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Jill Sanford | 10.31.2018

Everything is brighter in California’s mountains, where in the wintertime the sun dazzles against white snowscapes and peeks through icicle-laden branches. The air is crisp and fine, the snow light and fluffy. Trails through snowy forests and along mountain ridges extend for miles, and iconic mountain lodges offer fireplaces to curl up with a warm drink. From the Sierra Nevadas to the Cascades to the San Bernardino Mountains, white wintry getaways in California are full of time-honored traditions for families across the globe. 

Here are some of our all-time favorite snow-ventures to discover and places to explore in the California mountains this winter. Enjoy!

Southern Cascades

  • Lassen Southwest Entrance: Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of California’s real hidden gems, and in the winter it really shines. There are miles of trails that are accessible thanks to season-long snow plowing on Highway 89, and the visitor center at the southwest entrance to the park offers guided snowshoeing trips for those who don’t want to brave the trails on their own.
  • Sulphur Works Snowshoe: This 2-mile snowshoe or cross-country ski route is a mellow jaunt through the national park to a 190-degree pool of steaming sulfuric liquid. You’ll smell it long before you see it, but the sight of steam rising up and into the snowy landscape will stick with your family for years to come.

Lake Tahoe

  • Clair Tappan Lodge: This hostel-style lodge was originally built by Sierra Club volunteers in the 1930s, and it is still open to the public. Stop in to take a look at the historic photos and learn about the lodge’s history. If you can, stay a while and rent out one of the 23 bunks, or purchase a meal served family style in the dining hall. This nostalgic retreat offers a welcome change of pace from the more common ski resort villages and upscale vacation rentals found throughout the Lake Tahoe area.
  • Main Drag and Kitty’s Cruise Snowshoe to Lytton Lake: The Clair Tappaan Lodge maintains and grooms cross-country ski and snowshoe trails in the nearby vicinity. This quick loop of Lytton Lake is a mellow 2-mile route through Jeffrey and pines.
  • Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski: Another Donner Summit adventure zone, Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort features over 120 miles of trails for Nordic skiers to explore strikingly bright snowscapes and mountain vistas.
  • Orange Trail Snowshoe in Sugar Pine Point State Park: For many families, it’s not winter unless you visit Lake Tahoe, and the Orange Trail Snowshoe route in Sugar Pine Point State Park is a 1.2-mile loop that offers unparalleled vistas of America’s largest alpine lake. Follow the marked trail to the snowy beach, where you can see the turquoise waves of Lake Tahoe crash against icicles hanging from boulders and docks.  
  • Northstar Village Ice Skating Rink: If you’d prefer to look at the snow from afar rather than tromp through it, the Northstar Village is a great place to cozy up to an outdoor firepit with a cup of cocoa in hand. The outdoor skating rink is located in a central gathering area that also sometimes hosts live music or other family-friendly events. And the charming ambiance makes this resort fun for the whole family, whether you have spent the day in the snow or shopping the village’s boutiques.
  • Hope Valley Outdoors Outfitters: For cross-country skiers and snowshoers who prefer to leave the larger resorts behind, Hope Valley offers a range of trail difficulties and lengths. Located just south of Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley Outdoors Outfitters also provides lessons for folks who are just getting into winter sports.

Eastern Sierra

  • Minaret Vista: A moderately steep but relatively short trek, this quick 3-mile snowshoe route offers incredible views of the Minarets, a jagged and iconic series of peaks in the Eastern Sierra. This trek begins in the same parking area as Mammoth Mountain ski resort, and when you are done for the day you can warm up over a cup of hot cocoa at the resort.
  • Tamarack Lodge: This nostalgic lodge allows families to rent out their own mini-cabins and access miles of cross-country skiing trails, allowing you to ski right to your own front door at the end of the day. The 35 private cabins range from historic to deluxe and from studios to three bedrooms. The main lodge also offers an on-site restaurant.
  • Twin Lakes Loop: Whether you’re looking for a trek that will wear out your snow enthusiasts or a place to get outside and build a snowman, this is the perfect place to pull off and play if you don’t want to pay to access the groomed trails maintained by Tamarack Lodge.

Central and Southern California

  • Tuolumne Grove: Yosemite National Park is nothing short of magical in the winter, and Tuolumne Grove is a great place to get out and explore the splendor of this iconic national park without over-committing to a larger winter trek. The total distance of the path is about 2.5 miles through towering sequoias.
  • General Sherman Tree: An estimated 2,000 years old, this famous tree within Sequoia National Park is 275 feet tall, and it’s lowest branch is nearly 130 feet off the ground. Seeing it in person is staggering, and luckily it is easily accessed via an ADA trail that sees fewer visitors in the off season. Winter is the perfect time to explore the area.
  • Wolverton Meadow Snowplay Area: Located at what was once a small ski resort near Sequoia National Park, the Wolverton area is perfect for the young at heart who love to zoom downhill on a sled. There is a mellow hill here in addition to one that is suitable for older kids who like a bit of a thrill, and there are heated restrooms.
  • Aspen Glen Picnic Area Sledding: This winter recreation area requires a $5 Forest Adventure Pass to access, but paying the nominal fee means that families can spread out and find a sled hill all to themselves in the San Bernardino Mountains. The picnic area is located just about a mile from Big Bear Lake.


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