They whiz down the hill, rosy-cheeked and squealing, sometimes making it to the bottom and sometimes not, their sleds in one direction, their giggling bodies in another. The magical mixture of snow, cold air, velocity, and the unknown makes snow sledding and tubing endlessly enticing; skiing is great, but sometimes there's nothing quite like good, old-fashioned sledding. And lucky us: even though we live in Southern California (where sleds are more often used on sand than on snow), we can still partake in this splendid winter adventure.
Below is a list of established snow play destinations as well as some off-the-beaten-path places to try. Most of the established spots are open on holidays—assuming there is snow. Always call or check the websites before heading out. Also, remember: decent snow for sledding means possible snow and ice in the roads as well. Check the local weather and road conditions (or call 800.427.ROAD) before heading out, as you may need chains for your tires.
- Wear layers so that you can start warm and peel off clothing as needed. Waterproof clothing is best.
- Bring a change of clothes; sledding and tubing can make for wet clothing.
- Wear sunscreen. UVB rays are stronger the higher the elevation. Even though it may be cold outside, the winter sun still reaches your skin.
Photo courtesy of Mt. Baldy
1. Mt. Baldy Snow Tubing Park
Angeles National Forest
Near the border of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties
6777 Mt. Baldy Rd.
Mt. Baldy, CA 91759
Hours: Four 90-minute sessions daily, from 8:30am-4pm
Prices vary by day ($40-$50); buying in advance online (before 9pm the night before) gives the best deals. Must be over 40" to ride.
Multiple tubing lanes? Some as long as 150 feet? What's not to love? Especially since it's the closest skiing/tubing resort to LA.
Photo courtesy of Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park
2. North Pole Tubing Park at Mountain High
24510 State Highway 2
Wrightwood, CA 92397
2-hour sessions: $30
Hours: 8:30am-5pm weekends in early December, seven days a week from 12/23-1/7; then open weekends and holidays through mid-March.
Season passes available
Heralded as Southern California's closest winter resort with no mountain driving, Mountain High is worth a visit. The Tubing Park—Southern California's largest facility—is located at the North Resort and has a very basic bar/restaurant adjacent. Moving carpet lifts mean no lugging up the hill, and tubers get a solid push down the slope by attendants who are happy to strive for the longest run possible. Check out the real-time cameras. (While you're at it, check out our review of Mountain High's Children's Ski Academy).
3. Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park
34600 California 18
Green Valley Lk, CA 92341
(Near Running Springs)
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; Sat-Sun & holidays 9am-5pm
$17/hour per person. Children under 36" free with paying adult.
No fancy lifts here, but there are stairs for your climbing convenience. Snowdrift claims to be Southern California's largest and oldest tubing park. Follow the rules, and you're in for a blast. Note that parking costs $6.
Photo courtesy of Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park
4. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
800 Wildrose Lane
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; Sat-Sun 10am-dusk
$35 for all day pass; $35 for evening pass (Fri-Sat 5-9pm). Children 36" - 42" tall $20. Children under 36" are not allowed past the gate.
Sledding luxury? The Alpine Slide just might have it. What could be more welcoming than a Plexiglas covered (i.e. toasty warm) Magic Carpet lift that carries you back up the hill after your ride? And lights for evening sliding? This tubing destination requires a longer car ride, but thanks to regular snow (and the natural stuff) the conditions are almost always fine. Added bonus: you might get to see a bald eagle overhead.
5. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mount San Jacinto State Park
1 Tramway Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Mon-Fri Trams depart every half hour starting at 10am; Sat-Sun & holidays first tram at 8am; check online for details about special hours
Adults $25.95; Children (3-12) $16.95; Under 3 free
Prices and hours of operation subject to change without notice.
Hop aboard the Tram in the desert and take a truly breathtaking slow climb up the mountain with a 360-degree panoramic view of Palm Springs and beyond. Arrive in an Alpine winter wonderland. Bring your own sled and run and romp to various makeshift hills. Snowman building and snowball throwing encouraged.
Sledding at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: Photo by Jeremy Miles/CC BY 2.0
6. Pittsford Park
21701 Pittsford Dr.
Lake Forest, CA 92630
January 26, 2019.
This is a one-day-only opportunity in Orange County! Bring the family to Pittsford Park for a day of snow play. Sleds and saucers are provided for 90-minute sledding sessions. Pre-registration is mandatory. $7 wristbands must be pre-purchased at Lake Forest Community Center.
7. Laguna Mountain Lodge
10678 Sunrise Highway
Mt. Laguna, CA 91948
San Diego County may be a bit of a trek. But hey, there's lodging, ample space for stomping, and sledding during snow season.
8. SNOW Day Los Angeles
Stadium Way & Scott Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
If faux snow works for you, there is one other option during the holiday season: SNOW Day LA sets up a tubing hill of synthetic snow in Elysian Park for the months of November and December. The snow is fake, but there are intermittent flurries of it, along with food trucks and light shows to make a full family outing.
Make Your Own Trails
Save a little money, perhaps, or avoid possible crowds and lines by seeking your own hilly sled trails. Here are a few options:
1. Palomar State Park - Los Padres National Forest
19952 State Park Rd.
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Acres and acres (more than 2,000) to roam and sled and cross country ski. Check the website for specific spots to head for. A Forest Service Adventure Pass is required. Passes are $10 per day.
2. Mount Pinos - Los Padres National Forest
Mt. Pinos Ranger District
34580 Lockwood Valley Rd. Frazier Park, CA 93225
If there's been rain in the city in December or January, there's a good chance that Mount Pinos has snow for the sledding, only 90 minutes away. One day pass for parking in the forest covers a whole carload of snow lovers.
3. The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club suggests these snow play destinations.
4. For folks willing to trek farther afield, check out a few other recommendations.
Things to Bring and Consider
Safety: Sledding is usually harmless, and when you're on your own without a tubing attendant, common sense keeps it that way. Make sure you know the sled's path, so you don't end up colliding with a tree, rock, or fence. And always monitor your kids for fatigue and cold. Have water and snacks handy; trudging through the snow builds an appetite. Have a blanket in the car in case traffic is thick on the ride home (and kids are cold or wet). Otherwise, throw caution to the chilly wind and let the snowy decline carry you away.
- Make sure there is snow. Snow levels and conditions vary day to day. Call ahead to make sure snow cover is adequate for sledding.
- Sports stores and Target sell inexpensive sleds, tubes, and saucers. But you can also get creative and supply your own. Cafeteria trays work (I’ve used them) as do boogie boards and trash can lids. A piece of thick cardboard will even do in a pinch.
Looking for kids' ski schools near Los Angeles? Or Skiing opportunities around the country?
Originally published December 23, 2011