Winter sports activities are abundant along Hwy 108 during the colder months from about mid November to the end of March depending on the snow conditions. Most Forest Service roads are closed to through traffic but become available to winter recreation like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The Summit Ranger District offers over 25 miles of marked cross-country ski trails that vary in difficulty from beginner to advanced skiers. In addition there are numerous other trailheads for snowshoers and skiers right off Hwy 108 beginning from about the Pinecrest area to the Sno-Park six miles past Strawberry. Anywhere there is a locked gate offers an opportunity for winter recreation, just make sure you are on Forest Service land. Below I will talk about three of the most popular areas for snowshoeing and x-country skiing in this area.
The Pinecrest area offers mostly flat and easy routes for snowshoers and xc skiers throughout the campgrounds (which are closed in winter) and around the lake and back roads. Pinecrest lake is also drained every winter so areas usually inaccessible are easily accessed with the right equipment. A bonus to engaging in winter activities at Pinecrest is access to warm coffee, food and beverages at the Pinecrest General Store which maintains regular hours throughout the winter months. Pinecrest can get busy at times especially during the holiday season so be prepared to share the snow with others. The road into Pinecrest is plowed in the winter but can still be slick with ice so and all wheel drive vehicle with snow tire is recommended just to be safe.
Likely the most popular area for cross country skiers and snowshoers is Crabtree Road as well as around the Dodge Ridge ski area. The Summit Ranger Station has a free trail map showing all existing trails and indicates the length, level of difficulty and estimation of time needed to follow the trail one way. There are also quite a few unmarked cross-country ski trails on the map which are possible day trips. The two most popular cross-country trailheads are at Gooseberry, just as you’re leaving the Dodge Ridge parking lot and at Crabtree, just before you head in to Dodge Ridge. Pick up a trail map at the Summit Ranger Station or download one here. Sometimes maps are available at the two trailheads mentioned above.
Another option for cross-country skiing or snow shoeing is on and around Herring Creek Road (Forest Route 4N12). Herring Creek Rd is closed in the winter so park at the locked gate just off Hwy 108. Herring Creek Rd has a very gental elevation gain which makes it ideal for beginner cross-country skiers. Another option is to take a left on 5N11 about a mile or so in and head out to Leland Meadow, which makes a good resting spot for lunch. If you continue on past the meadow for 1/2 mile you’ll come to the top of Leland Reservoir which offers some nice views of the landscape and snow sledders playing at the Leland Snow Park.
If you’re more into the motor-driven winter activities the most popular place for launching your snow mobile is at the Highway 108 Sno-Park. This is a fee-based parking area so make sure and get your permit at the Summit Ranger Station or Cold Springs Market. Day passes as well as season passes are available for $5 or $25 respectively. Some of the more remote cross-country ski trails are also accessed from the Hwy 108 Sno-Park. From the Sno-Park, Kennedy Meadows is 18.5 miles one-way along Hwy 108 and is groomed on a regular basis during the winter months, however, the road beyond Kennedy Meadows and up to Sonora Pass is not groomed.
If you decide to head out for some winter activities please understand the risks involved and take necessary safety precautions. Snow conditions in the Sierras are unpredictable and potentially fatal if you aren’t prepared. Always check with the Forest Service or the local Ski Patrol for information about snow conditions before heading out on your adventure. Avalanches can occur at any time even on gentle slopes. Icy trails can be treacherous and deep, powdery snow can strand back country travelers. The following is a recommended list of items to bring with you on day trips:
- Proper winter clothing
- Plenty of water
- First aid kit
- Emergency space blanket
- Pocket knife
- Rope or avalanche cord
- Map and compass
- Cell phone
In additon always travel with at least one other person and let a responsible party know where you are going and when you will return.
A good resource for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing around Pinecrest is the Pinecrest Cross Country & Snowshoe Network. They are a loosely organized volunteer group of Pinecrest winter snow users who develop a free recreational transportation network of cross country ski trails and snowshoe paths off of the plowed roads but with connections across the plowed roads in the Pinecrest and Strawberry area. Check them out.