Not all buffets are the same. Some are filled with basic staples like potato salad, chicken, and mostaccioli. Then there are the legendary ones – Alaskan King Crab, Filet Mignon, and made to order crepes. California’s High Sierra during Jack Frost’s reign is like a luxurious Las Vegas smorgasbord. Here are 10 things to do in California in winter.

How Sierra Provides All-Season Fun

The Sierra Nevada’s abrupt rise from almost sea level to thirteen thousand feet creates a quick change in climate as you ascend. This gives visitors and locals alike access to all four seasons of fun for things to do in California in winter. You just have to pick the elevation. If you want to go for a hike or mountain bike mid-winter, just stay lower. Snow play? Head higher.

Take A Hike

Great Winter Hikes In The High Sierra

Hetch Hetchy Winter Hiking in Tuolumne County and the High Sierra
Image appears courtesy – Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau

In the summer, the lower elevations of the Sierra can get quite toasty, but in the winter, it’s where you want to head for those summer-like activities such as hiking. This is THE time to head to places like Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park. Go for a stroll on the banks of the Owens River or even cast a line (yes, you can fish all winter long)!

Explore Nature Via Snowshoes

Snowshoe Hikes In The High Sierra

high sierra snowshoeing obsidian dome
Image appears courtesy: Mono County Economic Development, Tourism and Film Commission – Photo by: Local Freshies


On the flipside of the hiking coin, you’ll find snowshoeing. Strapping on a pair of these will allow you to enjoy a winter wonderland in the upper elevations. Relish in some tranquility amongst the Giant Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park or even in the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park. Take in snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, and frosted pine trees on your way to one of the most spectacular views in the High Sierra in winter – the Minaret Vista.

Let Gravity Do The Work & Go Downhill Skiing

Hidden High Sierra Ski Areas You May Not Know

Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite National Park
Photo by: Trey Clark – Image appears courtesy: Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau

The Sierra Nevada is also home to more than twenty world class and cozy ski areas to enjoy the bounty of snow that falls every winter. Ski enthusiasts can test their mettle on the steep fall-line trails in places like Kirkwood Mountain, Mammoth Mountain, or Palisades Tahoe. While first-timers will find elbow room and a more relaxed atmosphere at resorts like June Mountain on the picturesque June Lake Loop or Badger Pass up in Yosemite National Park.

Snowballs and Sledding

Snow Play Areas In The High Sierra

kids playing in snow in Lake Tahoe making snowman
Photo by: Rachid Dahnoun – Image appears courtesy: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority

Snow. Is. Fun. Build it into things like a snowman or a snow castle. Kids can stomp around like miniature Godzillas. Slide on it via a sled or a tube. Heck, you can even have an old-fashioned snowball fight. With that being said, nearly 20,000 kids get injured every year because areas aren’t cleared of obstacles. To ensure you have a great time and reduce the risks, we suggest visiting a designated snow-play area to provide a safe environment. This includes places like Adventure Mountain on Echo Summit or Tahoe Donner just outside the historic town of Truckee.

Pack it in – Pack it out:

If you do go out for some snow-play, keep our slopes clean by picking up trash and taking home broken sleds. In fact, we don’t encourage using plastic sleds because they break so easily. And when plastic enters the surrounding environment, it can impact wildlife and potentially our drinking water.

Rock N’ Climb

bouldering in Bishop California on a warm winter day
Photo by: Christopher Beauchamp – Image appears courtesy: Bishop Visitor Center

Things to do in California in winter especially in the High Sierra doesn’t have to include snowy fun. In fact, this season is home to some of the best times to do activities like rock climbing. How so? Around January, Old Man Winter takes a well-deserved break leading to plenty of sunshine and even warm temps, nicknamed “Juneuary.” In the Eastern Sierra, this is when you want to send it and go bouldering in the legendary Buttermilks. Even on the granite walls of Yosemite you can find plenty of problems to solve at the lower elevations in places like Arch Rock or Cookie Cliff.

Visit A Park

Best California States Parks In California’s High Sierra

Calaveras Big Trees State Park in snow
Image appears courtesy: Calaveras Visitors Bureau

The cooler temperatures and snowy landscapes up high means you’ll have to prepare a bit differently for a visit. Bring extra clothing and check to make sure that certain passes aren’t closed for the season. The benefit though is that the popular trails such as Yosemite Valley or the Big Trees Trail in national and state parks turn into tranquil sanctuaries. It also introduces new and exciting activities like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to attractions like Dewey Point in Yosemite National Park or even winter phenomena such as ravens snow bathing.

Try Fat Biking

The Sierra Nevada’s climate typically condenses the wintry storm activity to last for a few days or up to a week. But once it clears, expect weeks of sunshine. More than 300 days of it annually. This translates to one of the best places for you to try a new trendy sport – fat biking. Named for their monster truck like tires, they allow you to ride in places that you wouldn’t think you could. Places like sandy beaches and you guessed it – snow! If you’re near Lake Tahoe resorts like Northstar and Tahoe Donner, you can rent them to try it out or even Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Company in Alpine County.

Cross-Country Skiing

Be Your Own Locomotive – Where To Enjoy Cross Country Skiing In The High Sierra

cross country skiers at sunrise at Glacier Point
Image appears courtesy: Visit Yosemite | Madera County – photo by: Local Freshies

Similar to skinny jeans, cross-country skiing may have been out of fashion for a few years, but it’s now as popular as ever. And rightly so. You burn plenty of calories. It works out nearly every major muscle in your body. And most of all, it gets you away from the crowds and into nature. This should be on the top of your list of things to do in California in winter this year. These skinny skis allow you to schuss alongside the shore of Tahoe at Camp Richardson. Veterans can attempt the 21-mile trek to be one of the few that takes in the views from Glacier Point in Yosemite during the snowy months.


Where To BRRRAPPPP! Your Way To Winter Fun

snowmobile tours north Lake Tahoe snowing
Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe Tourism Bureau

If the idea of that much physical exertion puts you off, another way to explore the great snowy outdoors in California during winter is on the back of a snowmobile. If you can drive a car, you can navigate a snowmobile! Take a guided tour with Zephyr Cove Snowmobile center to see the “million-dollar” view of Lake Tahoe that few others get to enjoy. Explore the vast backcountry surrounding Truckee that encompasses 650 square miles via one of the many outfitters. In fact, over 200 miles of trails are groomed check out Visit Truckee-Tahoe’s Grooming Update page for the latest report.

Ice Skating

Skating Rinks To Enjoy

ice skating rink at Curry Village
Image appears courtesy: Visit Yosemite | Madera County – photo by: Local Freshies

Things to do in California in winter always includes two words: world class and that’s especially true when you consider ice skating rinks. Within the Sierra Nevada, you’ll find one of America’s most iconic venues to go ice skating – Curry Village. Started in 1928, this annual tradition offers up a great sheet of ice as well as spectacular views of Half Dome and Glacier Point.

As you can see from our list of fun things to do in California in Winter, the High Sierra isn’t just a good place to visit during the colder months – it’s one of the best! From warm weather hijinks such as hiking or rock climbing to frolicking in snow-filled meadows, you’ll find what you’re looking for and much more!

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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