California isn’t all surf, sunshine, and beaches. In fact, it’s home to one of the largest mountain ranges in the country — the Sierra Nevada — and the tallest peak in the Lower 48, Mount Whitney.
There are dozens of spots within the Sunshine State where snow-seeking travelers can get their fix of the fluffy white stuff, even in sunny SoCal. With an eye on geographic diversity, we’ve rounded up 11 of our favorite places to take a snow day in California. From glaciated peaks near the Oregon border to world-class ski slopes and even day trips from Los Angeles, there’s sure to be a winter destination for you and your crew.
But first, be sure to check weather and road conditions before you head out, as passes often close during storms and all vehicles may be required to carry chains when roads are icy. If you know you’ll be embarking on a lot of winter adventures this season, consider swapping out your city tires for a set of beefy all-terrain ones like the Michelin CrossClimate 2.
Lastly, nighttime temperatures can get downright frigid in these snowy mountain enclaves, so we’d recommend pairing a weekend getaway with a cozy cabin rental or hip tiny house rather than roughing it and camping.
But enough with the yammering, here’s our list of stunning California escapes with plenty of snow to go around.
1. June Lake
Situated on the scenic June Lake Loop (California State Route 158), just north of the famous Mammoth Lakes, June Lake is the kind of old-school mountain town you dream about, untouched by urban hipsters. With over 1,500 acres of ski- and snowboard-worthy terrain, June Mountain is a less-traveled (though still pretty epic) ski area, and after hitting the slopes, you and your mates can head into town to grab a pint at June Lake Brewing and a hearty meal at Eagle’s Landing Restaurant.
Related read: 16 Spectacular Northern California Camping Spots
2. Big Bear
A favorite haunt of Southern Californians for decades, Big Bear has become synonymous with snow and skiing when Angelinos want to escape the traffic and smog. Home to Big Bear Mountain Resort, as well as mellower, family-friendly Snow Summit, it’s a great lakeside mountain town for Californians seeking a winter escape without a lengthy drive (it’s less than two hours away from LA).
There’s loads to do off the slopes, as well. From an in-town snow tubing spot to snowshoe trails (rentals available at Goldsmith’s Sports) and even dreamy cabin rentals, both the adrenaline junkies and hygge-loving bookworms in your family will leave satisfied.
Related read: The 11 Best Hikes Near Big Bear Lake, California
3. Mount Shasta
Known for being a quirky community full of old-school hippies and odd esoteric beliefs, Mount Shasta is also one of the tallest (and the most glaciated) peaks in California, standing tall at 14,163 feet.
Home to a small ski park, a designated sledding hill, and the opportunity to snowshoe to McCloud Falls, there’s no shortage of snow play ideas in the area. In town, check out the historic Mercantile Hotel and savor a massive breakfast at Old Mill Eatery.
Related read: 14 Wow-Worthy Hikes at Mount Shasta, California
4. Lake Arrowhead
Though often overlooked in favor of larger Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead still receives its fair share of the fluffy white stuff each winter season, coming in at an average of 40 inches per year. It’s also known for having a much slower and more relaxed pace than neighboring Big Bear, perfect for travelers who are looking to unwind.
Take the kids to visit Santa’s village up at SkyPark, where tree lighting, costumed characters, cookie decorating, and the big guy himself all comingle to create a marvelous holiday outing. Ice skate at Silver Bells Arena, speed down a snowy bank on an inner tube at Snowdrift, or get your cross-country on at Rim Nordic Ski Area. Afterward, unwind in luxe accommodations at the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa.
5. Mount Baldy
Located a mere one-hour drive from Los Angeles, Mount Baldy is a pretty epic place for a day trip to prance around in powder. Sure, you could go big and bring your crampons for an attempt at its 10,064-foot summit, but we much prefer the more developed slopeside activities.
Nab an all-day snow play ticket for just $39 or grab some rental skis and snowboards for a day of downhill action that’s a fraction of the price of larger resorts, starting at $68. Of course, you could also simply opt for a relaxing day on the mountain’s scenic chairlift, then grab a bite at Top of the Notch Restaurant.
Related read: 20 Incredible Hikes in Southern California
6. Yosemite National Park
In wintertime, typically crowded Yosemite National Park transforms into a quiet, view-filled outdoor escape. Plus, if you time your visit just right, you’re likely to experience some gorgeous snowy scenery, even in the valley’s lower elevations.
Slip and slide at the Curry Village Ice Skating Rink, embark on an all-day snowshoe hike to Dewey Point, or experience one of the few dedicated downhill ski areas inside a national park at Badger Pass. Though we wouldn’t recommend camping in sub-freezing temperatures, there are a wealth of phenomenal nearby vacation rentals open year-round.
Related read: A Winter Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park
7. South Lake Tahoe
Straddling the border between Northern California and Nevada (hint: the towering casinos are on the Nevada side), South Lake Tahoe is one of the biggest towns on this list, coming in with a population of over 21,000 people (though that number can skyrocket to 300,000 people during peak season). As such, it’s got a wealth of wintertime activities to partake in, from world-class skiing and snowboarding at Heavenly Ski Resort to fat tire biking with Tahoe Jack’s, family-friendly snow tubing at Tube Tahoe, and more.
When you need to warm up from all that time in the snow, grab a slice at Base Camp Pizza Co., located under the gondola, then hit the hay at luxe new eco-resort, Desolation Hotel. Traveling with a large group? The area is also home to loads of fun Airbnbs.
Related read: 18 Unique Things To Do in Lake Tahoe
8. Palomar Mountain
Sure, you might have to watch the weather and time your visit just right to enjoy mounds of fresh powder at Palomar Mountain State Park (it sometimes melts quickly), but diehard snow fans in the San Diego area think it’s worth it for a memorable winter day trip.
Sitting pretty at an elevation of 6,142 feet, Palomar Mountain is a mere 85-minute drive from downtown San Diego, and its summit receives an average of 35 inches of snow each year. The most popular downhill sledding area can be found just outside Mother’s Kitchen restaurant, while the best snowshoe trails center around Doane Valley Campground.
Related read: 11 Unique Places to Stay in Southern California
Dodge Ridge, in the humble village of Pinecrest, has the honor of being the closest ski resort to San Francisco (three hours away by car), offering 862 acres of skiable terrain. With several lifts offering uber-fun beginner and intermediate runs and one lift (Chair 8) serving a gaggle of black diamonds, it’s an epic place to escape the Bay Area for a weekend of winter fun.
For little ones, nearby Leland Snowplay provides 12 acres of chilly fun, and they’re celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. Grab a burger at the Steam Donkey Restaurant in town before catching some Zs at Pinecrest Chalet’s well-appointed cabins.
10. Mammoth Lakes
Sure, it’s a bit on the obvious side for a list of snowy spots in California, but Mammoth Lakes is a wintertime favorite for a reason. Mammoth Mountain is one of the top ski resorts in the country, offering a seriously impressive 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, from bunny slopes to double black diamonds to experts-only side country.
Nearby, outdoor lovers will find steamy natural hot springs, groomed snowmobile trails, and sunset snowshoe tours. When you’re ready for dinner, splurge on an elegant meal at The Brasserie, which is, ironically, set above a pretty happening bowling alley. Bed down at the Swiss chalet-style Alpenhof Lodge when it’s time to rest.
Related read: 10 Best Hikes In Mammoth Lakes, California
11. Lassen Volcanic National Park
As one of the lesser-traveled national parks in California, Lassen Volcanic is practically a ghost town when winter rolls around, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. 50 minutes from Redding, this northern park is known for its stunning volcanic peaks, rounded cinder cones, and sizzling hydrothermal features.
Check road conditions before you head out, then wheel your way over to the year-round Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center in the southwest section of the park. It’s here that you’ll find the most snow and the steepest sledding hills.
Then, if you’re jonesing to see a hydrothermal area, don your snowshoes for a 2-mile (round-trip) hike to Sulphur Works. Those seeking a more relaxing day of snow play should make a beeline for Manzanita Lake, where several easy snowshoe trails lead to postcard-worthy views of Chaos Crags and enormous Lassen Peak.
Related read: 14 Unforgettable Hikes in Northern California
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