Temperatures are falling and recent rains remind us of the upcoming winter season. Snowy weather may seem worlds away from Orange County, yet skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports can be enjoyed less than two hours from campus in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains.
Mostly cloudy and cool with a 70% of rain. That forecast could mean it is a bad day to go to the beach or Disneyland. But it likely means it is a good time to explore the local mountains, which offer snow play, winter sports and other cold-weather recreation.
Here are five places to enjoy a real winter within a day’s drive.
- Big Bear Lake
Big Bear is Southern California’s foremost winter sports destination, featuring two major downhill ski and snowboard resorts: Bear Mountain Ski Resort and Snow Summit Ski Resort. Nearby Running Springs also has cross-country skiing at Rim Nordic and downhill skiing at Snow Valley Mountain Resort.
In addition to ski areas, Big Bear has accommodations ranging from primitive camping and cozy cabins to modern hotels, a pedestrian-friendly downtown with small shops and restaurants, and the Time Bandit pirate cruise ship.
There are three main ways to get to Big Bear. Highway 330 is a very curvy but direct route from San Bernardino. Highway 38 offers a longer and slightly less winding route in the shadow of 11,503-foot Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California’s tallest peak. Highway 18 permits access to Big Bear from the High Desert. This route is a bit out of the way for Orange County residents, but it is much less curvy.
For more information, visit the Big Bear Convention and Visitors Bureau online or call them at 800-424-4232.
- Lake Arrowhead
At an elevation of about 5,000 feet, the Lake Arrowhead area is often not cold enough to get significant snowfall. Still, the mountain resort area usually receives several light snowfalls each year, which allow for great snow play outings for families or those who have never experienced wintry weather. Visitors can enjoy shopping and dining at Lake Arrowhead Village and lake tours on The Arrowhead Queen.
The main route to Lake Arrowhead and the nearby communities of Crestline, Blue Jay, Twin Peaks and Cedar Glen is the scenic, steep and winding Highway 18 (Rim of the World Highway), which begins in Downtown San Bernardino.
Wrightwood, at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet on the north slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, is home to the downhill ski and snowboard Mountain High Ski Resort. This community is colder than most of the local mountain towns, permitting wintry conditions to last longer into the spring. The drive has the least twists and turns of any Southern California mountain town.
To reach Wrightwood, take the I-15 north and exit on Highway 138. Take a left (west). After about 12 miles, take a left (west) on Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway).
- Mt. Baldy
The most accessible ski area from Orange County is 10,064-foot Mt. Baldy, which forms the dramatic mountain backdrop of the Inland Empire and much of Orange County. Mt. Baldy includes Mt. Baldy Village, a small town with restaurants, shops, trout fishing and hiking trails. At 4,193 feet, snow sometimes falls here during cold winter storms. Farther up the mountain is the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts, which typically has snow after winter storms.
To reach Mt. Baldy, take Mountain Avenue north from foothill communities such as Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga or Upland. The ski lifts are a very steep 12-mile drive up the mountain.
- Mammoth Lakes
Southern California has plenty of options to satisfy the urge to see a real winter. But serious winter sports enthusiasts often head north to Mammoth Lakes, on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 325 miles north of Cal State Fullerton. The main route to Mammoth is Highway 395, which passes through miles of empty wilderness in the Mojave Desert before reaching the High Sierra. Air service is also available between Mammoth Lakes and Los Angeles.
Mammoth Lakes offers skiing, snowboarding, snow play, historic sites, shopping and a full range of lodging options. For more information, visit the Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau online.
Winter Driving Tips
Visitors to the local mountains should be aware of the hazards of winter and mountain driving. Be sure to take curves slowly and pay full attention to the road. During heavy snowfalls, drivers are often required to have chains, which can be installed at turnouts or parking lots, but never on the road. Be extra cautious when driving during a snowfall. Safety experts recommend that drivers leave at least three vehicle spaces ahead of them so they can brake slowly, avoiding skids. For more on road conditions, visit the Caltrans Mountain Highways website.