Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort
Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort

12 Places LA Families Can Drive To Pretend It's Winter

When most of the country is covered in snow, LA is typically enjoying fall temperatures with highs in the 70s. This is great for those who of us love the warm weather, but if you or your little snow angels are longing to chill out and experience ice and snow, all it takes is a drive to higher elevations and the whole family can experience the thrill of winter sports, explore alpine landscapes, and take in the magic of winter for the day. Other people survive winter; Angelenos visit it.

Note that while not all destinations below require chains, it's a good idea to have a set in the trunk before heading off in search of snow; if the snow you're looking for starts falling while you're driving a mountain road, both you and your tires can be taken off guard. 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 (though usually for a fee).

1. Mount Baldy
8401 Mount Baldy Road
Mount Baldy, CA 91759
Elevation: 4,193 ft.
Snowfall Months: December through April. Tire chains are required if there's snow.
Driving Time from LA: 60-90 minutes

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 level 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 wintery ambiance. A scenic chairlift ferries visitors to the Top of the Notch Restaurant, where a family could enjoy a hearty meal then head outside to build a snowman or let kids ride inner tubes down the nearby Tubing Park’s snow channels.

2. Mountain High in Wrightwood
24510 State Highway 2
Wrightwood, CA 92648
Elevation: up to 6,600 ft.
Snowfall Months: December to 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. The North Resort’s North Pole Tubing Park, California’s largest with 10 tubing lanes and two moving carpets, is great fun for the whole family. But 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 wherever looks good, then indulge in comfort food at the cozy Grizzly Cafe before heading back home to the beach.

North Pole Tubing Park offers a nearby afternoon of snowplay. Photo courtesy of Mountain High

3. Lake Arrowhead
28200 Highway 189
Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352
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). In addition to skiing and tubing options, 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 jonesing for a scenic adventure, hop on the Arrowhead Queen Lake Tour’s enclosed paddlewheel boat to see the winter scenery from the water.

4. SkyPark at Santa's Village
28950 Highway 18
Skyforest, CA 92385
Elevation: 5,741 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through March. Tire chains are required.
Driving Time from LA: 1 hour 30 minutes

During the holidays, 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, as well as bike trails, rock climbing, indoor bouldering, archery, and a zip line through the forest. The park is open Thursday through Sunday, and the on-site restaurant, Gatherings Barbecue House, serves homestyle lasagna, pasta, soup, and hot cocoa.

RELATED: Skiing for Families and Ski Schools near LA

Can this really be two hours from the Sepulveda Pass? Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort

5. Big Bear
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
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. If skiing and snowboarding are not your thing, though, don’t worry; there’s plenty else 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!). Horseback riding, fishing, and ice skating are some other fun activities, and Amangela’s Sandwich and Bagel House has the best sandwiches and hot cocoa for chilly tummies.

6. Idyllwild
Idyllwild, CA 92549
Elevation: 5,413 ft.
Snowfall Months: November through April
Driving Time from LA.: 2 hours

Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, Idyllwild is a quaint village bursting with art galleries, cozy cafés, and artisanal shops. Between snowball fights and some sledding, make sure to visit the Idyllwild Nature Center, located within an ancient Cahuilla Indian village, which provides insight into this culture and educational activities and crafts for children. Snow is around for much of the winter (we usually start seeing it by halfway up the mountain), and the sledding is best in Humber Park. Kids can get their energy back with a soda at Idyllwild Soda Pop & Sweet Shop or warm up with pinball and pizza at Idyllwild Pizza Co before the drive home.

7. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
1 Tramway Road
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Elevation: 8,516 ft.
Snowfall Months: October through May
Driving Time from LA: 2 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 some 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.

There's sledding in the desert at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Photo by Jeremy Miles/CC BY 2.0

8. Joshua Tree National Park
6554 Park Boulevard
Joshua Tree, CA 92256
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, is also guaranteed to be a big hit: stroll down Mane Street (not a typo!) and order some delicious barbecue or veggie chili at the legendary salon Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. You’re welcome.

9. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley, CA 95389
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. There are many organized activities for children, including tours with rangers and storytelling and craft hours at local resorts, and several museums, including the Happy Isles Nature Center and the Yosemite Museum, with special exhibits and interactive displays. The Indian Village of the Awahnee is a replica of an 1870s Indian village featuring bark teepees, acorn silos, and a sweat lodge. But more than anything, your kids will remember Yosemite for the walks with no sound but crunching snow, and sparkling white as far as the eye can see. You can use the drive there to memorize all the lyrics to Let It Go.

10. Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
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 gondolas rides, snowmobiles and snowcat tours, and even dog sled rides. There’s a high-speed tube park with a large snow play area (featuring a merry-go-round) and a heated deck with a snack bar serving cocoa and adult beverages. For more fun away from the slopes, head to Frosty’s Miniature Golf, Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl, Mammoth Trampoline Club, or Snowcreek Athletic Club for crafts and recreational activities. If you're staying during the weekend, catch Woolly’s Saturday Parade with live music, dancing, and face painting. There are plenty of family restaurants, but kids will love Gomez’s Restaurant & Tequileria’s sandbox on the patio, as well as different games, such as Etch-A-Sketch, inside. A weekend in Mammoth is a true trip to a winter wonderland.

11. Chula Vista Campground (Mt. Pinos)
Frazier Park, CA 93225
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 (and free) 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 the kids start complaining.

12. Cuddy Valley/ Frazier Mountain Trailhead
Frazier Park, CA 93225
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, where you're bound to see plenty of white stuff. There are also picnic tables, toilets, and, if you're inclined, you can camp, too. 


Originally published January 12, 2018

Mount Baldy
8401 Mount Baldy Road
Mount Baldy, CA 91759

Mountain High
24510 State Highway 2
Wrightwood, CA 92648

Lake Arrowhead
28200 Highway 189
Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352

SkyPark at Santa's Village
28950 Highway 18
Skyforest, CA 92385

Big Bear
43101 Goldmine Drive
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
1 Tramway Road
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Idyllwild Town Crier
54405 North Circle Drive
Idyllwild, CA 92549

Joshua Tree National Park
6554 Park Boulevard
Joshua Tree, CA 92256

9035 Village Drive
Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Mammoth Mountain
10001 Minaret Road
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

Mt. Pinos Campground
Cuddy Valley Road
Frazier Park, CA 93225

Frazier Park Trailhead
OHV Trail 118
Frazier Park, CA 93225
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