7 Cross-Country Skiing + Snowshoeing Adventures in Northern California

When the snow begins to fall, the promise of downhill skiing and snowboarding takes us into the mountains. But winter sports don’t stop on the slopes.

This year, why not experience winter a little differently with a snowshoeing or cross-country skiing adventure. In these Northern California destinations, you’ll find all the snowy beauty and thrilling activity of sports’ sexier cousins, without the high price tag and obnoxious crowds. All you have to do is rent the hardware; the Sierras will do the rest.

Royal Gorge – Largest XC + Snowshoe Ski Area in the United States

Courtesy of Pixabay/CC

In the largest cross-country skiing and snowshoeing area in the country, 92 trails are spread over 6,000 acres of wilderness in the northern Sierra. Just over half of them, or nearly 60 miles, are groomed and tracked for easy gliding, while an additional 22 miles of trails are specifically for snowshoers of all skill levels. There are even dog-friendly options for both varieties of snow sports. Epic views are given here, and there are eight heated cabanas strategically placed on the grounds for when you want a minute to lay back and enjoy it all. Lessons and rentals are available on site. Passes range from $10 to $40 per day.

// 9411 Pahatsi Road (Soda Springs), royalgorge.com

Yosemite National Park – Badger Pass Ski Area Nordic Center

Glacier Point Half Dome, Yosemite

(Courtesy of Mitch Barrie/Flckr/CC)

If you’ve never ventured to Yosemite in the winter months, you’re in for a treat. Not only are the crowds a fraction of their summer size, but, soothed by the snow, the valley takes on a breathtaking magical quality that the sunny summer skies simply cannot awaken. There are a few different trail options open to snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Hike through the century-old trees of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias near the park’s south entrance, view the granite peaks of Yosemite Valley or Dewey Point, or peek into the Merced River Canyon from the Clark Range View Trail near the entrance to Big Oak Flat. If your snowshoe confidence needs a little work, guided 1.5-mile excursions are brewing at Tenaya Lodge, where snowshoes are also available for rent. The Badger Pass Ski Area Nordic Center also offers snowshoe and cross-country skiing rentals and lessons.

// 9035 Village Dr, (Yosemite Valley), nps.gov/yose

Mount Shasta Nordic Center

Mount Shasta.

(Courtesy of Harold Litwiler/Flckr/CC)

There are over 14 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, as well as an almost endless supply of (ungroomed) backcountry terrain waiting on the slopes of Mount Shasta. The former is supported by the Mount Shasta Nordic Center, which offers rentals, lessons, and a detailed trail map with options for beginners, intermediate, and expert skiers (for a real challenge, try the Ernie’s Stairway to Heaven Loop of 2.3 miles). ). Of these, Sand Flat, Bunny Flat and Castle Lake are great for snowshoeing and skiing. Day passes range from $15 to $25 for adults and $10 to $17 for those 70 and older. Juniors 17 and under ski and snowshoe free.

// 765 Mt Shasta Blvd (Mt. Shasta), mtshastanordic.org

Northstar, Truckee – Cross-Country Skiing, Telemark + Snowshoe Center

Northstar Resort, Truckee.

(Courtesy of Leijurv/CC)

Northstar is one of the more expensive options for a day of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing ($57/adult, $44/kids 12 and under), but its vast network of mid-mountain trails is well worth the dough. additional. The resort has over 21 miles of them, many with outstanding views, plus a handful of trailside wilderness warming huts where hot chocolate and tea are always being brewed. Well-equipped cross-country, telemark and snowshoe center offers lessons and equipment rentals in both sports, plus fat bikes and pedal-assist e-bikes, telemark workshops and excursions guided on snowshoes to observe the stars after dark.

// 5001 Northstar Dr (Trucker), northstarcalifornia.com

Cross Country Skiing + Snowshoeing Around Tahoe

Tahoe Meadows.

(Courtesy of Mitch Barrie/Flckr/CC)

There are several ways to XC and snowshoe in Tahoe. For world-class groomed runs, head to Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, a resort with options for skiers and snowshoers of all skill levels that also offers lessons, clinics, and equipment rentals ($36/ adult, free for children under 19 and over 70) . For something a little more wild and free (literally), head to the sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail between Tahoe Meadows and Chickadee Ridge, Kingsbury North to Castle Rock, or Brockway Summit to Picnic Rock. Another affordable option ($10/vehicle) awaits in the Spooner Backcountry in Nevada’s Lake Tahoe State Park, where groomed scenic trails lead from the south side of Spooner Lake to Spooner Meadow and from North Canyon at Lake Marlette.

// Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, 925 Country Club Dr (Tahoe City), tahoexc.org; various access points for Tahoe Rim Trail, tahoerimtrail.org; Spooner Lake, access by highways 50 and 28, parks.nv.gov

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park – Snowshoeing at Pear Lake

Pear Lake Winter Cabin.

(Courtesy of Sequoia Parks Conservancy)

At Sequoia Kings Canyon, the air is crisp, the powder is fresh, and the views are outstanding. There are tons of trails winding through the park’s woods, including at the base of its most famous residents at Grant Grove and Giant Forest. Trail maps are available at all visitor centers and snowshoes are available to rent at Lodgepole Market or the Grant Grove Gift Shop. If you have the skills, Sequoia Kings Canyon is also open for overnight ski and snowshoe tours with a wilderness permit. Ski or waffle the steep six-mile trail to Pear Lake to spend the night in the park’s adorable Winter Cabin, a rustic cabin with a pellet stove that sleeps up to 10 people (reservations prerequisites required, but the hut is temporarily closed for the 2021-22 ski season).

// 47050 Generals Highway (Trois-Rivières), nps.gov/seki

Mammoth Lakes – Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center

Cross-country skiing at Mammoth Lakes.

(Courtesy of Mitch Barrie/Flckr/CC)

At Mammoth Lakes on the eastern slopes of the Sierra, the snow is just as deep and powdery as Tahoe with a fraction of the crowds. On its best snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails, you’ll find breathtaking vistas, frozen lakes and peaceful forest kingdoms of pines, firs and junipers. Explore Mammoth’s iconic skyline with minarets on the gently sloping, beginner-friendly Minaret Vista route, which begins at the main lodge and climbs from 8,909 feet to 9,265 feet in approximately 2.5 miles. In the Mammoth Lakes Basin, a variety of trails accessible via the 2.5-mile Lake Mary Winter Public Access Corridor criss-cross the landscape. Although skiers need a pass, snowshoers can access the groomed main trail, Panorama Dome loop, and other routes for free. Rental gear and trail maps are available at the Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center and in town stores.

// 163 Twin Lakes Road (Mammoth Lakes), mammothmountain.com

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