It’s been a wonderfully wet winter here in Southern California and from all over the South Bay, you and your kids, can see the stunning snow-capped mountains. I don’t solely blame the fire for my kid’s incessant request to go play in the mountains, I also blame PBS and every kid show ever through the late Fall and winter months with their frosty, flurrie, sledding, cocoa-havin episodes. When I was my daughter’s age, I was still living in Ohio, making snowmen on the porch with my sister. Getting bundled up like Joey in that episode of Friends, where he puts on all of Chandler’s clothes to go run errands. Burrrrrrr. Living here since I was my son’s age though, I am now officially a California girl and while I do like visiting the snow and vacationing in the snow, the idea of going with the kids was overwhelming.
By early January we could see this was gonna be “the season” and that if we braved the local mountains in the next couple months, the kids would be in snow-heaven, and so it was.
Here are my TOP 5 TIPS for planning a trip to the local mountains from the South Bay.
- The drive: Road Conditions, Chains, & Altitude
I’ve personally always preferred going to Mammoth and 89.99% of that preference has to do with the really windy drive it takes to get to Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. It can turn into a 5-6 hour drive because of traffic or other incidents and people drive like they’re on the 405, it all make me nauseous. However, if you are a wee bit flexible with your timing and drive a reasonable speed on the mountain, then it can be way more bearable. If at all possible, avoid driving up the mountain Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and avoid driving down Sunday.
Be sure to check road conditions and closures before you go. As I type this, it’s raining outside and the main road to Wrightwood is closed, so you have to go an alternative (longer) way to get there. There are also 6 road closures to get in and out of and around Big Bear, you definitely want to know this before you go. Know the difference between R-1, R-1 and R-3 conditions, and take them seriously. R-2 requires you to be physically in possession of chains, even if you have a 4WD vehicle. R-3 requires chains on ALL VEHICLES, no exceptions. Altitude sickness is real. We use either Pedialyte or the Liquid IV packets that dissolve in water the day we drive up and if we’re staying up there for multiple days, always through the first day to day and a half as well. Make sure everyone is drinking plenty of water.
If there’s decent snow cover you’re gonna see all kinds of wacky stuff, by that I mean people hopping out at turn outs and climbing over the plow ridge into the snow with their sleds, and their kids, and I’m on team #Nope with that. There are plenty of sledding and tubing options you can hit up with out going off roading, which btw, is so not safe (said in my mom voice).
- Skiing & Snowboarding
If you ski or snowboard and it’s time to take the kids on the mountain with ya, I highly recommend “ski/snowboard school.” Our 4 year old did the ½ day on skis from 9-12 , our 7year old did the full day 9-3 on skis, and our friends daughters both did the full day snowboard lesson. All four kids LOVED their lessons and can’t wait to go again! Check with the ski/snowboard resort you’re going to for details. We were at SnowSummit and they took amazing care of the kids and everyone who worked there was SUPER nice. Make sure your kids have sunscreen on, have goggles and know they need to keep their gloves ON.
- What to Pack
For a day trip:
- Be sure to bring plenty of water, Pedialyte or liquid IV for altitude
- Motion sickness meds for the car sick prone
- A change of clothes that are easily accessible for every single person in the car!
- Some old towels, a couple trash bags.
- A few car snacks but not a ton, it’s a really windy drive so we didn’t want the kids eating the whole time for obvious reasons.
- Chains (check road conditions).
- Bring chapstick, sunscreen and snow boots for all.
- Sleds, we got sleds for $10 at Big5.
- Suggestion from the hubbs- an ice scraper for your windshield.
If you’re staying overnight, bring your warm jammies and do NOT forget to pack your moisturizer, night cream, lip exfoliator and lip balm.
5. Where to stay for an overnight– We’ve stayed in hotel’s and in cabins and when traveling with kids, I highly, highly, highly recommend the VRBO route. Having a kitchen, living room with a fire place and in some cases, like the place we stayed earlier this month, a huge back yard the kids can build snowmen in wins every time. That little bit of extra personal space goes a really long way! Look for the places that are marked “family friendly” or include “great for families/kids” those are usually stocked with lots of board games and for whatever reason seem to the best stocked kitchens. Always read the reviews!
Mountain High in Wrightwood Mountain High is Southern California’s closest winter resort with no mountain driving. Located in the Angeles National Forest, just an hour and a half from L.A. and Orange County, you won’t find an easier drive to the mountains anywhere.
Mammoth Mountain Mammoth Mountain is a lava dome complex west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, in the Inyo National Forest of Madera and Mono Counties.
Lake Arrowhead Lake Arrowhead is an unincorporated community and a census-designated place in the San Bernardino Mountains of San Bernardino County, California, within the San Bernardino National Forest, surrounding the Lake Arrowhead Reservoir.
Big Bear Lake Big Bear Lake is a small city in Southern California. It sits on the banks of fish-filled Big Bear Lake. It’s known for Bear Mountain ski resort, with its terrain parks and learner slopes, and family-friendly Snow Summit ski resort. Boutiques, gift shops and restaurants line the streets of Big Bear Lake Village, the commercial area. Surrounding the city, the rugged San Bernardino National Forest has mountain trails.
Frazier Park/Mount Pinos Frazier Park is an unincorporated community in Kern County, California. It is 5 miles west of Lebec, at an elevation of 4,639 feet. It is one of the Mountain Communities of the Tejon Pass.
Running Springs Running Springs is a census-designated place in San Bernardino County, California, United States.
Julian A premier mountain getaway, just an hour east of San Diego, in the beautiful Cuyamaca mountains.
Mount Laguna is located on the S1 Scenic Byway – Sunrise Highway – at the highest point of Mount Laguna, in the heart of the Cleveland National Forest. Standing 6,000 feet above sea level, Mount Laguna is a pristine forest of pine and oak. Located just one hour east of downtown San Diego, this unspoiled location is one of San Diego’s best kept secrets.
Idyllwild is nestled in the San Jacinto mountains. Set among tall pines, sweet smelling cedars and Legendary rocks. The town has kept its “small town” atmosphere. Locally owned shops and restaurants are all you will find here. Come and experience the peace and quiet of Idyllwild. If you are ready to get away from the traffic jams, or the noisy city life, this is the town for you. Idyllwild has perfect day hikes for the quick weekend hike, as well as the high country for the longer “over night” hiking journeys.