Southern California might be famous for its beaches and palm trees, but right now it also has plenty of places to build a snowman and go sledding. Several local resorts have been open since the big snowfall at Christmastime; more is expected as we get deeper into the rainy season. Here are great places where the entire family can play in the snow, many with lifts and groomed trails. One word of caution: Check for road closures and tire chain requirements before heading out.
Mt. Baldy, Angeles National Forest
Take a deep breath of fresh mountain air at this wildly picturesque ski resort about 16 miles north of Upland. Ride the Sugar Pine Chairlift that leads to a tubing park at the top. Tubing sessions last 90 minutes and operate four times a day: 8:15 a.m., 10 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. Prices include a round-trip ride on the ski lift. You can grab a drink or a burger at the Top of the Notch Restaurant & Bar at 7,800 feet.
Insider tip: It takes at least an hour to park, check in and ride the lift. Be on the safe side and arrive a couple of hours before your tubing session.
Info: Tubing packages are cheaper when purchased online (currently, $39.99 to $46.99 per person, gear included). winter.mtbaldyresort.com
Mountain High, Wrightwood
Heading farther north into the Angeles National Forest, you’ll find this popular resort west of Wrightwood. It’s only a 90-minute drive from downtown L.A. but feels a world away. The resort’s Yeti’s Snow Parks are open daily for sledding, tubing and snow play. You may even come face to face with Mountain High’s friendly, oversize yeti mascot, who, of course, wears ski goggles.
Insider tip: You can’t purchase tickets in advance; they are available first-come, first-served at the ticket windows.
Info: The resort has snow play at different sections of the mountain. Sledding costs $25 per person for two hours at the East Resort; two hours of tubing at the North Resort costs $35 per person (tubes and sleds are included in the ticket price). There’s a $20 parking fee for all vehicles. mthigh.com
Angeles Crest Highway
There are other spots in the Wrightwood area to grab a sled and have a DIY snow-play day (facebook.com/WrightwoodSnowplay). You’ll find places along the two-lane Angeles Crest Highway, California Highway 2, over the San Gabriel Mountains. The higher you go in elevation, the deeper the snow. The U.S. Forest Service advises drivers to carry snow chains and have a full tank of gas as well as warm clothing, food and water in case of an emergency. Also, the road closes when ice or snow makes driving dangerous; check before you go.
Insider tip: Head up early in the morning to beat the crowds and return in early afternoon to avoid the rush headed back down.
Info: Drivers must display a $5 Adventure Pass on parked cars. angelescrestscenichighway.com
Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park, San Bernardino National Forest
Surround yourself with towering pines at this tubing park four miles east of Running Springs. There’s something for everyone, with seven hills to choose from for tubing. This family-friendly park sits at the 6,500-foot elevation level in the San Bernardino National Forest. Don’t follow your GPS; it won’t send you to the right location. Take California Highway 18 toward Big Bear Lake; the tubing park is a little past the turn to Green Valley Lake.
Insider tip: To save time, print Snowdrift’s liability release form at home and have it signed when you arrive.
Info: $20 (cash only) per person, per hour; tubes with belly belts included. Parking costs $10 per vehicle on weekends and holidays. snowdrift.net
Big Bear Snow Play, Big Bear Lake
About 15 miles to the east, Big Bear Snow Play occupies a former ski hill once known as Rebel Ridge. It offers lift-assisted inner tubing, meaning you don’t have to hike uphill. Instead, you’re brought uphill in the Magic Carpet, described as having “space-age-looking clear tunnels.” The slopes are a mix of natural and man-made snow. Don’t miss the night-glow tubing on Fridays and Saturdays and holiday weekends.
Insider tip: Bring gloves, staff members say, adding that it’s the most notable thing visitors leave at home.
Cost, info: $35 general admission, $20 for children 36 to 42 inches tall, includes gear. bigbearsnowplay.com
Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
Much farther north, Mammoth Lakes, about 300 miles north of downtown Los Angeles along U.S. Highway 395, attracts skiers and snowboarders to 11,053-foot Mammoth Mountain. If the slopes seem too ambitious, check out the ski area’s Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play (named for its mascot, the woolly mammoth) along Minaret Road, about halfway between the Village and Main Lodge. This is snow play in style: Not only does the resort have a large snow-play area but there’s also a heated deck with a snack bar serving hot chocolate and more.
Insider tip: Book ahead by calling (800) 626-6684 if you plan to visit on a weekend or holiday. Also, use the Red Line shuttle bus to get from Mammoth Lakes to the resort and back, especially on weekends when parking is limited.
Info: Tubing tickets range from $39 to $49; the snow play area costs $20 to $25 per person; gear included. mammothmountain.com
Leland High Sierra Snow Play, near Stanislaus National Forest
Winter enthusiasts will enjoy racing downhill at this Sierra resort. It’s tucked away off California Highway 108, about a two-hour drive north of Yosemite National Park. There’s a large day lodge with a fireplace where you can buy a variety of food and drinks. Check out the sledding and tubing action from a sundeck overlooking the snow-play area. On the larger hills, sit back on your tube as it’s towed to the top. All you have to do is take in the breathtaking views.
Insider tip: As at other locations, visit on weekdays to avoid crowds. Consider wearing a helmet for safety.
Info: $19 for young ones, $25 for anyone taller than 44 inches on weekdays; $19 to $39 on weekends and holidays. Gear is included. snowplay.com
Tips to know before you go
Play it safe: When heading to snow country, don’t park in the road or on private property. Parking along mountain roads can be a headache because they are typically narrow, two-lane affairs with limited turnouts and lots. The California Highway Patrol also tells visitors to be careful not to trespass on private property when finding the perfect snow spot and not to play in the road.
Carry chains: Bring tire chains or cables for your vehicle, even if it’s a beautiful, blue-sky day. Weather can change quickly, and you’ll be stopped and turned back if they are suddenly required. Make sure to use designated turnouts, not the roadway, to install chains.
Be patient: Don’t head into the mountains the minute snow falls. Many roads will be closed until crews can plow, and driving conditions can be dangerous. Check the weather forecast and road conditions with Caltrans (roads.dot.ca.gov), and drive with extra caution.