Error message

Lingotek profile ID 4 not found.
California Backcountry Snow Adventures VC_CTWW_BackcountryAdventures_Stock_RM_605909335_1280x640
Stephanie Hager/Getty Images

California Backcountry Snow Adventures

California Backcountry Snow Adventures
Try these creative winter adventure options away from the slopes

Snowboarding and skiing aren’t the only ways to play in California’s mountain wonderland, where sunny days and varied terrain make for a variety of snowy adventures off the slopes. Whether you are a skier or boarder, consider swapping your downhill gear and changing up your winter game this season—with some cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, or even snowbiking.

Head to Yosemite National Park, for instance, to slide and glide 10.5 miles on cross-country skis to Glacier Point’s famous vista, where majestic granite peaks and domes stand in snow-capped glory. Need more incentive? The Glacier Point Ski Hut offers gourmet food and wine, a bone-warming wood stove, and cozy bunk beds. The building serves as a snack stand in summer, but in winter it’s furnished with 20 bunk beds, indoor bathrooms, a dining room, and comfy sofas for lounging. Experienced cross-country skiers can easily make the trip solo, but if you’re new to the sport, sign up for a guided tour.

While in Yosemite, practice your figure-eights and camel spins on the groomed ice of Yosemite Valley’s outdoor Curry Village Ice Skating Rink (formerly known as Half Dome Village). If you can’t nail that flawless triple axel, head for the warming hut fire pit and sip a hot toddy.

Across the High Sierra in Lake Tahoe, the hottest snow toy is the snowbike (aka “fat bike”), a burly two-wheeler with four-inch-wide tires that can carve turns on just about anything, including hardpack snow. At Donner Summit, you can bomb downhill (and huff uphill) on specially groomed snow-biking trails. On days when the wind makes biking too much work, choose air power over pedal power. At Donner Summit’s Sierra Snowkite Center, glide over the snow with your feet on skis or a snowboard and your arms hitched to a kite soaring 70 feet in the air. Take a lesson in the consistent wind and level terrain at Van Norden Meadow, and before long you’ll earn the skills to snowkite uphill, jump off a cornice, and stick a perfect landing.  

For one of the few heli-skiing experiences in California, stay at Hideout Lodge in Kirkwood, where experienced mountain guides take guests on heli-assisted ski and splitboard tours into the Sierra Buttes region. Back at the log-cabin-style lodge, recharge with locavore meals, spa treatments, an outdoor barrel sauna, and an onsite saloon with game room. 

Feel the horsepower of snowmobiles—and a nippy wind on your face—as you zip through the snow.

In Mammoth Lakes, wrangle your tribe for some totally tubular fun at Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play. Snow tubing’s popularity lies in its simplicity: There’s no learning curve. You sit down in a big donut-shaped tube, then barrel down a steep hill. Whether you go head first or feet first, this sport beats the heck out of sledding on garbage can lids. Expect to hit a few whoopdeedoos (snow tubing lingo for bumps) and laugh until your stomach hurts. Ready for another run? Clip your tube to the tow-rope and repeat. 

Rev up the adrenaline on a snowmobile ride through Mammoth’s snow-cloaked meadows and pine forests. Snowmobile Adventures offers both guided and self-guided tours that make the most of each day’s conditions, whether it’s a bluebird powder day or a raging blizzard. Drivers must maintain speeds of 20 miles per hour or less, so even young children can ride. You won’t catch big air or break any land speed records, but you will feel the horsepower of these hefty sleds—and a nippy wind on your face—as you zip through the snow.

Maybe you prefer your winter recreation to be a little less, um, physical. Get lazy, and maybe a bit tipsy, with a ride on Mammoth Mountain’s snowcat machine. This monster-truck-style vehicle, designed for grooming snow, rolls on tracks (not wheels) to an Instagram-worthy vista of the Ritter Range. Your task is twofold—sip sparkling wine in the truck’s heated cab, and admire the alpenglow as the sun sinks behind the jagged Minarets.

In Southern California’s mountains, a chilly winter day becomes an adrenaline-soaked adventure when you soar high above the snow-covered treetops. Sign up for the three-hour Action Zipline Tour, which takes you some 8,400 feet high above Big Bear Village. You’ll begin with a jeep ride to the starting line; then your guides will clip you into a harness to zip along a series of nine consecutive cables that descend the mountain. Expect to hear a lot of whooping and hollering as you reach speeds as high as 40 miles per hour.

If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and you can do it anywhere there’s a few inches of snow.

For DIY purists and laid-back adventurers, winter fun can be as simple as strapping on a pair of snowshoes. Needs list: waterproof boots, poles, snowshoes. Experience? Nah. If you can walk, you can snowshoe, and you can do it anywhere there’s a few inches of snow.

For snowshoe rentals, marked trails, and even guided snowshoe walks, head to California’s national parks. At Sequoia and Kings Canyon, rent snowshoes at Wuksachi Lodge or Grant Grove and shuffle your way through the snowy silent Sequoia groves. In Yosemite, rent snowshoes at Badger Pass Ski Area, and follow the trail to Dewey Point, where you can look down at Yosemite Valley 4,000 feet below. And in Lassen Volcanic National Park, sign up for a guided snowshoe walk around Manzanita Lake. Rangers loan snowshoes for free, or bring your own.

— Ann Marie Brown

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VCW_D_HS_Hero_packtrip_Sunset-TS_1280x642_sized
Thomas H. Story/ Sunset Publishing

Northern California

Discover the High Sierra

Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colors in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.

Yosemite Valley…is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and gold and wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”  --photographer Ansel Adams

Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site, is here, roughly 3½ hours east of San Francisco. Whether you hike a mountain, ski the steeps, or lounge in a hot tub beneath a canopy of stars, you’ll find your perfect getaway. 

Mono Lake
Credit: Deb Snelson/Getty Images

Highway 395 Road Trip

Cruise through mind-boggling beauty on this desert-and-mountain drive

On the Sierra Nevada’s eastern side, U.S. Highway 395 skirts the intersection of arid desert and alpine mountains, their chiseled summits soaring...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VC_LonePine_ST_RF_722224619_1280x640
Room/Getty Images

Lone Pine

Discover the natural beauty and another side of California in a historic Owens Valley small town

Head to Lone Pine to see a different side of California—one that is less connected to...

Find whitewater rafting fun for all—from newbies to nerves-of-steel experts

Think of a river, and chances are you’ve got your own daydream. Maybe you want to float on inner tubes, or maybe your style is to careen through raucous rapids in an eight-person inflatable raft....

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VC_RiverRafting_Preview_Stock_RM_172652806_686x885
Groveb/Getty Images
California Backcountry Snow Adventures VC_Questionnaire_AlexHonnold_ED_29790110_1280x640
John Dickey/


The El Capitan free-solo rock climber explains his love for Yosemite and more California favorites

On June 3, 2017, Honnold became the first person to ever ascend El Capitan, the 3,000-foot granite wall in...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VC_Yosemite.in_.Winter_Stock_RF_GettyImages-562479397
In Yosemite Valley, the Merced River drops over 594-foot Nevada Fall and then 317-foot Vernal Fall, creating what is known as the Giant Staircase.
California Backcountry Snow Adventures IMG_3821[1]
At 14,505 ft. above sea level, Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the contiguous United States.
California Backcountry Snow Adventures VC_Questionnaire_JeremyJones_Mason-Mashon-Photo_California-Day-Dream-LR-177_1280x640
CLIF Bar/Mason Mashon

California Questionnaire: Jeremy Jones

The professional snowboarder’s biggest conundrum is deciding which Sierra Nevada adventure to tackle next

As a pioneer of big mountain snowboarding, professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones has climbed treacherous backcountry peaks all over the world just...

A Wine-Seller's Storefront in Truckee, California
Toni Zernik


California Backcountry Snow Adventures vca_maps_highsierra
This charming mountain town is the central hub for North Shore destinations

Up and over the hill from Lake Tahoe’s north shore, Truckee offers an easy base for an...

family-friendly resorts, snowy escapes

High Sierra peaks, deep drifts on a Mammoth volcano, family-friendly resorts, snowy escapes on the edge of Yosemite and more—California has enough alpine destinations to keep any skier or boarder...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures MammothMountain_1251_preview_686x885
Relax after a day on the slopes

Kicking back after you kick off your boots is a snow-country tradition, and there’s plenty of post-slopes fun at California’s top alpine resorts. Have a beer or warm up with an Irish coffee, dance...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures KTBaseBar_JeffEnegerbretson_SquawValley_preview_686x885
Jeff Enegerbretson
Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.
Ansel Adams

Sierra Adventure

California Backcountry Snow Adventures sierraadventure_stop1_laketahoe_rf_136930569_0

Blue as a topaz and circled by majestic peaks, this High Sierra gem straddling the California-Nevada border is a bucket-list staple, a place where the air is “very pure and is the same the angels breathe,” according to author Mark Twain. Lakefront towns dot the shoreline, each with...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VCW_D_MammothLakes_Hero_Horseback_1280x642_0
Rebecca Garrett

Spotlight: Mammoth Lakes

California Backcountry Snow Adventures vca_maps_highsierra
Discover high-alpine beauty and all-seasons adventure in this laidback mountain enclave

Surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the West, residents of this Eastern Sierra town know they’ve got a good thing going. It’s a place that...

As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.
Mark Twain (recalling his first sighting of Lake Tahoe)
July - August

With a pine-and-peak alpine setting and a relaxed and friendly ambiance, this appealing event in Bear Valley, roughly halfway between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, includes performances by outstanding...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures BearValleyMusic_preview_686x885
Courtesy of Bear Valley Music Festival
California Backcountry Snow Adventures vca_maps_highsierra
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Steve Calderaro

Spotlight: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

California Backcountry Snow Adventures vca_maps_highsierra
Side-by-side national parks celebrate the largest trees on earth, the highest point in the lower 48, and one of North America’s deepest canyons

Famous for their giant sequoias, soaring mountains, deep canyons, and roaring rivers, this tandem set of parks abound with astounding sights, but...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures BassLake_AmyMeredith_flickr_1280x642
Amy Meredith/Flickr

Bass Lake

Visit a mini Tahoe south of Yosemite

Some think of Bass Lake, the pine-trimmed reservoir about a half-hour’s drive south of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance, as a smaller...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VCW_D_HS_T5_Mono Lake_VCL_HS_Mono_Kayakers_KG
Kodiak Greenwood

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Visit bizarre formations, cinder cones, and a super-salty lake

There are few places in California—and maybe on the planet—that can make you think you might just be on Mars. This is one of them. At this high-...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VCW_D_HS_T6_Bodie cars_VCL_HS_Bodie_KG-sized
Kodiak Greenwood


Tour the eerie remnants of a former boomtown

There's something eerily appropriate about bumping down the dusty desert road that winds the final few miles into Bodie State Historic Park. Round...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures Bishop_HighSierra_1280x642_downsized


Explore an outdoorsy adventure town with an artistic side

Bishop brims with outdoor activities. Situated at the north end of the Owens Valley, with close access to some of the Sierra’s most dramatic high...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VCW_D_HS_T7_Tahoe_MtnBike_Farnum
Alex Farnum

Guided Adventures

Learn to climb, join a pack trip, and more

While there are plenty of ways to play on your own in the High Sierra, there’s a whole host of ways to learn a new activity, like how to catch and...

From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures McWayFalls_JPB_SP_preview_686x885
Amy Meredith/Flickr
California Backcountry Snow Adventures High_Sierra_Trees
The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest (by volume) tree in the world.
Gold Rush history, epic high-country landscapes, hidden wine country, and charming country towns

Granite monoliths, waterfalls, alpine meadows—it’s no secret that Yosemite delivery some seriously big wow moments. But what is a secret is the bounty of awesome things you can see and do on your...

California Backcountry Snow Adventures VCW_SI_Hero_HS_Yosemite_UpperFalls_KG_preview_686x885
Kodiak Greenwood
California Backcountry Snow Adventures Manzanar_sized
Courtesy of Mammoth Chambers of Commerce

Manzanar National Historic Site

Learn about a sobering time in U.S. history

During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were moved from their homes throughout the West and brought to internment camps like Manzanar...