If you live in Southern California, snow is a rare occurrence. If you don’t make some extra effort, your children might grow up not knowing what snow is. However, one of the greatest things about living in Southern California is that pretty much everyone lives within a few hours from the beach and within a few hours from the snow. I love snow and I love to take my family to play in the snow at least once a year…and it doesn’t take much effort. While, everyone knows about the big Southern California ski resorts, there is very little information available about places where you can take small kids so that they can simply play in the snow. So let’s explore my favorite places to experience the snow in Southern California.
If you just stick with the big names in winter resorts in Southern California (Snow Summit and Mountain High) you will end up frustrated if you just want to take your kids somewhere where small children can enjoy the snow in Southern California. However, with some patience and a willingness to explore, you can find some simple places where your children can simply have fun with snow in SoCal. Let’s explore together some of my favorite snow places in Southern California.
Snow in SoCal is for Snowboarders…not Snow Play
Once you get to any of Southern California’s big winter resorts you will see some large signs as soon as you come close to the ski slopes. These big warning sings read something like: “Only skiers or snowboarders are permitted beyond this point.” In other words, nobody has access to the ski slopes unless they snowboard or ski.
Most large Southern California winter resorts do not allow snow play near the ski slopes. Unless they have a designated snow play area, large ski resorts are not a good place to simply enjoy the snow in Southern California.
So, where can you take your small children to play in the snow in Southern California?
1. Big Bear Snow Play
Inner tubes at the bottom of the small slope at Big Bear Snow Play.
See my photos from Big Bear Snow Play
My list of snow play areas in Southern California starts with Big Bear Lake. On the east end of Big Bear Lake you can find Big Bear Snow Play which is right off the main road (Highway 18).
For $35 you can go snow tubing the entire day on groomed slopes. The slopes at Big Bear Snow Play are good for tubing as they are pretty long and well maintained. In addition they have a moving carpet kind of lift which makes it a lot easier to go up the mountain. However, you cannot bring your own sled or inner tube here, because you can only use the tubes the company provides. While you can only do snow tubing here, Big Bear Snow Play is a good place for kids to enjoy the snow in Southern California for a day.
Plan Your Trip to Big Bear Snow Play
Map of the Big Bear Snow Play Area in Big Bear, California
Stay in Big Bear. The Big Bear area can be crowded in the winter, so it’s best to book a place in advance. For a budget friendly place in Big Bear, stay at Hillcrest Lodge for a great location, or find other budget hotels in Big Bear. If you can’t find any place in Big Bear, you can stay at the base of the mountain.
2. Alpine Slide Snow Play
The snow play slopes at Alpine Slide are well groomed and great for small children.
Photo credit: Alpine Slide
Another popular snow play area in Southern California is Alpine Slide still in Big Bear Lake. It is located on the opposite side of town from Big Bear Snow Play, closer to Running Springs. They have water slides in the summer and groomed snow tubing in the winter.
For $30 you get unlimited day pass to all the snow play slopes. The great thing about Alpine Slide is that they have snow making equipment so they usually open earlier than other snow play areas. At Alpine Slide you are allowed to bring your own sled or inner tube.
Plan Your Trip to Alpine Slide
Big Bear Lake, California – Map of Alpine Slide Snow Play and surrounding area
Stay in Big Bear. Hillcrest Lodge is the best place to stay in Big Bear, especially if you want to be close to both Alpine Slide and Snow Summit.
3. Snow Valley Snow Play
The snow play slopes at Snow Valley are well groomed and perfect for small children.
See my photos from Snow Valley
Snow Valley is very close to the town of Running Springs on the way to Big Bear’s Snow Summit. If there is natural snow, Snow Valley has a special area designated for sledding and snow playing. Snow Valley is a proper winter resort but it’s much smaller than Snow Summit.
The Snow Play area at Snow Valley looks great! Tickets are not cheap but it is a very well maintained area. Our kids loved it!
Plan Your Trip to Snow Valley
Map of The Snow Valley winter resort near Running Springs
Stay in Running Springs. Giant Oaks Lodge is a budget choice, close to Snow Valley and Snowdrift tubing area. You can also search for more budget hotels in Big Bear or you can stay at my favorite hotel at the base of the San Bernandino Mountains
4. Snowdrift Tubing in Running Springs
Map of the snow tubing area for small children near Running Springs
Driving further down the road, passing through Running Springs and right before the Snow Valley ski resort, you will find a snow tubing area very suitable for small children. It is right by the main road and very accessible. There are many short and steep slopes separated by stairs. Looks like a fun place where little children can enjoy the snow in Southern California.
Plan Your Trip to Snowdrift
Stay in the mountains. Giant Oaks Lodge is a budget choice in Running Springs, close to both Snowdrift tubing area and Snow Valley resort. A bit further, the other direction, Lake Arrowhead is also a great location where we like to stay. You can find budget hotels in Lake Arrowhead here.
5. Running Springs Snow Play
Beautiful unmaintained and free Snow Play area in Running Springs
While Running Springs rarely has snow, when it does, your kids can enjoy the snow in a small unmaintained snow play area. This very nice snow play area is located right across the street from the hardware store in Running Springs. It is free and has a few really nice slopes. As you enter the central area of Running Springs coming from the 330 highway it comes very fast on your right. As mentioned before, this area however, is suitable for snow play right after a large snow storm, as Running Springs has lower elevation than Big Bear Lake.
A note of caution: Look for any No Trespassing signs that might have been added.
Map showing the free Running Springs snow play area
6. Wrightwood Near Mountain High
Map of Snow Play areas near Mountain High ski resort
Wrightwood is home to the very popular winter resort of Mountain High. However, instead of trying to park at the Mountain High resort’s parking lot just keep going up the road on Angeles Crest Highway. As soon as the road starts going up try to find a parking spot on the right side of the road.
Make sure you purchase a wilderness pass…otherwise you will get a ticket. There are no signs warning about the pass so you just have to know. You can find a wilderness pass at nearby gas stations or stores.
We were very fortunate because a good citizen gave us his pass when he was leaving…otherwise we would have not known.
Once parked, cross the street and find some place on the hill where your children can play in snow…well assuming there is still snow. Most likely you will see other people playing in the snow.
Plan Your Trip to Wrightwood
When you are planning your visit to the Wrightwood area and need to spend the night here is my favorite budget hotel in nearby Cajon Pass. You can also look for budget places right in Wrightwood.
If you’re looking for something more developed for snow play, Mountain High recently developed the Yeti Snow Park which looks good even though it’s pretty expensive at $20 per person per day.
7. Snow Play Around Frazier Park/Mount Pinos Area
Small children enjoying snow in Southern California near Mt Pinos
See my photos from Frazier Park
Getting to Mt Pinos area, take the I 5 freeway going North, past the city of Santa Clarita and exit the freeway following the signs that point to Frazier Park.
Follow the road and pass through the village of Frazier Park in Cuddy Valley and keep going up the hill. The road will become steep but keep going until you reach the end of the road at Chula Vista Campground or a bit lower at Mount Pinos Campground. These areas have adequate parking and have good hills for snow play.
Once you reach the snow on the road to Mount Pinos you can stop around the state campground areas and have your kids play in the snow on one of the hills. There are no official or organized snow play areas. It is up to you to park legally and find a snow area you like. Make sure also the your car displays an adventure pass which you can purchase from the gas station in town.
In my opinion, the best snow play areas are at the end of Mount Pinos Road near the Chula Vista Campground and a bit lower at Mount Pinos Campground.
From Frazier Park just take the road towards Mount Pinos and go as far up as you can, or until you find a good patch of snow by the side of the road. Just park get your kids out of the car, give them a sled and let them have fun.
Plan Your Trip to Mt Pinos
Map of the snow play areas around Mount Pinos and Frazier Park areas
While Mt. Pinos is a beautiful unmaintained snow play area for kids, you must be aware that in Frazier Park there are no official snow play areas. In fact, most areas where people simply pull on the side of the road for snow, are private property and the owners might get really upset with city people that just come and leave all kinds of trash in the area. So, aim for Mt Pinos when looking for snow play in the Frazier Park area.
Before heading out to Frazier Park area check Frazier Park current snow conditions, and make sure the road to Mount Pinos is open. You can also read more details about 3 Snow Play Areas near Frazier Park/Mt. Pinos.
8. Mount Baldy
Snow Tubing at Mt Baldy
Situated at close to 8000 ft. elevation, Mt Baldy Resort is another quick mountain getaway for experiencing snow in Southern California. Mt. Baldy is great for snow tubing and snow play due to their special tubing section of the resort. The tubing park has snow tubing lanes for sliding and walking with a stopping hill at the bottom. They provide tubes with a hard shell sliding surface for a faster speed and inflated inner tube for a smooth ride. While still on the expensive side, the 3 hours tubing experience, which is more affordable gives you enough time to enjoy the mountains and the tubing experience.
Plan Your Trip to Mt Baldy
Stay in Mt Baldy Area. Try this cozy mountain cottage for a true mountain experience.
Plan Your Trip to Places for Snow in Southern California
The winter resorts at Big Bear are very busy from before Thanksgiving to after the New Year holidays. How busy are tey? It is so busy that the Snow Summit/Bear Mountain lift lines are at least one hour long and there are very few hotel rooms available, especially around the winter school break. So, if you want to find a place to stay in a good location and for a good price around the Big Bear area, you need to book well in advance.
- Find budget hotels in Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead.
- Make sure your kids have some good snow gloves and a water bottle to keep them going.
- Latest road conditions report for Big Bear area
- Palomar Mountain current weather report. You can also check out the Palomar Mountain Snow Play Facebook page for latest updates.
- Julian is another popular snow play area for San Diego residents. It is located at a lower elevation but can still get some snow in the winter. Check out the snow report for Julian, California. You can also find best hotel rates at my favorite B&B in Julian.
- Mount Laguna is another snow play area close to San Diego. Here you can find the latest weather report for Mount Laguna.
Leave a comment and let me know if you know of any other commercial or non-commercial snow play areas in Southern California.