As rain sets into the forecast, the higher elevations in Calaveras County are calling for snow. In the coming weeks, the high Sierra should be packed with glorious white snowfall during a winter the Farmers’ Almanac predicts to be intense. Instead of shying away from below-freezing temperatures, gear up for winter fun – from snow sports to leisurely activities best enjoyed in the cold – with our guide to the best eight ways to enjoy snow in (and around) Calaveras County.
Ski and ride
As soon as winter hits, avid skiers and snowboarders clamor to their favorite Tahoe resorts to hit the slopes. Within the Mother Lode, however, there are four destinations catering to locals looking to ski the Sierra Nevada: Bear Valley (which has 67 runs), Badger Pass at Yosemite, Dodge Ridge and Leland Meadows. Elevations are high, coming in between 6,000-9,000 feet.
Cross country skiing
Many of the local ski resorts offer cross-country ski trails (Badger Pass has more than 100 miles of marked cross country terrain). But instead of setting off to a downhill ski resort, you could also strap on a pair of cross-country bindings and head for the forest. It’s easy to foray into the winter landscapes of nearby Arnold and Murphys without committing to a full day on the slopes, or venture into the Stanislaus National Forest or Calaveras Big Trees State Park for groomed (and ungroomed) trails. If you need rentals, or lessons, Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Co. offers both.
Local resorts again are good spots for snow tubing at giant Sno-Parks that cater to the whole family. Or, you could roar down a hill in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. But be warned. These slopes are best suited for younger sledders; thrill seekers might not catch much air on the way down. Spicer Sno-Park, Round Valley and Lake Alpine are all valuable options for tubers of all ages.
Or, find your own stop. Less than 10 miles outside of Camp Connell, a small parking lot near Forest Road 6N45 is ideal for a quick hop out of the car for some fun – and it makes a good stopping point on your way to the bigger resorts if you just need to get the wiggles out. (Be careful parking along the highway without a Sno-Park Pass; you could be ticketed. Purchase season- or daylong passes at ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1233.)
If you like to hike, snowshoeing may be the perfect winter activity for you! Calaveras Big Trees is again one of the best places for this activity, with towering sequoias leading the way through the forest. Beyond the sequoia groves, Bear Valley is home to well-groomed trails that make the sport easily accessible for beginners. Or slip onto a hiking trail (but be careful, not all are safe during winter) in the Stanislaus National Forest.
Who says you have to put away your bicycle in winter? Even in the snow fat bikes make off-roading possible for those who like to get around on two wheels. The oversized tires help grip unstable terrain, including snow, while low pressure requirements lessen the likelihood of getting a flat. Take to local bike trails to enjoy a fat bike ride. Not ready to invest? Rent a fat bike at Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Co.
Unless you have your own, there is only one place to enjoy snowmobiling in Calaveras. Like many winter sports, Bear Valley is responsible for bringing this winter recreation to the area as the only company that can rent and patrol snowmobiles in the Highway 4 corridor. Tours are self-guided throughout Lake Alpine and Spicer Sno-Parks. There is one catch though; there must be a minimum of two snowmobiles rented at any time to ensure safety.
Walk around/sip hot cocoa
Sometimes enjoying the snow simply means being out and about in it. Murphys is one of the best towns in Calaveras for exploring during snowfall, and if we’re lucky, the town will get a few inches during its annual Holiday Open House. Scheduled the first weekend in December, the weekend kicks off with holiday shopping and hot cocoa sipping downtown. Those meandering through the streets will enjoy coca, cider and special treats, while shops stay open late. Plus, keep an eye out for Santa. The next day the wineries get in on the fun with special wine pairings, live music, carolers and more.
Enjoy the view
Stay out of the cold while still enjoying the magic of winter. Several spots throughout Arnold and the rest of Calaveras County proffer gorgeous views throughout winter, and with indoor spots you can view from. Rent a cabin, get a hotel room or cozy up in a local business such as the Tamarack Lodge or Dorrington’s Lube Room Saloon, where you can enjoy a warm cocktail as you watch.