The beautiful Emerald River flowing past old wooden houses in scenic Truckee, California.

9 Best Towns In California's Sierra Nevada For A Winter Getaway

Mostly known for its white-sand beaches, beautiful palm trees, and curvacious coastline, the Golden State is not often regarded as it should — as a winter destination. While it is not among the snowiest (that title often goes to Vermont), California boasts several spots often pummeled by snow several inches thick. California's Sierra Nevada, for instance, is an underappreciated winter wonderland that snow lovers should give some serious consideration. If you are looking for a snow destination in California's Sierra Nevada, the following nine towns are the region's best winter getaways. 


Huntington Lake, California, in winter.
Huntington Lake, California, in winter.

This small but gorgeous town reclines on the picturesque banks of Huntington Lake, about 71 miles (one-and-a-half-hour's drive) northeast of Fresno. One of Lakeshore's defining draws is China Peak Ski Area, a hidden gem that boasts longer and steeper runs than most California resorts. This facility provides beautiful views of Huntington Lake, whose waters shimmer from about a mile away. With adults (ages 13 - 69) paying $133 for an all-day ticket, the rates here are fairly affordable. After what will look like a discovery, one can sit down to a cold beer and burger at the Buckhorn Bar & Grill situated at the base of Chair 2. While this property has hotel rooms that are pretty decent, one can still opt for a rustic cabin or a cozy chalet among the trees at Pines Resort, about 60 miles away. 


Snow covered street in downtown Truckee, California.
Snow covered street in downtown Truckee, California. 

Boasting a population of about 17,800, this town is located about 13 miles from Lake Tahoe's North Shore. Truckee was the site of one of the most fascinating tragedies in the history of the Golden State. In 1846, a group of pioneers headed westward to California got trapped by snow in the Sierras. When food ran out, some members of the group would start cannibalizing the flesh of their deceased team members. The leader of the expedition was George Donner, in whose memory Donner Lake, Donner Memorial State Park (which documents the tragic story), and Donner Pass are named. For almost half a century, Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort has been the go-to spot for skiing in the area. While it has been temporarily closed for a while, it is poised to reopen on December 8, 2023. Still, the slopes of Palisades Tahoe are just 11 miles away. One will enjoy staying at Hampton Inn & Suites Tahoe-Truckee because it is an easy drive to Palisades and Lake Tahoe.

Twain Harte

The main entrance into Twain Harte after a snowstorm
The main entrance into Twain Harte after a snowstorm. Image credit: Vayne via Wikimedia Commons.

Twain Harte is a tiny town of about 2,471 located in California's Tuolumne County along Highway 108. This town is worth checking out because it is co-named for Mark Twain, an American literary legend whose work as a humorist is unrivaled. If you want to stay in the woods, Thompson Lodge is a cute two-story modified A-frame cabin with an oasis-like feeling. Dodge Ridge Mountain Resort often gets more than 300 inches of snowfall every year and could be the closest ski resort to the Bay Area. While Twain Harte Lake is nice and worth checking out, it is a member-only property, a factor that may limit access. Otherwise, the 18-hole Twain Harte Miniature Golf Course will thrill any avid golfer and has been a staple of the town for almost 70 years.


Colorful stores in Main Street, Bridgeport, California.
Colorful stores in Main Street, Bridgeport, California. Editorial credit: Marc Venema /

Bridgeport may not be as big or as famous for its winter adventures as, for instance, Park City; however, it is a Sierra Nevada winter wonderland that boasts more than 500 miles of cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. Virginia Creek Settlement, located just five miles south of town, offers old-school, rustic cabins with a homey, comfortable feel. The Obsidian Dome Trailhead, which is close to town, is a popular winter spot for snowshoeing and is known to provide access to an expansive network of winter hiking trails through Inyo National Forest. While the town's winter attractions are in the 7,254-acre Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area, no visitor should let the chance to explore the Bodie State Historic Park slip through the fingers.

June Lake

A partly frozen June Lake in the town of June Lake, California.
A partly frozen June Lake in the town of June Lake, California.

Located in a landscape that is beautifully carved into mountains and valleys, there are no prices for guessing why June Lake is often called the "Switzerland of California." The town boasts not one but four glittering lakes, including the lake that lends the town its name, and is situated at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The town's array of lakes is the reason it is known to provide the best beach experience in the Eastern Sierras. June Mountain Ski Area, a famous winter highlight, features both Rainbow Mountain and June Mountain and offers 1,500 acres of snow — as well as heart-melting 360-degree sceneries. For a place to lodge, Heidelberg Inn is cozy and quaint and is steps away from a number of shops and restaurants.

Tahoe City

The snow-clad marina of Tahoe City, California.
The snow-clad marina of Tahoe City, California. Editorial credit: AlessandraRC /

Tucked away on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, this Sierra Nevada gem could just be the most gorgeous town among the group that encircles Lake Tahoe, a famous water marvel reputed to be among the most stunning alpine lakes on Earth. While the town boasts numerous accommodation facilities within the downtown area, one may want to opt for the Cottage Inn at Lake Tahoe, a quiet cabin getaway near the town, yet just the right distance from it. Hidden among the pines, Cottage Inn is close to the Truckee River and, for winter adventurers, just down the hill from Palisades Tahoe, formerly known as the Squaw Valley USA, as well as the Alpine Meadows ski area. For those who want to dabble in some shopping, Boatworks Shopping Mall is right on the lake and will see you smiling even as you pick your favorite items.

Lake Alpine

Lake Alpine, California.
Lake Alpine, California. Image credit: Rick Cooper via Wikimedia Commons.

Boasting numerous winter adventure opportunities, Lake Alpine, not to be confused with Alpine Lake in West Virginia, is a California secret that often leaves snow lovers completely blown away. For starters, Bear Valley Ski Resort, an often less crowded property that provides all levels of skiing and snowboarding, is an uncut gem that is located a convenient 5-minute drive from Lake Alpine. If staying overnight, the wood-fronted Bear Valley Lodge, located about 4 miles from this resort, is known to be homey, comfortable, and endearing. If the season is right, expect to find many bluejays hopping among snow-clad trees and filling the air with melody. Lake Alpine itself, the water body that lends this community its name, is usually an awesome place for either boating or fishing.


Pinecrest Lake, California.
The picturesque Pinecrest Lake, California.

For those who have the barest interest in the outdoors, Pinecrest is an awesome destination worth placing on a travel bucket list. The town is encircled by the Stanislaus National Forest, an underappreciated treasure chest and outdoor wonderland that spans nearly 900,000 acres. One can book a cozy room at the High Sierra Retreat with a view Of Pinecrest Lake, a gorgeous property that comes with a fireplace (an important winter essential), beautiful views of the mountains and Pinecrest Lake, and convenient access to Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, which is just about 3 miles away.

Mammoth Lakes

Sign welcoming visitors to Mammoth Lakes, California. 
Sign welcoming visitors to Mammoth Lakes, California. Image credit: Nandaro via Wikimedia Commons.

Home to about 7,300 residents, Mammoth Lakes is nestled on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera, about 169 miles southeast of Reno. If you had one Sierra Nevada spot to choose as a winter destination, you would be hard-pressed to leave Mammoth Lakes. Known for its sparkling lakes, including the one that lends the town its name, and heart-melting natural scenery, Mammoth Lakes hosts the highest lift-served all-season resort in California. Mammoth Mountain, which soars to 11,053 feet above sea level, got a record-shattering 702 inches of snow in the 22/23 winter season at its main lodge — and almost 900 at its summit. If staying for the night, Tamarack Lodge is known to provide delicious food and even more delicious vistas of the area's soaring cliffs. Besides, Twin Falls Overlook is known to offer epic sunrise views. 

The Takeaway

Reputed to be the most beautiful state in the nation, California is a tapestry of natural wonders that defy superlatives. For winter adventure, California's Sierra Nevada Mountains — and the area around it — is a snowy wonderland that often exceeds the expectations of first-time visitors. Mammoth Mountain, for instance, got a record-shattering 702 inches of snow in the 22/23 winter season at its main lodge. Other California Sierra Nevada towns that provide awesome winter adventures include Truckee, Twain Harte, and Bridgeport.

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