The winters here in Tuolumne County bring a whole new set of outdoor activities to enjoy and one of the most popular activities is snow sledding. Not just because it’s fun but it’s also free (in most cases), it doesn’t require a lot of skill and you don’t have to buy a bunch of expensive equipment to do it. The snow line is usually between 4000 and 5000 feet elevation during the colder winter months which is roughly Sierra Village if you’re headed up Sonora Pass Hwy 108. Once you get beyond Sierra Village the land, for the most part, is forest land and open to the public. There are plenty of areas along the highway to park and enjoy the snow but make sure you are indeed on public land and not trespassing on private property. A Stanislaus National Forest map is handy to have in this situation. Also, make sure you are far enough off the main highway so as not to impede traffic or put yourself, your family or someone else’s safety at risk and make sure you are in a legal parking zone. Law enforement officials will ticket you if you are parked in a no parking zone. Below is a list of snow play areas, some free, some with a fee along with elevation so you can pick the best time to go depending on the snow conditions.
(The Former) Sierra Pines Disc Golf Course, Twain Harte
The old Sierra Pines DG course is located about 1.5 miles from downtown Twain Harte and the land is owned by TUD. It is open to the public but please be respectful of the surrounding property owners as there is no definitive property line between TUD and private property. Sierra Pines offers some decent slopes in a wide open meadow with minimal obstacles. Since it is at a lower elevation this area will have an adequate amount of snow for sledding only a handful of times throughout the winter.
Lyons Lake Rd, Sierra Village
Lyons Lake Rd is just passed Sierra Village off Hwy 108. Although the gate leading down to Lyons Reservoir is locked, there is a huge parking area just off the highway where you can park your car and hike in to nearby sledding hills. This area can get pretty congested on the weekends and during good snow so be prepared for traffic and lots of people.
Long Barn, Forest Route 3N01
If you take the second exit into Long Barn and then turn left onto Merrill Springs Rd (FR 3N01), there are some nice hills along the road and most of the land is Forest Service. If you continue on, the road will eventually take you to the North Fork picnic area where there is a locked gate. This whole stretch minus the area around the houses is all public land.
“Little Sweden” is likely the most popular place to go snow sledding or tubing in Tuolumne County. This snow sledding meca is literally filled with people after a recent snowfall or around the holidays. Because of this I usually don’t recommend this spot as there isn’t much room for safe parking and the area can get a bit conjested. If you do decide to give Little Sweden a try please park safely off the highway and observe all traffic laws and please pack out what you bring in. Little Sweden is located right off Hwy 108 a few miles before Cold Springs.
Pinecrest Lake is 20 miles east of Twain Harte and makes an excellent place to bring the kids for a play day in the snow. Although there are no obvious good hills for sledding the benefits are the restrooms are open all year and there is plenty of free parking. Also, Pinecrest Lake is drained for the winter months so the area usually covered by water is open to all for recreating about.
Leland High Sierra Snow Play, Strawberry
If you’re just looking for the best snow sledding experience possible and don’t mind paying a fee Leland Snow Play claims to be the biggest and best in the Sierra. While that’s a rather subjective claim, one guarantee is you will not leave there without your fill of sledding excitement. Leland Snow Play is family-owned and offers 12 acres of fully groomed snow sledding slopes. There is a walk-up hill, two tow hills, and a large kiddie area. In addition they also have a 4,000 square foot lodge with a sun porch and a snack bar as well as an EMT on staff and 30 additional staff members throughout the area to ensure everyone’s safety. The best time to visit Leland Snow Play is during the week when rates are lowest and the crowds are smaller. Leland High Sierra Snowplay is open from the first snow of the season to about mid April from 10 am – 5 pm daily. They are located four miles past Strawberry on Leland Meadow Rd. Make a right off the highway. For more information visit their website here.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park
At one time snow sledding with toboggans, tubes, disks, and such was prohibited in Calaveras Big Trees State Park but not anymore. Park officials now welcome families to visit the park for some winter activity. Although there are no groomed hills, there are potentially good sledding spots like in front of the ranger’s building, by the North Grove parking lot, where there is a small sledding area that is ideal for young children. The only caveat is to enter the park there is a small fee, around $7 per vehicle, but a small price to pay for off-highway parking and restrooms. Calaveras Big Trees is located four miles northeast of Arnold along highway 4. For more information visit their website here.
Tamarack Lodge, Bear Valley
During snow season Tamarack Lodge opens it’s 5-acre sledding area for visitors to romp and play in the snow. They offer complimentary snowshoes and sleds for all guest who spend the night at the lodge and only a $10 per car day use fee for drop in day visitors who wish snow sled or picnic at the Lodge. Day visitors need to bring their own sleds. Tamarack Lodge reminds visitors to sled and snow play at your own risk. For more information visit the Tamarack Lodge at Bear Valley website here.