Ever since we moved to LA we have heard people say that you can go from “the beach to snow in one day”. I never really understood how that was possible, thinking only of weekend trips to Big Bear as a snow option. But, after our first visit to Mt Baldy yesterday I can see how people could do it. If you are looking for snow play close to Los Angeles, there are several great options.
Angeles National Forest
One of the closest options for snow play is in the Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains. We look out at these mountains every day from our living room windows, and wanted to find out what all the fuss was about! It’s perfect!
This is my go to recommendation for anyone who is interested in just letting the kids run around and play in some snow. This is also great for the parents who are not interested in driving on snowy roads, dealing with a long car ride or paying for anything other than your parking pass. Less than an hour and 20 miles from our house in eastern LA you can be transported to a winter wonderland. Drive through low hanging clouds to appear on the other side of the mountain in sunny snowy forest. Keep an eye on the weather and head up after snow falls for the best snow play. Spend the day frolicking in powdery snow, building snowmen and making snow angels.
You can go as far as you feel comfortable. Signs said “Snow Chains Required” but no one had them on and for the most part the roads were clear. Put in Chilao Visitor Center or Buckhorn Campground into your GPS and head on out. You will see tons of snow on the side of the road as you get higher into the mountains, so feel free to stop where you want. We found a great gentle hiking trail that was deserted and covered in fresh snow. The little one had fun making his own sledding routes, making a snowman and hiking in the snow.
– Buy your Adventure Pass before you enter the park or at the Visitor Stand before Switzer Falls. The pass is $5 for the day or $30 for a year (or even better, $35 for two cars for a year). Cash only.
– Take snow chains if you have them, or just stop before you get too far into the icy/snowy roads.
– Take snacks, lunch and plenty of drinks as there is only one place to purchase any food and it’s always packed!
– Bring a variety of winter gear as the weather can change quickly.
– Fill up before you head into the mountains as there are no service stations once you leave La Canada/Flintridge.
Mt. Baldy is one of the closest spots to Los Angeles to play in snow. Often during the winter months, the sides of the mountain are filled with snow, so it is easy to drive up, hop out and play until you are frozen!
If you are interested in snow tubing, this is also available at Mt Baldy. Check on Living Social and Groupon as they often have deals available throughout the winter season for reduced ski lift tickets and tubing at Mt Baldy (and at the other tubing parks in the LA area). To get to the tubing location, take the ski lift up the mountain where there is a restaurant and the tubing park. Tubing rates are for 90 minutes, so make sure you have eaten, gone to the bathroom and anything else you need so you can take full advantage of your time on the mountain.
Mt. Baldy is super easy to reach from the east side of LA. From Silverlake it took 1 hr 20 minutes with quite a bit of traffic on the mountainside. Take the 210E towards/past Pasadena. Exit Baseline Road and take a left. Take a right at Padua Street. Then turn right on Mt. Baldy Road heading up the mountain. Stop whenever you want or continue all the way up towards the ski lifts where there are port-a-potties if you need them. We liked the area by the ski lift and the area by the campground. (Tip: Go early to miss late afternoon traffic coming up the mountain.)
Mt Baldy is also in the Angeles National Forest and requires an Adventure Pass for parking. These can be purchased in advance before reaching the mountain or once you pass through Mt Baldy Village. The pass is $5 for the day or $30 for a year (or even better, $35 for two cars for a year). Several shops in the village sell the pass. No shops or stations to purchase the pass are in the mountain past the Trout pond.
A bit further afield is Mt High’s North Pole Tubing Park in Wrightwood. It is just behind the mountains from Mt. Baldy, so about 1 hr 30 min with no traffic. The tubing park here is walk on, so no scary lift’s required! Tubing tickets are either in 2 hour increments ($20) or for the full day ($35). Children under 36 inches are not allowed to enter the tubing area. Children between 36 inches and 42 inches must ride with a parent on the inner tubes. This park has a moving carpet which makes getting back up the hill after each run so much easier! We went, but were not able to get tickets to the tubing park because it sells out early. If you go, you have to get there well before 10 a.m. If you have bad luck like we did, check out what else you can do in the area here.
Since we didn’t make it all the way up into the ‘park’, I am not certain if parking is included or extra. Also as with other tubing parks, food options are limited, so bring as much as you can to keep the little bellies full.
Running Springs & Big Bear
If you feel like heading further up the mountain or the snow hasn’t made it down to the lower elevations, there are several other options. Just outside of Running Springs is the Snow Drift Tubing Park. It has three levels of hills available for you to tube, which means everyone in the family can find their own level of speed. The biggest negative is that is that there are only stairs leading you up and down the hills. The kids will be exhausted by the end of the day, trust me, which might just turn that negative to a positive! Snow Drift is $15 per person, per hour, cash only. This is a touch more expensive than other options since it is by the hour.
Head a little further up the mountain to Big Bear and you have two other snow tubing parks that can also be visited during a day trip. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain and Big Bear Snow Play are the go to parks in the town. Both parks have snow tubing as well as other activities (go karts, video games and Alpine has the toboggan sled track). Both parks are $30 per person for unlimited rides throughout the day (6 and under free). Cash only, so come prepared or use their on site ATMs. Both of these parks also have the magic carpet ride that carries visitors back up the hill after each run. This is worth the admission price itself! Alpine Slide also has a small bunny hill on the far left where small kids will enjoy going up and down the tiny hill on their own. Don’t go there first though as you may never get them off it!
To go to Running Springs/Big Bear, continue on 210E until you see the exit for Big Bear. Everything is clearly signposted from this point. You will see Snow Drift on your right after you pass the turn off for Running Springs town.
While we have never needed them, I would definitely recommend getting snow chains if you are going during a wintery storm. So far the roads have always been clear for us, but you just never know! They do sell chains once you get up to Running Springs area and probably as well in San Bernardino before you head into the mountains.
What to Bring
Layers! The weather is less predictable in the mountains. Even if it’s warm out, it can get cold in the snow and in the shade. Bring waterproof boots, gloves and pants for the kiddos if you can. Must haves for sure are hats, sunglasses and thick coats with layers underneath. If you want to attempt un-sanctioned off course sledding, buy a sled before arriving (Although they are available in the village at Mt Baldy and Big Bear). The cheap $10 sleds won’t last long on the rocky terrain unless there is a thick pack of snow. Bring some duct tape if you want to keep repairing it to last throughout the day.
If you do not have water proof clothes, head to Big Bear where you can rent pants, snow bibs for kids and buy cheap snow boots at a variety of shops. We had good luck with Leroy’s just past Alpine Slide. It gets packed, so plan to be there for at least an hour!
There are few options for eating in the mountains. More options are available in Big Bear and Wrightwood. To have the most flexibility in spending time in the mountains, bring snacks and a picnic lunch. At the ski lifts there is a soda machine and a few snacks inside the lift ticket office.
At the other snow tubing parks, food is also limited. There is a small cafe at Alpine Slide, but it’s not great and it’s expensive. Best bet is to bring plenty of your own food so you don’t have to waste time waiting in long lines for mediocre food. Stop off in town for a home cooked meal before heading back down the mountain.
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