Snow Play in the Sierras

Destinations for families offer perfect places for sledding, snow tubing, tobogganing, and cross-country skiing.

two children in snow tubes, image

Two red-cheeked tubers sit snug and ready for a little downhill action.

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Snow play areas in the Sierra provide fun for practically anyone. Sledding. Tubing. Cross-country skiing. Epic snowball fights. . . . Whatever your age or abilities, you can find your winter delight. Many areas offer groomed tube runs, lifts, refreshments, and warming facilities. Check ahead if you want to rent snow toys—sleds, toboggans, tubes, plastic saucers. With all these choices, you can have a ball for relatively little money.

Resorts with Snow Play

Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Company: Hwy. 4, 45 miles northeast of Angels Camp. Cross-country area has sledding and tubing hills for ages 3 and up. Cost: $11 for sledding; $16 for tubing; $2 non-sledders/tubers. (Cost includes use of sled or tube). Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.. (209) 753-2834, bearvalleyxc.com.

Boreal: I-80 at Castle Peak Exit on Donner Summit. On-site retail shop. Playland tubing area with groomed tubing lanes and moving carpet. Cost: $25 for a 2-hour session (includes tube and access to tubing carpet). Open 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, except 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and holidays. (530) 426-3666, rideboreal.com.

Diamond Peak: Ski Way, Incline Village, Nev., off Hwy. 28. Downhill resort has Bee Ferrato Child Ski Area. Separate learning area with powerline lift for ages 3–7. Cost: Group lessons are $80/2 hours, $105/4 hours; Age 3 needs private lessons, $115/hour, $1555/1.5 hours. Open 9 a.m.–4 p.m. (702) 832-1177, diamondpeak.com.

Granlibakken: Just south of Tahoe City on Granlibakken Rd. Groomed sled hill. Cost: $10 all day, includes plastic sled/saucer; 2 and under are free. Open daily throughout the season, 9:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m. (530) 583-4242, granlibakken.com.

Leland High Sierra Snow Play: Near Dodge Ridge, 6 miles east of Strawberry on Highway 108. Covers 30 acres, with 18 groomed sled hills for various ages, from mild to wild. Cost: $12–30 depending on age and walk-up versus tow-up (sleds/saucers included in ticket price). Open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (209) 965-4719, snowplay.com.

Northstar California: North Shore Tahoe, Truckee. New tubing hill at mid-mountain area. Cost: $30 (includes use of tube for 1 hour). Tubing hill open evenings, weekends, and holidays. (800) 466-6784, northstarattahoe.com.

Sierra-at-Tahoe: South Lake Tahoe off U.S. 50. Groomed snow play area with lift near main lodge serves 2 tubing lanes. Cost: $25/2 hours of tubing (price for tubing includes tube); $10 for all day snow play. Times and days they are open depends upon weather and conditions. (530) 659-7453, sierratahoe.com.

Soda Springs Winter Resort: 1 mile east of I-80 at Soda Springs Exit. In Tube Town, a groomed tubing area, they have a 400-foot magic carpet, serving 20 long flumes with twists and banked turns. Cost: $25 for all day; $10 for non-tubers. A separate, slower-paced zone, called Planet Kids, is suitable for small children. Open 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Thursday through Monday; on holidays, open Tuesday and Wednesday. (530) 426-1010, skisodasprings.com.

Squaw Valley: 9 miles northwest of Tahoe City, off Hwy. 89. Snow tubing area; 3-plus lanes (more during the holidays) are located at the base of the mountain. Tubing area accessed by Tubing Life in SnoVentures area. Cost: $20/hour, regardless of age, includes lift access and tube. Open 11 a.m.–4 p.m., Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Friday, Saturday, and holidays, when night hours are in effect. (800) 403-0206, squaw.com.

Tahoe Donner: Northwoods Blvd., 1/2 mile off I-80 at Donner Pass Road Exit. Groomed sledding hill, 2 monitored tubing lanes, 6 unmonitored sledding lanes. Cost for public: $15, ages 12 and over; $9, ages 4–12. Cost for Northwoods guests: $11, ages 12 and over, $7, ages 4–12; 3 and under, and spectators, are free. Cost includes use of plastic sled. Open times vary, call ahead or check Web site. (530) 587-9437, tahoedonner.com.

Wolverton Snowplay Area: 82 miles east of Fresno in Sequoia National Park. Ungroomed sled hill. No lift or rentals. There are rentals, snacks, and snowplay items at Wuksachi Lodge, 3 miles north of Wolverton Road. Use of hill is free. Open daily depending on conditions. (559) 565-3341, nps.gov/seki/.

Yosemite: Free site at Big Oak Flat Road on Hwy. 120 all winter. Badger Pass has snow tubing (but no sledding) for all ages. Cost: $15/person, 2 hour sessions at 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m, December–April. (209) 372-8444. yosemitepark.com.

California Sno-Park Areas

Vehicles can be parked overnight at many Sno-Park sites. A day-use permit costs $5; a season permit (the real bargain) is just $25.

Permits can be obtained at sports shops, at businesses near the Sno-Park areas, and at many California state parks. Call the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division or OHMVR Division office at (916) 324-4442 to find places to buy a permit and to get a Sno-Park brochure. Seasonal and day permits are also available by mail and online. Send a check for $26, made out to Department of Parks and Recreation, to: OHMVR Division, Attention: Permit Orders, 1725 23rd St., Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95816. Permits may be purchased online at ohv.parks.ca.gov/snoparks (with a $1.95 processing fee plus shipping; day use can be printed at home, so no shipping fees).

Nevada County

Donner Summit: On frontage road south of I-80; use Castle Peak Exit. Snow play is allowed, but there is no hill or sledding area. It is crowded on weekends. There are avalanche and rock hazards on steeper slopes.

Placer County

Blackwood Canyon: West side of Hwy. 89, 3 miles south of Tahoe City. Capacity: 35 cars.

El Dorado County

Echo Lake: North side of Hwy. 50, at Echo Lake Rd., 1 mile west of Echo Summit. No snowmobiles, poor snow play, but good for cross-country skiing.

Iron Mountain: Hwy. 88, 40 miles east of Jackson, on Mormon-Emigrant Trail Rd. Groomed snowmobile trails. Capacity: 30 cars.

Taylor Creek: West side of Hwy. 89, near Camp Richardson. Limited snow play and snowmobiles; cross-country ski trail to Fallen Leaf Lake. Capacity: 30 cars.

Sierra County

Yuba Pass: South side of Hwy. 49 at Yuba Pass. Cross-country ski trails north of highway, groomed snowmobile trails. Capacity: 40 cars.

Alpine County

Carson Pass: South side of Hwy. 88, 28 miles south of Lake Tahoe. Limited snow play, better for cross-country skiing. Capacity: 40 cars.

Lake Alpine: Hwy. 4, 55 miles east of Angels Camp, near Mt. Reba Ski Area. Snowmobile area. Crowded weekends. Capacity: 35 cars.

Meiss Meadow: North side of Hwy. 88, 1/4 mile west of Carson Pass. Very popular cross-country ski area. For local information, call Amador Ranger District, (209) 295-4251. Capacity: 40 cars.

Mono County

Rock Creek: West side of Hwy. 395, 25 miles north of Bishop (7 miles up Rock Creek Rd. from Tom’s Place turnoff). Capacity: 30 cars

Fresno County

Balsam Meadows: North side of Hwy. 168, 55 miles east of Fresno. Excellent snow play area with ample parking.

Coyote: North side of Hwy. 168, 61 miles northeast of Fresno.

Eastwood: East side of Hwy. 168, 70 miles northeast of Fresno at U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center. Groomed snowmobile trails. Capacity: 20 cars.

Huntington Lake: West side of Huntington Lake Rd., 3 miles past Eastwood Sno-Park. Groomed snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing. Limited snow play, no sled slopes. Capacity: 25 cars.

Tamarack: South side of Hwy. 168, 61 miles northeast of Fresno. Groomed snowmobile trails. Capacity: 30 cars.

Photography by James Song/Wikipedia

This article was first published in January 1999, but was updated in November 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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