it lost its luster as rich people now had the option to fly to vacation spots in Mexico and Hawaii.

Hot Springs Hotel, The Arrowhead, and a web of trails at Lake Arrowhead, 1915. Photo by Pierce, C.C. and from the  California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960 courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Hot Springs Hotel at Lake Arrowhead, 1915. Photo: Courtesy of Pierce, C.C. and from the California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960

In 1962 Arrowhead Springs was reborn as the international headquarters of the Campus Crusade for Christ. In 1991 they moved their headquarters to Florida but continued to hold conferences there until 1999. There are rumors of grandiose plans, but the area is currently closed to the public.

Updated August 9, 2016

  1. Sources Used

About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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  1. Lisa

    Fascinating information…despite growing up in S. CA I was not aware of this history. FYI Brigham Young was not the founder of the Mormon church (Joseph Smith was) but the 2nd president of the church.


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