Go Play in the Snow! Great Places for Family Snow Play in Northern California
The winter season in the Sierra is starting! While we love the skiing and winter fun 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.
Rates and hours are correct to our knowledge at time of publication, but things can change due to weather conditions and other factors, so make sure you check with resorts for snow conditionas and to confirm they'll be open before you head up to the mountains.
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.
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! Open Fridays, 1:30–4:30 pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 9:30 am–4:30 pm starting December 14. Open daily December 26–January 1 and during school breaks. Location: 12790 Northwoods Boulevard, Truckee, 96161. More info: www.tahoedonner.com or (530) 587-9437.
Granlibakken resort, located near Tahoe City, offers a dedicated sledding hill and snow play area for family fun, scheduled to open Friday, December 14. Day passes cost $17 per person ($18 on holidays) and include saucer rental and all-day sledding. Kids under 4 sled for free, and lodging guests get a 50% discount. Open 9 am–4:30 pm daily. You may bring your own saucers or sleds, but no tubes or toboggans are allowed. 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. If that's not enough, they also have mini snowmobiles for kids ages 6–12. On-site dining is available. Open now! Hours: 10 am–4 pm; check their schedule for open days. 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. Adventure Mountain is open now for the 2018–2019 season. There's a $40 per car entrance free, and you can bring your own sleds, tubes, or saucers or rent one to use. Sleds, tubes, and helmets are available for rent. Hours: Weekdays, 10 am–4 pm and weekends and holidays 9 am–4:30 pm, weather and snow permitting. Location 21200 Highway 50, South Lake Tahoe (at Echo Summit), 96150. More info: adventuremountaintahoe.com or (530) 659-7217
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 a two-person sled at the resort for only $25. Hours: Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, 10 am–4 pm; parking lot opens at 9 am. All-day tickets cost $10 per person; parking fee $10. Location: Kingvale Exit off I-80, Kingvale, 95728. More info: (916) 622-6654 or www.kingvaleresort.com
The cross-country ski facility 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 $14 per person for sledding and $16 per person for tubing. There's $3 access fee per non-sledders/tubers. No outside sleds or tubes allowed. Picnic tables, park benches, and portable toilets are available. Open soon for the 2017–2018 season. Hours: 9 am–4 pm daily. Location: 1 Bear Valley Road, off Highway 4, Bear Valley, 95223. More info: (209) 753-2834 or bearvalleyxc.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. They plan to open on December 8 for the 2018–2019 season. Hours: Daily, 10 am–5 pm. All-day admission ranges from $19–$39 per person. 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. You can buy a pass from a vendor at locations throughout California (get the list as a PDF here) or online 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 ones 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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