Destinations for families offer perfect places for sledding, snow tubing, tobogganing, and cross-country skiing.
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.
Sierra 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: $14 for sledding; $16 for tubing; $2 non-sledders/tubers. (Cost includes use of sled or tube). Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 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: $39 for a 1.5-hour session or $54 for all day access (includes tube and access to tubing carpet).
Diamond Peak: Ski Way, Incline Village, Nevada, off Hwy. 28. Downhill resort has Diamond Peak Child Ski Center. Separate learning area with powerline lift for ages 3–6. Cost: Group lessons are $130–$165/2 hours, $190–$229/all day; Age 3 needs private lessons, $150–$180/hour, $220–$250/1.5 hours. Kids 6 and under ski for free, and Diamond Peak offers an interchangeable lift ticket so parents can take turns hanging out in the village with the littles and hitting the slopes.
Granlibakken: Just south of Tahoe City on Granlibakken Rd. Groomed sled hill. Cost: $17-18 all day, includes plastic sled/saucer. Sledding open daily throughout the season.
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: $19–$31 depending on age and walk-up versus tow-up (sleds/saucers included in ticket price). Open 10 a.m.–5 p.m except on Wednesdays.
Sierra-at-Tahoe: South Lake Tahoe off U.S. 50. Groomed snow play area with lift near main lodge serves 2 tubing lanes. Cost: $30-40/2 hours of tubing (price for tubing includes tube). Open hours and days depend on weather and conditions.
Soda Springs Mountain Resort: 1 mile east of I-80 at Soda Springs Exit. In Tube Town, a groomed tubing area, they have a 400-foot surface lift, serving 20 long flumes with twists and banked turns. Cost: $40 for all day; $10 for non-tubers. A separate, slower-paced zone, called Planet Kids, is suitable for small children. Times and days they are open depends upon weather and conditions.
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: $40/55 minutes, regardless of age, includes lift access and tube. Open 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Tahoe Donner: Northwoods Blvd., 1/2 mile off I-80 at Donner Pass Road Exit. Groomed sledding hill, 2 monitored tubing lanes (when weather permits), 6 unmonitored sledding lanes. Cost for public: $10–41. Cost for Tahoe Donner guests: $5–20. Open times vary, call ahead or check website.
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 Friday-Sunday depending on conditions.
Yosemite: Free site at Big Oak Flat Road on Hwy. 120 all winter. Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area has snow tubing (but no sledding) for all ages; kids under 4 must have an adult with them. Cost: $17/person, 2 hour sessions at 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m, December–April depending on conditions.
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 online at ohv.parks.ca.gov/snoparks for an additional $1.95 processing fee (plus shipping; day use can be printed at home, so no shipping fee).
Donner Summit: On frontage road south of I-80; use Castle Peak Exit. Snow play and cross-country skiing allowed.
Blackwood Canyon: West side of Hwy. 89, 3 miles south of Tahoe City.
Echo Lake: North side of Hwy. 50, at Echo Summit Rd., 1 mile west of Echo Summit in El Dorado County. Poor snow play but good for cross-country skiing. No snowmobiles.
Iron Mountain: Hwy. 88, 40 miles east of Jackson, on Mormon-Emigrant Trail Rd. Groomed snowmobile trails.
Taylor Creek: West side of Hwy. 89, near Camp Richardson. Snow play. No snowmobiles.
Carson Pass: South side of Hwy. 88, 28 miles south of Lake Tahoe. Limited snow play, better for cross-country skiing. No snowmobiles.
Lake Alpine: Hwy. 4, 55 miles east of Angels Camp, at the winter closure gate on Hwy. 4 at the lake’s northern end. Snowmobile area. Crowded weekends.
Meiss Meadow: North side of Hwy. 88, 1/4 mile west of Carson Pass. Very popular cross-country ski area. No snowmobiles. For local information, call Amador Ranger District, (209) 295-4251.
Rock Creek: Rock Creek Rd., 7 miles west of Hwy. 395 at Tom’s Place turnoff in Mono County.
Balsam Meadows: North side of Hwy. 168, 55 miles east of Fresno. Excellent snow play area. No snowmobiles.
Coyote: Southwest side of Hwy. 168, 61 miles northeast of Fresno.
Eastwood: At the intersection of Hwy. 168 and Kaiser Pass Rd., 70 miles northeast of Fresno. Groomed snowmobile trails.
Huntington Lake: West side of Huntington Lake Rd., 3 miles past Eastwood Sno-Park. Groomed snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing.
Tamarack: South side of Hwy. 168, 61 miles northeast of Fresno. Groomed snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing.
This article was first published in January 1999, and last updated in March 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.