Snow Play Near Los Angeles: 16 Places LA Families Can Pretend It's Winter

Everyone loves a snow day! Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort
Everyone loves a snow day! Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort

There's no snow in Los Angeles, and nobody walks in LA. Two truisms that actually aren't true! Most of us live in LA because we love the mild weather. It's fun to Facetime relatives freezing in Michigan from the pool in March. But, every once and awhile, when the rest of the world is covered in white, we wish for a day in the snow. If you or your little snow angels are longing for a day of sledding, snow tubing, and more, all it takes is a drive to higher elevations. The whole family can experience the thrill of winter sports, explore alpine landscapes, and take in the magic of winter for the day. 

So, where can you find snow near Los Angeles? Even though it very rarely even gets frosty in the city, there are plenty of places where families can ski, sled, or go snow tubing, and still be home for bedtime. (And a few more that are farther afield!) Visit our Winter Activities Guide for Los Angeles Families for the scoop on everywhere you can play in LA this winter.

This list includes everything from ski resorts to state parks where kids can play in the snow. Many of the resorts and parks make their own snow when winter is warm, but some of the more off-the-beaten-path spots are simply subject to weather conditions. Keep an eye on your weather app—and be sure to check that the roads are open if there are flurries in the air.

While not all of these destinations require chains, it's a good idea to have a set in the trunk before heading off in search of snow. Slippery roads can be dangerous, and Los Angelenos with little winter-driving experience could find themselves in quite the pickle. No worries if you've never put chains on before; gas stations in all of the regions listed are used to helping their fair-weather visitors (usually for a fee). 

Find Snow Play Near Los Angeles

1. Mount Baldy

Elevation: 4,193 ft.
Snowfall Months: December through April; tire chains are required if there's snow.
Driving Time from LA: 60-90 minutes

Where to Find Snow Play near Los Angeles: Mount Baldy

The long run at Mount Baldy is the closest snow tubing you'll find near LA. Photo courtesy of Mount Baldy Resort

Visible from most parts of LA, the snow-capped Mount Baldy is our closest spot for a fun snow day. The mountain offers a day's skiing or ski lessons for all levels of skiers (access to the Learning Center is free with ski or snowboard rentals), as well as a great place to go sledding.

But you don't have to be a skier to enjoy the wintry ambiance. A scenic chairlift ferries visitors to the Top of the Notch Restaurant, where a family can still enjoy a hearty meal before building a snowman or letting kids ride inner tubes in the Snow Play area. All tubers must be at least 40' tall, but smaller kiddos can enjoy sledding in the park as well. Tickets are required for snow play, and range from $23 to $47. Purchase your tickets in advance online. 

RELATED: Sand Sledding in Los Angeles

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Mountain High
North Pole Tubing Park offers a nearby afternoon of snow play. Photo courtesy of Mountain High

2. Wrightwood

Elevation: up to 6,600 ft.
Snowfall Months: December through April; tire chains are rarely required.
Driving Time from LA: 1 hour 30 minutes

One of the oldest ski resorts in the country, Mountain High in Wrightwood is also the most visited in Southern California, thanks to its accessibility. Mountain High is comprised of three resorts with plenty of diverse terrain and trails. The West Resort is home to the Children’s Academy, where kids as young as one can learn how to ski with a virtual snow simulator. Yeti's Snow Play is open weekends in the winter for tubing, sledding, and building the perfect snowman. To snow tube alone, kids must be at least 36" tall. Kids can also enjoy a ride on the sky high chair lift to get a bird's eye view of winter. 

If all you want is to throw some snowballs and feel a nip on your cheeks, make the easy drive to the town of Wrightwood after a fresh snowfall; you can pull off the road to tumble in snow for free, then indulge in comfort food at the cozy Grizzly Cafe (our favorite food spot in town) before heading home.

3. Running Springs

Elevation: up to 7,841 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through April; tire chains are required in snow.
Driving Time from LA: 1 hour 30 minutes

Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, closer to Los Angeles than Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear, is Running Springs. In this little mountain town, families can choose between a ski day at Snow Valley Mountain Resort and spending the day at Southern California's largest and oldest tubing park, Snowdrift. The proximity to the city makes this a great day-trip destination! Snowdrift is open 7 days a week while snow lasts, and admission is $20 per person. Kids under 36" are free with a paying adult.  

Snow Valley is open and offers lessons for kids ages 7-12 for either a half or a full day. (Private lessons are available for kids 4 and up.) Check the websites for more information. 

4. SkyPark at Santa's Village in Skyforest

Elevation: 5,741 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through March; tire chains are required.
Driving Time from LA: 1 hour 30 minutes

During the holidays (through early January), SkyPark is transformed into a North Pole-themed park with Santa and Mrs. Claus themselves in attendance. But once Santa’s Village wraps up and its illustrious residents move back to the North Pole, this adventure playground goes back to business as usual—aka Winter Wonderland. Located a short distance from Lake Arrowhead, SkyPark offers many activities, including ice skating, snow shoeing, and snow play.

RELATED: Sledding and Snow Tubing Near Los Angeles

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Lake Arrowhead

See snow by the lake. Photo courtesy of Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa

5. Lake Arrowhead

Elevation: 5,174 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through March; tire chains are required.
Driving Time from LA: 1 hour 30 minutes

Driving up to Lake Arrowhead can be an experience if it happens to snow on your way up the mountain (bring tire chains, as they're required if snow starts to fall). But once you are there, you are immersed in a classic winter wonderland that feels like the movies. Log cabins dot the mountainside, and frame a stunning lake in the center of town. When the weather gets frosty, there are plenty of places to go skiing and tubing. There are also opportunities to go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or snowmobiling, not to mention the must-try Belgian Waffle Works.

If you’re not planning on snow sports, but you’re still craving a scenic adventure, hop on The Arrowhead Queen’s enclosed paddlewheel boat for a tour to see the winter scenery from the water. It still runs daily in the winter! 

RELATED: Winter Day Trips from Los Angeles

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Big Bear Mountain
Can this really be two hours from the Sepulveda Pass? Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort

6. Big Bear

Elevation: 6,752 ft. 
Snowfall Months: November through March; tire chains are required in snow.
Driving Time from LA: 2 hours

This renowned resort town doesn’t need any introductions; in fact, it’s so popular that in order to avoid disappointments, you need to plan everything in advance—from booking your chalet or hotel room to your ski pass and ski equipment rentals. Want to hit the slopes? Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are sister ski resorts in the area. If skiing isn't your thing, though, don’t worry; there is still plenty to do. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain is home to a bobsled run with high-banked turns, and Big Bear Snow Play is an inner tubing park complete with a moving carpet lit at night (yes, you can shred in the dark!).

7. Chula Vista Campground (Mt. Pinos)

Elevation: 8,300 ft. 
Snowfall Months: November through April; must carry tire chains.
Driving Time from LA: 2 hours

While more of a DIY experience than a formal resort, this is a low-key way to get your kids into the snow. Exit the I-5 freeway on Frazier Mountain Park Road, head toward Frazier Park, and you'll find yourself in a valley flanked by mountain peaks. Cuddy Valley Road goes through the village of Frazier Park and continues all the way to Mount Pinos. If your kids can be patient and you can drive further up from Frazier Park, the road ends in a large parking lot and a great sledding area. However, remember there is no water here and only a vault bathroom, so be prepared to make a hasty exit when kids are thirsty or need to go. To join in the winter fun, the Forest Service charges $5 per day for an Adventure Pass (you can also pay $30 for a year pass), or an Interagency pass such as a military pass, 4th grader pass, or senior pass.

8. Cuddy Valley/ Frazier Mountain Trailhead

Elevation: 4,600 ft.
Snowfall Months: Check for recent snowfalls.
Driving Time from LA: 2 hours

Because the elevation is just 4,600 feet, Cuddy Valley only gets snow if there's been a recent snowfall, so definitely check weather reports before heading up. If the snow isn't satisfactory, put chains on your tires and drive up to Mt. Pinos Campground (above), where you're bound to see plenty of white stuff. Make sure to check the Forest Service website for updates on access—sometimes roads are closed and this spot is unreachable. Just a touch above Frazier Park is Pine Mountain Club, a quaint little getaway spot that gets snow almost annually. Just make sure that the roads are open, as the Grapevine and streets leading up to Pine Mountain often shut down when snow is falling. 

RELATED: Outdoor Ice Skating Rinks in Los Angeles for Families

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Joshua Tree 
Yes, it snows in the desert, and it looks unworldly! Joshua Tree, photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Find Unexpected Snow—in the Desert!

9. Joshua Tree National Park

Elevation: 2,736 ft.
Snowfall Months: December through February
Driving Time from LA: 2 hours 15 minutes

During winter, it’s not unusual for Joshua Tree to be dusted in snow, and while this might not be thick enough to make snow angels, it’s still worth seeing. All trails are highly Instagrammable, but the Skull Rock and Cholla Cactus Garden are definitely going to wow your kids. Pioneertown, a perfectly preserved 1940s Western movie studio just 16 miles south of Joshua Tree, doesn't currently have any of the live shows or mock gunfights to see. But you can stroll down Mane Street (not a typo!) and order some delicious barbecue or veggie chili to go at the legendary saloon Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

RELATED: How To Make Frozen Bubbles With Kids

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Palm Springs
There's sledding in the desert at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Photo by Jeremy Miles/CC BY 2.0

10. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Elevation: 8,516 ft.
Snowfall Months: October through May
Driving Time from LA: 2-3 hours

Above the glamorous desert town of Palm Springs, there’s a mountain with breathtaking views and beautiful hiking trails: Mount San Jacinto. The fastest way to get there is by taking a 10-minute ride with the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway’s rotating car. As you ascend the mountain, temperatures drop about 30 degrees, and snow is everywhere for never-ending snowball fights. If your family loves action, you can try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even snow camping. Peak Restaurant, at the top of the tramway station, offers locally-sourced food, a kids’ menu, and a curated wine list. Pines Café and Lookout Lodge, also near the tram station, are great for an après-snow bite or drink.

11. Idyllwild

Elevation: 5,413 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through April
Driving Time from LA.: 2 hours

Ok, Idyllwild definitely doesn't feel like the desert. Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is a quaint mountain village bursting with art galleries, cozy cafés, and artisanal shops. It's more pine tree than palm tree. But it shares the very same mountain as the Palm Springs Tram, so it's definitely desert-adjacent.

The wonderful Idyllwild Nature Center, located within an ancient Cahuilla Indian village, which provides insight into this culture and educational activities and crafts for children, is open again, Thursday-Sunday from 9am-4pm. Most open spaces and trailheads are open for day use. Snow is around for much of the winter (we usually start seeing it about halfway up the mountain), and the sledding is best in Humber Park (a $5 Adventure Day Pass is required to park here). Kids can get their energy back with a pizza to go from local favorite Idyllwild Pizza Co before the drive home.

RELATED: Hiking in Los Angeles with Kids

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Palomar Mountain 
Make a snowman made at Palomar Mountain State Park.

There’s Snow in Southern California in San Diego County, Too!

12. Palomar Mountain State Park

Elevation: 5,000 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through February; snow chains may be required
Driving Time from LA: 3 hours

We love Palomar for camping in summer (with a side visit to the Palomar Observatory to see the Hale Telescope), but the altitude means that there is snow here in the winter, as early as November. Hiking trails are still open for a snowy hike, but many people simply park in a turnout on South Grade Road (or East Grade Road, both are off Highway 76) for a side-of-the-road snow adventure. Bring your own sleds and saucers for old-school fun.

13. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Elevation: 6,512 ft.
Snowfall Months: January through March
Driving Time from LA: 2 hours

About 15 minutes south of Julian (yes, the autumn apple picking spot—more on that in a minute!) is Cuyamaca State Park. The camping grounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, and day-use areas are all currently open. A day pass ($10) is required to enter the park, or you can park in turnouts alongside Highway 79 for free.

We mentioned Julian, which is a perfect place to recharge after a few hours of freezing fun. Stop for dinner at one of the area's many restaurants, or just get some of the famous Julian pie and a hot chocolate (or coffee for parents) to make the ride home almost as much fun as the snowy day. Apple Alley Bakery and Julian Pie Company are local favorites.

Where to Find Snow near Los Angeles: Yosemite 
Try cross country skiing at Yosemite. Photo courtesy of travelyosemite.com

Find Snow in California Further North

14. Yosemite National Park

Elevation: 4,000 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through March. Must carry tire chains
Driving Time from LA.: 4 hours 30 minutes

With many of the roads closed and campsites and trails covered in snow, Yosemite becomes a tranquil place of beauty in winter. Gone are the big crowds, and there are endless opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, skating, and snowball fights. Your kids will long remember Yosemite for the walks with no sound but crunching snow, and sparkling white as far as the eye can see.

15. Mammoth Mountain

Elevation: 7,953 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through June. Must carry tire chains
Driving Time from LA: 5 hours

Boasting the highest summit elevation in California, Mammoth Mountain is blessed with abundant snowfall and a ski season that sometimes lasts well into the summer. The resort offers all the amenities one could dream of, including ski lifts, scenic gondola rides, snowmobiles, snowcat tours, and even dog sled rides. There’s a high-speed tube park with a large snow play area that kids adore. A weekend in Mammoth is a true trip to a winter wonderland.

16. Bishop 

Elevation: 4,150 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through March. Chains sometimes required. 
Driving Time from LA: 4 hours 30 minutes 

If you don't want to make the hike up the mountain to Mammoth, stop in Bishop for some snowy fun. This quaint little town is home to the famous Schat's Bakery  and has plenty of snow when the weather is chilly. You'll get a stunning view of Mt. Whitney, and snow play here is free. There are plenty of hiking trails nearby for a romp through the snow. 

Originally published January 12, 2018

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