Often the challenge with finding a good location for children to play in the snow revolves around locating a safe slope with safe parking. Changing conditions along Highway 88 make it difficult to know where to go.
Many times it simply requires heading up the mountain and watching for a safe turn-out. This is usually difficult immediately after heavy snowfalls before plows have had a chance to clear turnouts. If the weather has been dry for several days, then more locations are usually available.
One way to avoid the problem is to rent a cabin or stay at a lodge that has good sliding hills close by. Another choice is to take advantage of Kirkwood Resort's Slide Mountain Tube Hill if it is offered this season.
Sno-Parks are great places to take children for snow play. The Sno-Parks have two big advantages over other pull-out spots along the highway - toilets and safe parking. Although none of the Sno-Parks have great sledding hills, small children might be happy enough with gentle grades found around all but the Hope Valley Sno-Park.
Sno-Parks are parking areas maintained in the winter to allow people to park safely and pursue winter activities such as cross-county skiing or snowmobiling. They have pit toilets available. To use a Sno-Park you must have a permit. You can purchase a day permit for $5 or an annual pass (Nov. 1 - May 30) for $25. They are good at any California, Oregon, Washington, or Idaho Sno-Park.
In Amador and Alpine counties passes can be purchased at the following places:
Iron Mountain Sno-Park: Located at the junction of Mormon-Emigrant Trail Road and Highway 88. Restrooms. Recommended activities there
include cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and snow play.
Meiss Meadow Sno-Park: Located one mile west of the summit of Carson Pass. Restrooms. Recommended activities there include cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and snow play. Snowmobiling is not allowed there.
Carson Pass Sno-Park: Located at the summit of Carson Pass. Restrooms. Recommended activities there include cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and snow play. Snowmobiles are not allowed there.
Hope Valley Sno-Park: Located at on Blue Lakes Road close to Highway 88. Restrooms. Recommended activities there include cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and snowmobiling. The flat terrain there is fine for making snowmen but not for sledding.
Kirkwood Resort's tube hill is open on weekends and holidays. On Saturdays it operates 12:00 PM - 4:00 PM and on Sundays from 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM. Tickets for use of the hill can be purchased at the High Alpine Adventure Center. There are reports that the hill has been closed, so call to confirm that hill is open before going: (209) 258-7210. The Adventure Center is located opposite Red Cliffs Day Lodge.
Ticket Prices: 1 Hour $14, All Day $20 (season passes $69)
When picking a place for snow play, be sure you can park legally off the highway and are not intruding on private property. The best time to look for good locations is after several days of sunny weather. None of the spots listed here are guaranteed to have parking. Snow conditions play a major factor.
Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 4) to the south has two Sno-Parks, both near Bear Valley. The Bear Valley Cross Country Ski center has a sliding hill. For casual snow play there are numberous places along Highway 4 to pull over and enjoy the snow. Get details at Ebbetts Pass Adventures.
Sonora Pass (Highway 108) is home to Leland High Sierra Snowplay, a well organized sliding hill complete with tow lifts. Other places along Highway 108 make for great fun in the snow. Read about it at Sonora Pass Vacations.