Top Family-friendly Picks for Winter Activities

Calaveras County is one of those great winter spots in California where you can have full-on snow fun at higher elevations, or completely avoid it all together at lower elevations.  Of course, there’s those of us who enjoy both, in which case…sledding in the morning, hiking lakeside by afternoon.  Here are some of our favorite family-friendly ways to enjoy winter in Calaveras.

Ski Bear Valley, one of the most family-friendly hills in the west.   This low-key mountain resort on Highway 4 has everything you want from the big resorts, minus the crowds, which means it’s just as easy for the little ones to enjoy themselves as it is the adults.  Not to mention, Sunset Magazine just picked Bear Valley as a “skiing sweet spot” in the December issue.  Bring your family and find out what all the buzz is about.

Snowshoe through giant sequoias at Big Trees State Park…for free.  Every weekend,  Big Trees State Park offers free guided hikes through the North Grove at 1 p.m.  In the winter, when the snow is plentiful, those hikes turn into guided snowshoe treks.  And the best part is that the snowshoes (in adult and kid sizes) are free on a first-come, first-served basis. Entrance to the park is $10 per car.  Oh, and there’s a warming hut for those cold weekend days, complete with hot chocolate provided by Calaveras Big Trees Association.

Tubing at Bear Valley Cross Country. Big kids and little kids alike can’t resist zipping down a hill on a snow tube or sled.  You can do both at Bear Valley Cross Country on several groomed hills ranging from gentle to moderate (ages 3 and up!).  Sled rental is $11 and tube rental is $16.

Find your very own sledding hill in the Stanislaus National Forest.  Already have your own sleds and want to make your sledding day more of an adventure?  Head to the SNO-Parks at Lake Alpine or Spicer Reservoir and find your own hill.  Don’t forget to pick up a parking permit before you go for $5 per day (available at SNAC or Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods in Arnold, as well as at Bear Valley Adventure Company in Bear Valley.)   All that exercise you’ll get hunting for the perfect sledding spot will be rewarded with spectacular views.

Snowshoe the Arnold Rim Trail.  On a good snow year (and we hope that’s this year) you don’t have to drive far to get to the snow and some great snowshoeing. If there’s a good amount of white stuff on the ground in Arnold, you can be sure there’s some good snowshoeing on the Arnold Rim Trail.  Start from the Logging Museum at White Pines Lake where the snow levels are likely higher, or just make a loop around the lake (about 3.5 miles).  Need snowshoes?  Rent them from SNAC in Arnold.

Snowmobiling in the SNO-Parks.  Love the drive over Ebbetts Pass or down to Spicer Reservoir.  Both are accessible via snowmobile in the winter making for a truly unique way to see the spectacular scenery in these areas.  Bear Valley Snowmobile rents by the hour or by the day and offers various options to accommodate families of all sizes, plus “taxi” service to the SNO-Park entrances.

Or, avoid the snow altogether…

Head underground at Mercer or Moaning Caverns.  Open all year, these iconic caverns in Calaveras offer a great way to escape the coldest, dreariest days.  Mercer Cavern, which was discovered more than 125 years ago, offers a 45-minute tour through a quarter mile of its chambers, nearly 200 feet underground.  Moaning Cavern, famous for its chamber that could hold the Statue of Liberty, can keep a family busy for hours with its cave tour, rappelling adventure, zip lining, climbing wall and more.

Hit the trails at New Melones and New Hogan Reservoirs.  While there may be several feet of snow at higher elevations, those that want to avoid the white stuff altogether can find some of the best temps for hiking all year.  Try the Carson Creek Trail at New Melones just outside of Angels Camp or the “River of Skulls” trail at New Hogan Lake (stop by the park office for a trail guide) near Valley Springs.

What’s your favorite family-friendly winter activity in Calaveras?  Chime in below…