The Sierra Nevada receives A LOT of snow during the cold months. But even in the snowiest winters, there are long periods of time in between the storms. These stretches of time feature weeks of sunshine where the sky is impossibly blue, and the weather is calm. You literally can do ANYTHING from summer fun to winter outings. If you’re looking for a day off from the slopes, these things to do in Sierra Nevada in winter besides skiing are perfect for you.

Take A Cruise

Fannette Island On Lake Tahoe In the High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority – Photo by: Rachid Dahnoun

With Tahoe receiving it’s 500 inches of snow statistically on just 50 days per season, sometimes you have to wait for the first big storm to turn our landscape into a winter wonderland. But don’t fret! There’s a wealth of off-the-snow activities awaiting your enjoyment, like embarking on a cruise. Unlike many places, Lake Tahoe remains ice-free throughout winter. The dependable M.S. Dixie II sets off from Zephyr Cove, gliding past scenic spots such as Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, and the iconic Vikingsholm Castle—one of the quintessential things all first-timers should do. For more ideas on snow-free fun, explore Visit Lake Tahoe’s article: What to do in Tahoe While Waiting for Snow.

Go For A Paddle

Standup Paddleboarding in Spring next to Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe
Photo by: Ryan Salm Photography – Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe Chamber

Skiing and snowboarding is all about using those legs, so any day off activity should rest those muscles. What better option than go picturesque paddle on the lake? How many wintry places can you shove off on a kayak or standup paddleboard during winter surrounded by snow? The only place we can think of is Lake Tahoe. Sure, the air temp maybe in the 40’s but it’ll feel warmer with the sun shining down on the water. And during the spring, you’ll have the water pretty much to yourself.

Cast Off Into Some Great Fishing

Although the typical alpine lake fishing season spans from April through mid-November, Caples Lake offers anglers a year-round fishing opportunity. Positioned at 7,800 feet and conveniently located off Highway 88, it does freeze entirely during winter. Named after James ‘Doc’ Caples, an Ohio emigrant who played a role in crafting the CA State Constitution in 1849. The optimal time to relish this lake is early winter when its water level is low, and the freeze hasn’t taken over completely. Abounding with rainbow, brown, and mackinaw trout, these waters offer exciting angling experiences. After your fishing adventure, unwind at Grover Hot Springs State Park near Markleeville with a relaxing soak in their natural hot springs pool.

Hop On Board A Snowcat

Image Appears courtesy: Mammoth Mountain

For those schussing the 3,500 acres of Mammoth Mountain, you can get tired pretty quickly especially since the town sits at 7,900’ above sea level. There are many winter activity alternatives in the Mammoth Lakes Area, but one of our personal favorites is the snowcat tour to Minaret Vista. If you’ve ever seen the machines grooming the mountain, that’s what a snowcat is… except this one has a heated cabin on the back. Think of it as a bus-style tank for snow. The luxury ride includes scenic views of the legendary Minarets AND some awesome snacks.

Stroll Historic Downtown Truckee

Truckee Hotel Historic Lodges In The High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Truckee Chamber of Commerce

Established in 1868 as a railroad community, it linked the legendary transcontinental railroad through California to the eastern part of the United States. Since then, this quaint town has kept its charm and provides visitors the perfect place to stroll. The historic downtown Truckee area is filled with beautiful brick buildings featuring amazing restaurants like the Squeeze In, unique shops, art galleries, and even a fun train museum that kids would enjoy. For more winter activities in and around Truckee that aren’t related to skiing check out Truckee’s article “Fun Winter Activities in Truckee.”

Enjoy Mother Nature’s Winter Show In Yosemite

Winter In The High Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Visit Yosemite-Madera

There’s a reason why many of Ansel Adam’s most famous pictures are taken in the winter. The iconic granite peaks dusted in alabaster white snow create breathtaking vistas. Many of the waterfalls thrive on snowmelt, making them ephemeral spectacles. A good example of the transient beauty is the Horsetail Fall. Flowing only at certain times and usually for brief periods. Then there are the natural attractions that only happen in winter like the snow cone at the upper Yosemite Fall. Begin your journey by following the same footsteps as the famous photographer once took and take in the four most Instagrammable locations in winter.

Ice, Ice Baby As In Ice Climbing

ice climbing in the Eastern Sierra
Image appears courtesy: Visit Mammoth

While the High Sierra is renowned for rock climbing in places like Yosemite and bouldering in Bishop, there’s another discipline often overlooked — ice climbing. In the Eastern Sierra, three main areas cater to this pursuit: the revered routes along the June Lake Loop, Lee Vining Canyon, and Lundy Canyon. All three locations are easily accessible and boast consistent ice formations, offering some of the most captivating winter climbing experiences.

Unlike waiting for a storm, achieving the perfect day for ice climbing depends on ideal weather conditions. For those keen on starting, we recommend a two-day lesson with either Sierra Mountain Center or Sierra Mountain Guides to get acquainted with the fundamentals and safety measures.

Go Wine Tasting

Interior of Inner Sanctum Winery Tasting Room in Tuolumne County California
Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne County

One of our favorite hidden gems in the High Sierra for skiing is Dodge Ridge. Featuring relaxed vibes, easy to navigate slopes, and acclaimed ski/snowboard lessons for all ages, it’s the perfect spot to learn to ski or snowboard. And after you’ve caught the winter wave, why not celebrate a job well done by going on a wine tasting tour. This time of year is your chance to taste the winter varietals at Inner Sanctum CellarsGianelli Vineyards, and Hurst Ranch tasting rooms.

As you can see, regardless of what winter throws at the High Sierra or if you just need a break from skiing/snowboarding, there’s a lot to do in the Sierra Nevada in winter that doesn’t require snow.

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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