What Are The Closest Snow Play Trips for Bay Area Families? - 510 Families
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What Are The Closest Snow Play Trips for Bay Area Families?

Many of you are looking for the closest snow to the Bay Area.  You might want to let it accumulate a little more before you head up to the mountains for some adventures, but we can help you start to plan where to play in the snow this winter!

This guest post about realistic and affordable snow play adventures for young Bay Area families was originally produced by reader Victoria.

child on snow shoes

While you can certainly hit up any of the ski resorts for some downhill fun, we offer you here five of the closest options for adventuring in the snow that do not involve paying for lift tickets or sledding areas. (Bring your sleds, snowshoes, or cross-country skis!)

Remember your sunscreen and sunglasses for everyone!

Tahoe Area Snow Play with Kids

Matrimony Ridge/Loch Leven Lakes

Take Highway 80 less than three hours from the Bay Area, exit Kingvale Rd, go left under the overpass, left at the first intersection, and park at the first plowed pullout that leads under the freeway to an unplowed road (start of the trail). You can head out on the unplowed road as far as little legs will go (after the train tracks, there is a trail that leads to the right up to Loch Leven Lakes if you feel really ambitious). Or just hang out and sled near the trailhead. (No parking permit needed.) If you are more comfortable with a groomed path experience, Kingvale Resort is across the road and costs $20 to park, plus $20 per guest.
Snowy day trips for Bay Area families

VRBO ideas for this destination >>

Pacific Crest Trail at Hope Valley

Take Highway 88 (between Highway 89 & Carson Pass) to the Pacific Crest Trail. This area is ripe for snow adventures! You can head all the way up to Carson Pass, then strike out on the Pacific Crest Trail in either direction (if you and your crew are looking for some REAL adventure). The stretch between Highway 89 and Carson Pass is filled with meadows and hills that are crying out for snow play and exploration. Look for cars parked on the Tahoe side about 3-4 miles after the interchange. Play in the snow or follow the tracks up to Crater Lake. More info >

Echo Lake Sno-Park

Off Highway 50, at the top of Echo Summit, on the NORTH side of the highway, Echo Lake Sno-Park is a great place to snowshoe and play in the snow. From the Sno-Park, take the Echo Lakes unplowed road to Echo Lakes (about a mile) and then either play around Echo Lake or head out on the Tahoe Rim Trail for more exciting times.

Note: To use Sno-Parks, a service of California State Parks, you must stop at a participating vendor (many sporting goods stores/ski rental shops on the way up) and purchase a parking permit for $15 to park for the day or $40 for the 2023-24 season. You can also purchase a print-at-home parking permit online in advance of your trip.Snowy day trips for Bay Area families

Donner Summit Sno-Park

Donner Summit is located 10 miles west of Truckee on the south side of I-80 at the Castle Peak exit beyond Boreal Inn. This Sno-park is pretty roomy so your excited kiddos won’t have to wait in a long line for a spot to slide down. Happily the park also has a restroom, which is always a welcome bonus. Just beware that the parking lot fills up pretty fast as the day goes on, so get there bright and early if you can. More information >

Spooner Summit Public Sledding

This is another fun and free spot to take your kiddos. They have several different routes so you can choose how scary you want it to be. So it’s great if you have different-aged kids who have varying levels of sledding skill. Again, the parking area fills up quickly, as do most free sledding spots. So arrive early! Aim your GPS here.

Other Snowy Places near the Bay Area

Spicer Reservoir, Bear Valley

Head out on Highway 4 to Bear Valley! This is a good Sunday option because the traffic is much lighter than the Tahoe return traffic. Try Spicer Reservoir for your snow adventures here. Again, you need a Sno-Park Permit for your car. Spicer Reservoir has plenty of areas for general snow play, as well as a long unplowed Forest Service Road that you can take for some snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. (Parking permit needed.) Want groomed sledding hills? You can do tubing or sledding at Bear Valley Cross Country for about $15 per person.

Book a VRBO near Bear Valley and stay for the weekend! 

Related: A tubing destination in the snow at Leland Snow Play which is right near …

Herring Creek past Lyons Reservoir

For people living in Oakland or the Fremont/Dublin/Livermore area, Highway 108 is the quickest route to the snow. One of the closest snow-play areas is Lyons Reservoir, but we encourage you to venture further, past Strawberry (note: this is a different Strawberry than the one on Highway 50). Almost exactly two miles past Strawberry, Herring Creek Road branches off to the right. (You have to look carefully—there is no sign warning that it’s coming—just look for the pull-off. When you pull in, you can see that it says “Herring Creek,” but it’s easy to miss. Google map link here. It’s possible to snowshoe and/or cross-country ski at least seven miles on the unplowed road to Herring Creek Campground, but there are also ample sledding and snowplay opportunities right near the trailhead. (No parking permit.)

To plan an overnight trip to this area, book a house in Strawberry or Pinecrest.

Guide to SNO-PARK Sites in California

Too big to see here, this is an insanely useful document put out by California State Parks: Download a PDF showing all the Sno-Park locations with a map >>

california sno-park map with fees as of 2023

[All photos provided by Victoria and used with permission]

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3 thoughts on “What Are The Closest Snow Play Trips for Bay Area Families?”

  1. Please don’t forget Calaveras County., CA..the Hwy 4 corridor provides many amazing opportunities for snow play, and they are FAR less crowded compared to the places this site recommends. …Calaveras Big Trees State Park (Arnold CA), Tamarack Lodge (day use snow play…no need to be a guest of the lodge to enjoy the amenities!) Snow-Parks located along Hwy 4 are wonderful places that are tucked off the highway away from the vehicles traveling along the corridor. There are more places that are technically in Alpine but can only be accessed via Hwy 4 in Calaveras County, since the eastern portion of highway 4 shuts down mid-November. Bear Valley has some of the best cross-country skiing in California! Snowshoeing, downhill skiing, sledding, tubing and snowboarding are all also available in Bear Valley (not to be confused with other locations in CA called Bear Valley) Have a great time this winter!

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