Mid-winter break is just around the corner and there's no shortage of snow in the Sierras. It's not too late to make plans for a family getaway to have fun in the snow. Check out our guide to ski, snowboard and snow play locations for North and South Lake Tahoe.
The Lake Tahoe area has a variety of resorts and ski areas to suit anyone's taste and budget. Here's our guide to places to ski, snowboard, tube, sled, and play in the snow around Tahoe. We're tried to focus on spots that offer not only skiing and snowboarding, but tubing, snow play, and other winter activities, too. If we've omitted your favorite, please let us know.
Make sure you check before you head up to the high country, though, as opening dates are tentative and dependent on snowfall and weather; we've included website links and phone numbers.
North Lake Tahoe
Just a few hours away off Interstate 80, North Lake Tahoe and the Truckee area offer a huge concentration of ski resorts and other destinations for fun in the snow.
Snow, snow, snow—the winter season in the Sierra is off to a fantastic start! While we love the skiing and winter fun at Lake Tahoe, we know that not everyone's a skiier, and sometimes families just want to go up and have some fun in the snow. While many of the Tahoe ski resorts like Northstar, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly have tubing parks, ice skating, and other winter non-skiing activities for the family, there are plenty of other places in the mountains where you can get your snow play fix without the ski resort hustle and bustle (and price tag).
Most of these snow play sites are within a few hours' drive from Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. While some have tubes and sleds to rent, others, most notably the California State Sno-Parks, offer little more than a place to park your car so you can go play in the snow. For a list of Lake Tahoe ski resorts that offer both skiing and snow play activities, read our article here.
With more snow moving into the Sierras, it's time to start thinking about winter sports family fun in the mountains. While downhill skiing and snowboarding are synonymous with snow sports to many people, cross country skiing is a fun and low-key alternative to the lift lines. Cross country skiing is fun, easy to learn, and requires a minimum of equipment. Dress in warm active clothing, put on your boots and skis, grab your poles, and you're good to go!
We tried out cross country last winter, and had a great time. My kids picked it up right away—after 20 minutes on the practice loop they were off and hitting the trails. The whole family can join in, too—you can even get a jogging stroller on skis and pull your little one along, and many cross country trails allow dogs, too. An added bonus: cross country skiing is one of the best aerobic exercise activities you can do. It's a great way to get active and enjoy the beauty of the mountains in winter.
Lake Tahoe is without question one of California's classic family vacation destinations year-round. While a lot of people think of it in terms of winter sports, we think it has a special charm in the summer.
One of our favorite places to stay and play lakeside is in and around the lovely north Lake Tahoe town of Tahoe City. You can hike, bike, boat, kayak, swim, raft, or just relax amidst the towering pines and crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River.
Lake Tahoe is one of California's premier vacation destinations and for us, there's no place that showcases the area's natural beauty more than Emerald Bay. Located off Highway 89 about 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay offers stunning views and outdoor activities for the whole family, including hiking, swimming, kayaking, and more.
The focus point of Emerald Bay State Park is centered on the area around Vikingsholm, a Scandanvian-style mansion built back in the 1920s. To get there, park in the lot and then, after taking in the view at the scenic overlook, hike down to the beach. The hike is about one mile with a 500-foot elevation change; while the trip down is easy, the hike back can be a bit of a challenge. We saw plenty of families with small kids tackling it, though, and it's not that tough if you take it in stages.
While spring seems to be here in full force, there's still plenty of snow this season up in the mountains. In fact, they're expected to get another dusting of snow up in the Lake Tahoe area today. This means that there's still time to pack up the family and head to the Sierra for some fun in the snow. We recently visited the new Alder Creek Adventure Center at Tahoe Donner and had a blast trying out the wide variety of snow sports activities available there. It's an amazing destination for some active family adventures!
The spectacular new Alder Creek Adventure Center opened back in November, and serves as the headquarters for cross country skiing at Tahoe Donner. There you'll find over 100 kilometers of groomed cross country ski trails, a lovely lodge building with a lounge, restaurant, locker rooms, shop, rental center, and patio, and the opportunity to try out some other fun snow sports besides cross country skiing. It's a beautiful location and a great place to try out some snow sports activities away from the fast pace of Tahoe's downhill ski resorts.
Are you and your family ready to hit the slopes this winter? Thanks to last week's early season storm (and of course the snowmaking machines), our favorite Tahoe ski destination, Northstar California Resort will open early this year.
The ski and snow fun start this Wednesday, November 14. Four lifts will be open, as well as a beginner magic carpet lift for new skiers and riders. Ski school, on-mountain dining, and Northstar's 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink will also be open starting Wednesday, and of course all the dining and shopping in the Village, too.
Learn more about what Northstar has to offer for familes in our article here. We're looking forward to heading back up later on in the season, toasting some marshmallows for s'mores at one of Northstar's fire pits, and meeting Marsh Mellow, the Northstar marketing wonder dog (pictured here—my daughter's obsessed with him).
Note: This is the first of two articles on our experience this February at Northstar California Resort near Lake Tahoe. The second installment is here.
While it's true that we've been having an unusally dry winter in Calfornia, it's a myth that there's no snow up in the mountains. We spent last weekend at Northstar California, Tahoe's family-friendly ski resort, and they've been busy making their own snow to augment the stuff that's fallen naturally. As a result, the vast majority of their trails and lifts are open, and it's a great time to visit and hit the slopes with the family.
We've been discussing taking a trip up to the mountains for a while, so the kids were really excited to play in the snow and take ski lessons. The fantastic weather, the wide range of family activities and amentities, the magical atmosphere on the mountain and in the Village, and the amazingly friendly and warm Northstar staff all made for a memorable weekend.