If you ventured out into the snow country over the past holiday season, you no doubt saw just how excited we humans were to see the white stuff after four years of scant snowfall. Highway turnouts were packed with vehicles, some chaining up the tires, others just parked for roadside snowmen and selfies, and the sledders were everywhere! It was fun to see, and sometimes a little scary with such proximity to a principal highway, so we thought a little guide to Calaveras’ better places to sled was in order for this month. From roadside slopes to pay-to-play facilities with restrooms and sled rentals, we’ve rounded up a handful of options to help you have a safe and fun snow day next time you venture up.
Big Trees State Park. While its smaller slopes are more suited to smaller sledders, playing in the snow among the giant sequoias is a unique experience for the whole family. And with a little creativity, even the adults will find some fun to be had. The park entrance fee of $10 per vehicle will get you into the North Grove and you are free to explore. The newly renovated Visitor Center has restrooms and a fabulous selection of interpretive displays and cool Calaveras County gifts as well. Be sure to stop by the warming hut for hot chocolate and spiced cider.
Camp Connell. At the east end of Camp Connell is a forestry station and directly across the highway from the entrance is a large turn out and parking area which becomes one of the largest sledding areas when the snow is abundant. You’ll find many gentle slopes to explore, but watch out for trees, and be sure to park against the banks, leaving enough room in the turnout for oncoming highway traffic.
S Turns. About 8.5 miles east of Camp Connell and after the long passing lanes you’ll enter a series of S curves and find a small parking area on the left which is also popular with sledders. It maxes out at five or six cars and is basically a forest access road covered in snow. It’s also a fun area to go for a snowshoe hike and can be a decent option for those who just want to get into the snow and have driven far enough to get there already! Note: we don’t recommend this location on heavy storm days, as the build up of cars can present hazards for snowplows and highway traffic.
Tamarack Lodge. A new offering this season from Tamarack Lodge at Bear Valley provides not only a safe and roomy parking lot, but also use of the lodge’s restrooms, common area with fireplace and hot drinks. For $20, you and your carload can use their sledding hill as well as the aforementioned amenities between 11:00am and 4:00pm. They have a limited number of sleds to borrow, but you’re advised to bring your favorite snow speeder.
Bear Valley Cross Country. Head to Bear Valley Cross Country in Bear Valley village for a choice of sleds or inner tubes for rent on their groomed and maintained sledding hills. For $12 per sledder or $16 per tuber, you’ll get to enjoy their facilities, including multiple sledding runs, picnic tables and seating areas. Note that personal sleds and tubes are not allowed, but they have a good selection of rentals on hand.
Sno-Parks. Sno-Parks are designated parking areas for winter recreation, maintained by the State and Forest Service and require a $5 day pass or $25 season pass for parking. There are three within four miles of Bear Valley: Spicer Reservoir, Round Valley (on Highway 207 to the ski resort) and Lake Alpine, at the closure of Highway 4 just beyond the ski resort turn off. Lake Alpine Sno-Park is a sure bet for long, fast sledding runs that will appeal to those in your group who are seeking adrenaline fueled thrills. All Sno-Parks have non-flush toilets but no other facilities or concession stands so pack a cooler and hot chocolate thermos for your group. Sno-Park permits can be picked up in Bear Valley at Bear Valley Snowmobile and Bear Valley Cross Country, and in Arnold at Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods and Sierra Nevada Adventure Company, or online at the Sno-Park page.
White Pines Lake near Arnold has some nice slopes far from the highway. Just be sure you don’t sled too close to the lake even if it looks completely frozen. Lots of snow in this pretty park means plenty of opportunities for building snowmen and getting your snowball arsenal together for an epic fight.
For you downhill skiers and snowboarders, this is the season for Bear Valley Mountain resort, with over 1,600 acres of terrain and 1,900 vertical feet. If you fancy a motorized tour of the gorgeous Ebbetts Pass area in winter, head to Bear Valley Snowmobile, where you can rent snowmobiles for the day and explore the alpine world beyond Bear Valley!
Wherever you choose to sled, please remember that the Stanislaus National Forest and surrounding areas are home to many species of wild birds and animals that can be seriously harmed by any trash you leave behind. Please pick up after yourself and your family, dress warmly, be safe and have a wonderful time!