The pleasantly off-the-grid winter destination of Bear Valley feels—and looks—like a secret escape in the middle of rugged alpine wilderness. With its laid-back, family-friendly vibe, the low-key mountain town, located roughly halfway between Lake Tahoe to the north and Yosemite National Park to the south, has a comfortably retro feel; it’s the kind of place that might bring to mind your own favorite childhood vacations. As for skiing and boarding, Bear Valley Mountain Resorts has 9 lifts, 75 trails, and nearly 1,700 acres of skiable terrain. Trails range from easy groomers to the challenges of Grizzly Bowl, so everyone can find places to play. Snowmaking keeps things skiable in drier years.
In snowy winters, Highway 4, also known as Ebbetts Pass and a designated National Scenic Byway, closes just east of Bear Valley. Though vehicles can’t cross the mountains here, the snow-covered highway turns into an easy-to-follow route for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Rent gear in town, then follow the road to views of craggy mountains and hushed forests. For more trails, visit Bear Valley Adventure Company, with groomed trails for track and skate skiing, 4 trailside huts and the Meadow Café, plus picnic tables for when the weather obliges, all dotting some 3,000 acres of varied terrain. There’s also a gentle slope where you can practice your downhill technique on Nordic gear. (Don’t worry—it gets easier with practice.) There are also sledding and tubing hills, and fat-tire snow bikes for a new twist on winter fun.
Insider tip: Come back in summer, when there’s also plenty going on: Music lovers flock to the annual Bear Valley Music Festival, which features a full orchestra and an array of popular acts, and Bear Valley Adventure Company offers such warmer weather activities as kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, cycling, and more.