The best places for snow in California for a magical winter getaway in the Golden State.
The best spots for snow in California are not always the most obvious spots.
Sure, the perfect powder at Tahoe or Big Bear Lake attracts skiers worldwide. Yes, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks are breathtakingly beautiful blanketed in snow.
But did you know you can have a snowball fight in the desert town of Palm Springs or ski down an active volcano?
What about snowboarding within Los Angeles County? Or that California’s cutest mountain town elected a labrador as its mayor?
Whether you’re looking for the closest place for snow from the Bay Area or a cozy winter cabin break in Southern California, these are the best California winter getaways.
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Table of Contents
Where Does it Snow in California?
The best places to see California snow are all at elevation. The Western Sierras are easy to get to from the Bay Area, while the Eastern Sierras are not too far from Las Vegas.
In Northern California, the Cascade range, which straddles the border with Oregon, is a stunning snowy destination in the winter.
In Southern California, you can find snow not too far from Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains at Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Antonio.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
When Does it Snow in California?
Lake Tahoe sees most of its snow in February and March.
Although, it can start snowing in California (including other parts of the Sierra Nevada) as early as November and sometimes continues until April.
In the mountains of Southern California, January and February are the best months for snowfall.
Snow in California Map
Where to Find Snow in Northern California
Towering 14,000 feet above the pine forests of Northern California, Mount Shasta sees snow on its higher slopes in the winter.
Mount Shasta is a four-hour drive north of San Francisco, but you’ll encounter less traffic than you would on a winter trip to Tahoe.
Adventurous souls can ski or snowboard down an active volcano at Mount Shasta Ski Park, while those looking for a more peaceful activity can snowshoe through a winter wonderland.
Practical info: US Geological Survey scientists don’t believe Mount Shasta is likely to erupt in the near future, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
Where to Stay in Mount Shasta
Lassen Volcanic National Park
An often overlooked national park in the Cascade Range, Lassen Volcanic National Park, is especially beautiful in the winter.
The park receives up to 30 feet of snow between December and March.
Take a free ranger-led snowshoe tour, go sledding, or find your own slope for some backcountry skiing.
The steep slopes behind the visitor center in the southwest area of the park are the most popular with experienced sledders, while families prefer the gentler inclines of Manzanita Lake.
While you’re in the area, check out Burney Falls, a stunning cascade as beautiful as Yosemite’s famous falls.
Winter is a great time to visit California’s waterfalls when water levels are high, and they’re at their most thundering.
Where to Stay in Lassen Volcanic Park
Where to Find Snow in the Sierra Nevada
With its vibrant downtown and proximity to world-class ski resorts, Truckee is a small town with a big following.
Johnson Canyon is a locals’ favorite for simple snow play, with hills for sledding and meadows for snowman building.
If you don’t have your own sled, go tubing at Tahoe-Donner on one of its monitored snow lanes.
Nearby Northstar is one of Tahoe’s best ski resorts.
During the winter season, the village has a beautiful open-air ice rink, operating daily. Warm up next to a fire pit and enjoy live music with your apres-ski drinks.
Practical info: Bring snow chains to the Sierras in the winter, there are checks on the highways, and you will be turned back if you don’t carry them.
Where to Stay in Truckee
South Lake Tahoe
Straddling the Nevada-California border, South Lake Tahoe is a glamorous resort town with casinos, fine dining, and shopping at the base of the mountain.
If you enjoy a night of hard partying after a day on the slopes, this is your spot.
This is also where you’ll find some of the most scenic slopes in California.
Take a moment at the top of the chairlift to appreciate views of a sapphire-blue Lake Tahoe ringed by snow-covered mountains before hurtling down the mountain.
Non-skiers can also enjoy the experience by taking a scenic gondola ride to the top.
Besides skiing, Heavenly offers plenty of winter activities as well, including snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and tubing. It’s also rated as one of the best places to snowboard in California.
Serious skiers should also check out Kirkwood, which is consistently one of the snowiest places in California.
The snowboard and skiing season usually starts in late November or early December.
Tahoe is one of the places that snows in California in December, but if there’s not enough natural snow, the ski resorts make their own with giant snow guns.
Practical info: Lift passes are like gold dust at Kirkwood during the peak holiday periods – secure yours early if you plan to go.
Where to Stay in South Lake Tahoe
California’s longest-running ski resort is located at Soda Springs, a 45-minute drive from Nevada City.
This is a laid-back, family-friendly resort with a smaller mountain that’s ideal for beginners.
Kids aged seven and under get their own snowy adventure playground at Planet Kids.
With a gentle tubing slope plus a Magic Carpet, a tubing carousel, and a learn-to-ski area, this is a great way to introduce young children to winter activities.
Older kids and adults get their own tubing area at Tube Town and a ski learning center at Woodward Start Park.
Where to Stay in Soda Springs
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite pretty much turns into Narnia over the winter. It’s my favorite season to visit when snow frosts the sequoias and the crowds melt away.
If you get your timing right in February, you may catch the elusive Firefall, when the setting sun appears to set Horsetail Falls on fire for a few fleeting moments.
It’s an event that attracts photographers from around the world, hoping to get that spectacular shot.
And, as one of America’s oldest national parks (second to Yellowstone), Yosemite National Park has a few quirky traditions in the winter.
With 22 miles of trails, cross-country skiing is another popular winter activity in Yosemite National Park.
There’s also the weird and wonderful Bracebridge Dinner, an annual pageant/dinner at the storied Ahwahnee Hotel. Held in December, this long-running tradition is a bucket-list-worthy event.
Get the full winter Yosemite Valley experience by staying at a cozy lodge, where you can fuel up on hot chocolate by a log fire.
Practical info: Snow chains or winter tires and all-wheel drive vehicles are required to drive into Yosemite National Park during the winter months.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
Bear Valley & Arnold
If you’re looking for snow close to the San Francisco Bay Area, the tiny mountain resort of Bear Valley is calling your name.
Make base camp at a rustic cabin in the communities of Tamarack, Arnold, or Camp Connell, then drive on until you hit the snow.
Arnold is only three hours from San Francisco or San Jose. And it’s easier to get into than Tahoe because the roads are typically clear of traffic and snow.
If you’re looking for the closest snow to Bay Area cities, Arnold is a good bet.
For sledding, stop at one of the turnouts or trailhead parking areas and hike up into the pines, scouting out a slope that looks just right.
Or continue up the mountain to Bear Valley Ski Resort, where you can ski, tube, sled, or snowshoe.
If you want to see more snow, continue up Highway 4 until you hit the gate where the road is closed at Lake Alpine.
Here, you’ll find Lake Alpine Sno-Park, a winter wonderland of open meadows and pine forest.
The best way to explore this area is by snowmobile, which you can rent from Bear Valley Snowmobile.
Practical info: You need a Sno-Park pass to park at Lake Alpine, which you can grab at Bear Valley Ski Resort on the way up.
Where to Stay in Arnold
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are a pair of parks to save for winter. The contrast between the redwoods and the snowy landscape is spectacular.
Wolverton Meadow is Sequoia National Park’s winter playground, where you can snowshoe, build a snowman, or engage in a snowball fight.
Hike through the snow to the Giant’s Forest to see the world’s largest tree, General Sherman, which is 100 feet wide at its trunk.
If you want a real challenge, make the six-mile ascent to Pear Lake Cabin, a winter hut for backcountry skiers.
In Kings Canyon, winter is an appropriate time to visit the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” – General Grant.
It’s the second-largest tree in the world and 3,000 years old. Plus, Grant Grove is another good spot for playing in the snow.
Where to Stay in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Here are the numbers: Mammoth Mountain gets 30 feet of snow and 300 days of sunshine a year.
This is a magical combination for skiers and snowboarders, who find the four-plus hours of travel from Los Angeles well worth it.
Mammoth Mountain also has some of the best snowboarding in California. The World Snowboard Guide ranks Mammoth Mountain a 10 out of 10 for snowboarders.
Non-skiers can still appreciate the views from 11,000 feet from the gondola that floats tourists to the summit or try snowshoeing across miles of pristine wilderness.
Aside from skiing and snowboarding, Mammoth has a buzzy downtown. You’ll find spas, clothing stores, places to stock up on winter gear, and a market alongside the usual bars and restaurants.
Read our complete guide to the best things to do in Mammoth Lakes.
Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
Nearby June Lake has wide, gentle slopes and offers excellent value compared to bigger resorts.
It’s ideal for beginners and anyone looking for a laid-back winter sports break. Families will especially love this place as kids under 12 ski for free all season with no restrictions.
With 1,500 acres of mountains, you could also try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling.
On Saturdays, enjoy Buck’s Bonfire, a family-friendly event featuring the resort’s mascot.
If you prefer uncrowded slopes and a low-key experience, June Lake is perfect for a relaxing winter getaway.
Where to Stay in June Lake
California is home to both the lowest point in North America (Death Valley) and the highest peak in the lower 48 (Mount Whitney). And you can see them both on the same day.
Mount Whitney looks best during the winter months when it’s capped by snow.
The best place to see Mount Whitney is at the Interagency Visitor Center on Highway 395, just south of Lone Pine.
If you want to hike to the summit during winter, you’ll need the proper equipment and a permit. It’s a challenging climb that’s only suited to experienced mountain hikers.
For a shorter but challenging day hike, park at the gate to Whitney Portal Road and hike to Lower Boy Scout Lake.
Take snowshoes and a map, as the trail may be buried under several feet of snow.
Practical info: Whitney Portal Road is closed during the winter, so you’ll have to walk to the trailhead along the road.
Where to Stay in Mount Whitney
Small enough to hike around and close to the highway with breathtaking views, if you’re looking for that perfect picture of snow-blanketed mountains reflected in water, Convict Lake is it.
Located just a few miles off Highway 395, Convict Lake is easy to get to, even in the winter when snow makes visiting the Eastern Sierras tricky.
The 2.1-mile loop around the high-altitude lake is an easy, flat hike, although watch out for icy patches.
Fishing is a year-round activity in this well-stocked lake, so you can take a break from skiing on Mammoth Mountain to try fishing in the snow.
This is a great stop if you’re on your way to the ski resorts of June Lake or Mammoth Lakes.
Where to Stay in Convict Lake
An hour northeast of Fresno, Shaver Lake was created to supply hydroelectric power to Los Angeles in 1927.
In addition to its essential electricity-generating job, Shaver Lake provides year-round fun to visitors.
At 5,000 feet in elevation, Shaver Lake gets snow in the winter with 12 miles of trails that can be used to snowshoe or cross-country ski.
You’ll also find two snow parks above Shaver Lake on Highway 168, which are perfect for sledding, tubing, and general snow fun.
Fishing is available throughout the year at Shaver Lake, as is camping.
Where to Stay in Shaver Lake
This is another Sierra hidden gem. Think of Tahoe’s natural beauty, subtract the traffic, add hot springs, and you have Hope Valley.
It’s also close enough to visit Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe’s premier skiing resort, while still remaining closer to nature.
The flat meadow of Hope Valley Sno-Park is ideal for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and dog sledding.
Ski rentals are available at Hope Valley Outdoors. Look out for their big white yurt at the junction of Highways 88 and 89.
Warm up in a natural hot spring at Grover State Park in nearby Markleville.
The park service-run mineral pool complex is open year-round, although you’ll need to make a reservation in advance.
Where to Stay in Hope Valley
Where to Find Snow in Southern California
Big Bear Lake
The resorts at Big Bear Lake boast some of the best snow in Southern California.
Most notably, Big Bear Mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. The 748-acre resort is famous for its half pipes and terrain parks.
Its sister resort, Snow Summit, focuses on more traditional runs and is the more family-friendly resort at Big Bear Lake.
Another popular spot at Big Bear Lake is the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, Southern California’s only authentic bobsled experience.
Open year-round, riders speed down the Alpine Slide in their own sled. This is a roller coaster you operate yourself!
Aside from snow-based fun, many of the resort’s outdoor activities are available year-round.
Try ziplining, horseback riding, or a Segway experience. Jeep and helicopter tours are also offered at the lake.
Where to Stay in Big Bear Lake
Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, Lake Arrowhead is so beautiful even Santa has a second home right here in Southern California.
You’ll find the man in red at Santa’s Village in Skypark, the charming Christmas-themed outdoor activity park in nearby Skyforest.
This is one of the best places to visit in December in California with kids, but there’s something for everyone.
Skypark offers ice skating, climbing, archery, zip-lining, and mountain biking, so there’s plenty to do even when the holidays are over.
Aside from Santa, you can ski or snowboard at the family-owned and operated Snow Mountain.
Or, try sledding at Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park, California’s oldest and biggest snow tubing park.
Read our full guide about where to celebrate Christmas in California.
Where to Stay in Lake Arrowhead
Did you know you can see snow in San Diego County? At over 4,000 feet, the small town of Julian is blanketed in snow when the conditions are right.
Julian has its origins as a California Gold Rush town but became famous for its delicious apples (and apple pie!) that grow in the crisp mountain air.
Make sure to stop by Julian Pie Company to sample the local produce with a slice of their apple pie.
Visitors should also check out the cider mill and wineries in the historic downtown area.
There’s also an old gold mine you can check out if you’re interested in California’s Wild West past.
Practical info: Julian usually received a dusting of snow in January and February. If you want to visit after a snowfall, check the town’s live webcam to check the conditions ahead of time.
Looking for more activities in Julian? Read our guide to the best things to do in Julian.
Where to Stay in Julian
Close to Julian is Laguna Mountain Play Area. At 6,000 feet, Mt. Laguna receives the most snowfall in the San Diego area.
A mere 40 minutes from San Diego downtown, this is the perfect spot to take a break from the beach and seek out some snow for the day.
There are several trails for snowshoeing and plenty of sledding opportunities among the pines.
Practical info: Visitors to the area must display the Adventure Pass in their vehicles, which can be purchased for $5 from nearby 7-Eleven stores or a branch of REI.
Where to Stay in Mt. Laguna
On the valley floor, the weather is sunny, and the temperature is a balmy 70F, but ascend 2.5 miles to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto to find yourself in a snowy wilderness.
There’s no need for crampons – the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will whisk you up the mountain in ten minutes.
At the summit, hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or simply play in the snow. You can rent equipment from the Winter Adventure Center.
Adventurous spirits can also bring their camping gear for a unique winter camping experience at 8,500 feet.
Snow typically falls between November and March. Enter the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway annual snow-guessing contest for a chance to win tickets to the top!
Looking for more to do in Palm Springs? Read our bucket list for the best things to do in Palm Springs.
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
One mile up in the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild entices visitors with its Southern California small-town charm and winter snowfall.
The town is surrounded by national forest, so there are plenty of wilderness areas to explore. Stop by the Idyllwild Nature Center to discover more about the local wildlife.
Also, the town is very pet-friendly. It should be since the mayor is a dog called Max.
For snow play, try Idyllwild Nature Center, Idyllwild Park, McCall Park, or Mt. San Jacinto State Park.
Warm up again at Idyllwild Brewpub with a burger and craft beer in front of a roaring fire. January is the best month for snow in Idyllwild.
Where to Stay in Idyllwild
Five miles east of Running Springs, the Snow Valley ski resort was founded in 1924, with a sling-lift designed by famous aviation engineer Jack Northrop.
Snow Valley is a family-friendly resort, with some of the best beginner terrain in the region, plus a chair-lift up the sledding hill.
Intermediate and advanced skiers can explore the excellent backcountry trails in the area, while those looking to polish their skills can get lessons at the Learning Center.
Running Springs is also home to the Rim Nordic Ski Area, the only cross-country skiing area in Southern California.
With 10 miles of groomed ski and snowshoe trails, snowshoers and skiers have plenty of room to explore.
Where to Stay in Running Springs
Located in Los Angeles County, Mount San Antonio – affectionately known as Mount Baldy – is the closest ski resort to the city, perfect for a quick weekend ski trip.
At Mount Baldy Resort, go skiing or snowboarding, tubing, or take a scenic chairlift to the summit for panoramic views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Hikers should not miss the beautiful Ice House Canyon trail, a strenuous, almost 10-mile loop with stunning views of the wintry landscape.
Find the trailhead 1.5 miles from the Mt. Baldy Visitor Center (where you can get an Adventure Pass to park) in Mt. Baldy Village.
Where to Stay in Mount Baldy
Known for low-key ski resorts and its many snow-play areas, Wrightwood is popular with Los Angeles families looking for a snow day.
Beginner skiers will appreciate the gentle slopes of nearby Mountain High Ski Resort and incredible views of the Mojave Desert.
Although Mountain High doesn’t offer snow play, families can go sledding at nearby North Pole Tubing Park.
Otherwise, play in the snow at Angeles National Forest, just west of Wrightwood. Buy an Adventure Pass to park and head out into the pines.
Try the trails at Inspiration Point and Grassy Hollow for a fun day in the snow.
Where to Stay in Wrightwood
If you’re hunting to find places with snow near Los Angeles, buy an Adventure Pass, carry chains, and head north on Highway 5 to play in the beautiful meadows of Cuddy Valley.
Located just over an hour north of downtown Los Angeles, the tiny unincorporated community of Frazier Park becomes a popular snow play area spot in the winter season.
Locals are not thrilled when out-of-towners show up in droves, blocking roads and leaving trash, but most residents are welcoming if you’re respectful of their home.
Parking is available at Frazier Park, Mt. Pinos vehicle meeting spot, Mt. Pinos Nordic Base, and Frazier Mountain Trailhead. Just don’t forget your sled!
Practical info: Use this guide to work out where to park or risk getting towed.
Where to Stay in Frazier Park
FAQs About Snow in California
Where are the best places to find snow near Los Angeles?
For snow play, Frazier Park, Wrightwood, and Mount Baldy are all close to Los Angeles. The nearest ski resorts to Los Angeles are Mount Baldy, Bear Mountain, and Snow Mountain.
Where are the best places to find snow near the Bay Area?
The nearest snow to the Bay Area can be found in the Sierras. Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley, and Bear Valley are the closest areas to find snow.
Where are the best places to snowboard and ski in California?
In Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood, Sugar Bowl, and Heavenly are some of the best ski resorts in the region, if not the state.
In Southern California, Bear Mountain gets the most snow and has a lot of activities for skiers and snowboarders, including a halfpipe.
In the Eastern Sierras, Mammoth has a great reputation among professional skiers and snowboarders with challenging runs and smooth powder.
For families, Bear Valley, June Lake, and Snow Valley all offer a laid-back and beginner-friendly experience.
Where can you find the best snow cabins in California?
There are so many places to visit in California during winter. It’s a state that’s full of cute mountain towns where you can stay like a local for a weekend in a snow cabin.
In Northern California, Arnold in Bear Valley is a good pick and Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and Tahoe City are some of the best mountain towns in California. I’d also recommend Mammoth Lakes a little further south.
In Southern California, the best snowy mountain towns are Wrightwood, Idyllwild, Julian, and Big Bear Lake.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah McDonald is a travel writer based in the Bay Area. She writes for the national parenting website Red Tricycle and on her own family travel blog, Tiny Trailblazers. She loves exploring California’s outdoors and has a weakness for a national park gift shop.
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