Snow fun at Yeti Snow Park. Photo courtesy of Mountain High Resort
Snow fun at Yeti Snow Park. Photo courtesy of Mountain High Resort

Where to Find Snow in LA: 13 Places LA Families Can Drive to Pretend It's Winter

When most of the country is covered in snow, LA is typically enjoying mild temperatures with highs in the 70s. This is great for those of us who love the warm weather, but if you or your little snow angels are longing to chill out and find snow in LA for snowball fights and more, 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.

So, where can you find snow in SoCal? Most people think of the tranquil beauty and snow-capped splendor of Yosemite, or the abundant snowfall and ski season that lasts well into summer at Mammoth. But in this crazy Covid year, we pulled those snowy wonderlands off our list due to the December 2020 stay-at-home order for almost all of California. Mammoth isn't even renting places on their properties this year, making a weekend away a tricky prospect. Luckily, LA is vast and varied and there are over a dozen places where families can ski, sled, or tube all day, and still be home for bedtime.

The list includes everything from ski resorts to state parks where kids can play in the snow. Many of the resorts and parks can make their own snow when winter is warm, but off-the-beaten-path spots don't produce snow, so keep an eye on the weather—and be sure to check that if there is snow, the roads are open.

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 on 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).

Find Snow Near Los Angeles

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 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 (with Grab & Go or cooked to order options at the counter service concessions) then head outside to build a snowman or let kids ride inner tubes down the nearby Tubing Park’s snow channels.

Winter 2020-2021 update:Some changes have been made to accommodate Covid guidelines, such as masks must be worn in all indoor spaces, physical distancing is requested, and tickets must be purchased online in advance.

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

2. Wrightwood

24510 State Highway 2
Wrightwood, CA 92648
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. 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.

Winter 2020-2021 update: Mountain High is practicing "snowcial" distancing, and requires adherence to safety guidelines as well as advance purchase of all tickets. The resort has also added Grab & Go food locations for outdoor eating.

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 it looks good, then indulge in comfort food at the cozy Grizzly Cafe (our favorite food spot in town, which is still serving) before heading back home to the beach.

3. Running Springs

35100 State Highway 18
Running Springs, CA 92382
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!

Snow Valley is open (at reduced capacity) 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.) Snowdrift is also open for the 2020 season, 7 days a week. Check the websites for more information on how each location is handling Covid safety protocols.

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 (and through January 10, 2021), 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 and more.

Winter 2020-2021 update: Some attractions are closed for the 2020-21 season, and all attractions have limited capacity and are set up for social distancing. Online reservations are required to visit Santa's Village. Check the website to see what will be open when you plan to visit. The park is open daily, and the main restaurant, St. Nick's Patio and Grill is open for outdoor dining (around the cozy fire pits), serving Santa's favorite burgers.

Photo courtesy of Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa

5. 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), or if you have little ones prone to getting carsick. 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, currently only available for takeout).

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

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

6. 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!).

Winter 2020-2021 update: Big Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, Alpine Slide, and Big Bear Snow Play are all open for the 2020-2021 season. However, they are all running at limited capacity due to California Covid restrictions. Check the websites for the latest updates (and to purchase tickets in advance for the ski resorts) before you go. Please also check local hotels and airbnbs for current policies, if planning on spending the night.

Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort

7. 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.

8. 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 (above), where you're bound to see plenty of white stuff.

RELATED: Sledding and Tubing for Families near LA

Find Unexpected Snow—in the Desert!

9. 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, 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 salon Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.

10. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

NOW OPEN: The Palm Spring Tram reopened on February 18, 2021.

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.

Winter 2020-2021 update: The Tram is running at both reduced hours and at less than 25% capacity, so tickets must be purchased in advance (guests must show tickets before driving up to park). Face coverings are required at both Valley and Mountain Stations, and while riding in tram cars (gaiters and masks with vents are not allowed). There is a temperature check before entering the Valley Station.

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

11. Idyllwild

Idyllwild, CA 92549
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. More pine tree than palm tree, and Hot Toddy by the fire than Daiquiri by the pool. But since it happens to share the very same mountain as the Palm Springs Tram, 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 currently closed, but most open spaces and trail heads are open for day use. 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 (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.

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

12. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

13652 Highway 79
Julian, CA 92036
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 and picnic areas are closed due to Covid restrictions, but hiking trails and day use areas remain 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. Though most restaurants are closed at press time for dine-in, getting some of the famous Julian pie and a hot chocolate (or coffee for parents) to go makes the ride home almost as much fun as the snowy day. Apple Alley Bakery and Julian Pie Company (Julian Pie Company is selling whole pies only for winter of 2020-21) are local favorites.

13. Palomar Mountain State Park

19952 State Park Drive
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
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. The camping grounds and picnic areas are closed, but hiking trails and day use areas remain open, for a $10 day use fee. (Bathrooms are usually open, but depending on available personnel some may be closed in the winter of 2020, so bring extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer, just in case.) 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.

Originally published January 12, 2018

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