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California is famous for its coastline, but winter travelers who venture inland are in for a treat. The mountains and northern part of the state experience ample snowfall between late November and March, offering visitors a wonderland, including plenty of activities for the whole family that you don't need a lift ticket to enjoy.

Let our guide to accessible adventures inspire your winter California vacation. Just be sure to call or check online for the most up-to-date information, as most snow activities can depend on the weather. And, as always, be respectful of the natural environment when exploring the great outdoors.

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Yosemite offers one of California's best snowy winter landscapes for snow play. © Photo by TanMan / Getty Images


Hiking in the snow is best done with snowshoes. If you're looking for an easy and enjoyable way to take in California's natural scenery, this is the activity for you. Snowshoes prevent you from sinking into snow that can be as deep as your waist in some parts of the state. They’re usually available for rent in or around the gorgeous towns and parks where you'll be needing them.

If you're interested in learning about the area's ecology, guided snowshoe walks are great for the whole family and solo travelers alike. Beautiful Mammoth Lakes in the heart of the Eastern Sierras offers Naturalist Snowshoeing Tours Friday-Sunday and holidays guided by a U.S. Forest Service naturalist. Tours are free to visitors and depart from Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. Snowshoe rentals are available onsite. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park offer ranger-guided snowshoe tours most years. Check a local visitor center or the NPS website for more information.

If you have time before your trip, reserve a moonlight snowshoe tour in advance. Mammoth Lakes offers Full Moon tours departing from Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. Further north, Lake Tahoe provides full moon and new moon tours for astrophiles. Book with Tahoe Snowshoe Tours or Tahoe Adventure Company.

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The mountains near Truckee offer plenty of opportunities for exploring in the snow. © vernonwiley / Getty Images

Winter Hiking

Snowshoes are recommended for snowier hikes, but you can get away with hiking boots in conditions where the snow is denser or doesn't sink your boots more than an inch or two.

The Alpine Pedal Path on the north shore of Big Bear Lake is a great place to enjoy lighter snowfall and spot bald eagles from late November to early April. The relatively flat trail is 2.6 miles long and paved, providing an easy and accessible walk for visitors. Park at Juniper Point or Meadow's Edge Picnic Area

Ice Skating

Whether you're practicing three-turns or still clinging to the wall, there's nothing quite like an outdoor skate rink in the winter to usher in the spirit of the season. Siskiyou Ice Rink  is an outdoor rink nestled in the foothills of Mount Shasta in the northernmost part of California offering daily skating from November through February. Check their calendar for information on free skate nights or make a reservation for a public skate time.

If you're visiting Yosemite National Park  during the winter, the Curry Village Ice Rink is a must-see attraction. Tickets are first-come, first-serve at the Curry Activity Desk. Keep an eye on their website for rink opening dates.

Snow Tubing

Move over skiing and snowboarding! Tubing is a great way to get that downhill rush with no skill required. Tube Town in Soda Springs Mountain Resort offers a 400-foot magic carpet lift up to some of the longest tube runs around Lake Tahoe. All-day Mountain Adventure tickets for the tubing area include access to the onsite snow play area for families with young kids and adults looking to enjoy the snow.

In Southern California, Big Bear Snowplay offers the most bang for your buck with a day pass (many tubing parks charge per hour.) Big Bear Snowplay also offers unique glow tubing after dark on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays. They also have as two magic carpet lifts, so tubers don't have to walk uphill to and can get in as many unlimited daytime rides as possible.

Sledding and Snow Play

For visitors to Northern CaliforniaNyack Snow Park is a great free spot to see snow and sled near Lake Tahoe. Don't want to get your own sled? Tahoe Donner provides sleds with their snow play day rates, available for reservation in 75-minute time slots.

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Parks across the state make it easy to find a snowy hill for sledding. © Just One Film / Getty Images

Across Central and Northern California is a network of SNO-Parks maintained by the state, U.S. Forest Service, and various community organizations. These typically benefit from onsite restrooms and maintained snow paths for building snowmen and sledding. Day permits are $5. Shaver Lake borders many of the central SNO-parks, and offers a variety of sports stores to buy sleds and delicious restaurants to refuel.

In Southern California, Boulder Bay Park is a great place to admire Big Bear Lake while building a snowman. Angeles Crest Highway also offers great spots to pull off and enjoy the snow over the San Gabriel Mountains. Be sure to carry snow chains and have a full tank of gas before heading into the mountains.


Interested in seeing as much of the landscape as possible? Snowmobiling is a great way to explore the state. Inyo National Forest offers over 100 miles of multi-use trails. Explore the Hot Creek Geological Site to see boiling, turquoise water (swimming is prohibited due to extreme water temperature fluctuations) and make your way up to the remote Bald Mountain warming hut for an experience you won't forget. Be sure to stay on trails and heed marked speed restrictions. New to snowmobiling? Mammoth Mountain offers guided snowmobile tours of the Inyo National Forest that operate daily from December to April from Mammoth Mountain Lodge. Opening dates change annually, so be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information.

Prefer to take it slower? Many snowmobile trails through Inyo National Forest double as cross-country ski trails.

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