Go Play in the Snow! Great Places for Family Snow Play in Northern California
There's snow in the Sierra, so get ready for some wintertime fun! While we love the skiing and snowboarding at Lake Tahoe, we know that not everyone's a skiier and sometimes families just want to go up and have some fun in the snow. While many of the Tahoe ski resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly have tubing parks, ice skating, and other winter non-skiing activities for the family, there are plenty of other places in the mountains where you can get your snow play fix without the ski resort hustle and bustle (and price tag).
Most of these snow play sites are within a few hours' drive from Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. While some have tubes and sleds to rent, others, most notably the California State Sno-Parks, offer little more than a place to park your car so you can go play in the snow. For a list of Lake Tahoe ski resorts that offer both skiing and snow play activities, read our article here.
Prices and hours are correct to our knowledge at time of publication. Hours and availability depend on weather, snow conditions, and other factors, so make sure you check with resorts to confirm they'll be open before you head up to the mountains.
Northern California Snow Play Resorts
While not as numerous as ski resorts, you'll find a few snow play resorts throughout the Sierras. These places usually boast a lodge or clubhouse, dining, restrooms, and other activities. You'll probably have to rent a tube or sled while you're there, as many of these facilities don't allow outside equipment. Most open around mid-December, although opening dates are dependent on weather and snowfall. Make sure you call or check their website before you go. Note that many resorts will require advance tickets and social distancing precautions due to COVID-19.
The dedicated snow play area at Tahoe Donner offers sledding and tubing fun for families, and opens Thanksgiving weekend. The TD Eats food truck will be on hand for snacks, soups, and beverages. Relax by the fire pit with a cup of hot chocolate after playing in the snow! Tahoe Donner Snowplay is projected to open Thanksgiving weekend, November 26–28 from 9 am–4:30 pm, conditions permitting; after Thanksgiving weekend it will close and reopen Friday, December 10. It's open Fridays 12:15–4:30 pm and Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 9 am–4:30 pm. Location: 12790 Northwoods Boulevard, Truckee, 96161. More info: www.tahoedonner.com or (530) 587-9437.
Granlibakken resor near Tahoe City offers a dedicated sledding hill and snow play area for family fun. Opening day late November TBA. Sledding tickets cost $25 per person on weekdays and $35 on weekends and holidays and include saucer rental and and hour and a half of sledding. Kids under 3 sled for free, and lodging guests get a 50% discount. Guests must book sledding tickets in advance online, and choose a 90-minute time slot. Time slots start at 8:30 am and the last is at 4 pm. Note: Granlibakken provides saucers; participants may not bring their own saucers and other sledding devices. Location: 725 Granlibakken Road, Tahoe City 96145. granlibakken.com
While Soda Springs resort near Truckee offers skiing and snowboarding, there's a special focus on family snow play here, with tubing for everyone at Tube Town and plenty of snow play for the little ones at Planet Kids—a snow playground for ages 8 and under with tubing, snow hills to climb, ski and snowboard lessons, and more. On-site dining is available. Location: 10244 Soda Springs Road (off I-80 near Donner Summit), Soda Springs, 95728. More info: www.skisodasprings.com or (530) 426-3901
South Lake Tahoe's Adventure Mountain is all snow play, all the time! They offer tubing, sledding, saucers, snow play, snowshoeing, and sled and tube rentals, as well as dining and a gift shop. Vehicle entrance fee is $40 during the week, $45 on weekends, and $50 on holidays. Vehicles with more than 4 passengers will be charged an additional $5. You can bring your own gear or rent or purchase at the resort. 2021/2022 opening date: Friday, December 17. Hours: Weekdays, 10 am–3 pm and weekends and holidays 9 am–3:30 pm. Location: 21200 Highway 50, South Lake Tahoe (at Echo Summit), 96150. More info: adventuremountaintahoe.com or (530) 659-7217
Hansen's Resort in South Lake Tahoe operates a snow tubing hill with a 400-foot run. Open daily mid-December through mid-March, 9 am–4 pm or 10 am–5 pm; times are subject to change to call before you go. Rates: $30 per person per hour; 4 and under free. Cash only. Rates include the use of a tube or saucer. Parking and restrooms available. Location: 1360 Ski Run Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe 96150. More info: www.hansensresort.com (530) 544-3361
Kingvale Resort near Soda Springs offers groomed tubing and sledding runs and a snack bar. Bring your own tubes, sleds, and saucers! You can purchase an inexpensive ($20), two-person sled at the resort. Opening day TBA (probably around Thanksgiving). Hours: Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, 9:30 am–4:30 pm; parking lot opens at 9 am. All-day tickets cost $20 per person; parking fee $20; children under 2 free. Location: Kingvale Exit (Exit 171) off I-80, Kingvale, 95728. More info: (916) 622-6654 or www.kingvaleresort.com
The cross-country ski resort at the central Sierra's Bear Valley operates groomed sledding and tubing hills for families with children ages 3 and older. Two-hour sessions cost $15 per person for sledding and $20 per person for tubing ($20 and $25 peak season). There's $5 access fee per non-sledders/tubers ($10 peak season). No outside sleds or tubes allowed. Picnic tables, park benches, are available, and hot food and drinks are available nearby at the Meadow Cafe. No lifts: sledders must hike up the hill. Projected opening day: Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving Day). Hours: 9 am–4 pm daily. Location: 1 Bear Valley Road, off Highway 4, Bear Valley, 95223. More info: (209) 753-2834 or www.bvadventures.com.
Located in Tuolumne Country east of the Gold Country town of Sonora, Leland Snow Play offers 12 acres of groomed runs and tow-up lifts for tubing and sledding. There's a kiddie hill for especially for little ones, mini snowmobiles for kids ages 5–12, and a 4,000-square-foot day lodge with snack bar and game room. Advance tickets required for Winter Break (December 18–January 2). 34033 Leland Meadow Road, Strawberry, 95375. More info: www.snowplay.com or (209) 965-4719.
Operated by the state's department of off-highway motor vehicle recreation, California Sno-Parks are no-frills places to park the car and get out and play in the snow. While many of them cater to snowmobile enthusiasts, there are a few that are perfect for sledding, snow play, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
Keep in mind that Sno-Parks are pretty much just parking areas with access to places for winter recreation. Usually restrooms are provided, but that's about it. It's up to you to find a hill for sledding or saucering, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?
The best part of Sno-Parks is the price: $5 for a day-use pass or $25 for a seasonal permit. Passes and permits for the 2021/2022 season are only available online. Order yours here. Make sure you do buy a permit, because it's a lot cheaper than the tickets (currently over $90) that the CHP hands out to people who are parked without one! Note that parking at Sno-Parks is on a first-come, first-served basis, and some of the more popular locations can fill up early. Also, conditions can change and parks can close, so check the Sno-Parks website before you head up to the mountains for directions and more information.
Sno-Parks that are open for snow play and sledding include:
- Donner Summit (near Truckee off I-80)
- Blackwood Canyon (near Tahoe City off Highway 89)
- Carson Pass (off Highway 88)
- Echo Lake (off Highway 50)
- Iron Mountain (off Highway 88 near Kirkwood ski area)
- Lake Alpine (off Highway 4)
- Meiss Meadow (off Highway 88 near Carson Pass)
- Spicer (off Highway 4)
- Taylor Creek (off Highway 89 near Fallen Leaf Lake)
- Yuba Pass (off Highway 49)
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