Content Produced in Partnership with Visit California
If you've been racking your brain to come up with a winter adventure destination, the answer is simple: head out west. Northern California is coated in a healthy blanket of snow where visitors can snowmobile, ski, and ice-climb to their heart’s content, while Southern California stays relatively warm and dry for the hikers, bikers, and sun seekers. No matter what kind of winter exploits you seek, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in the Golden State’s 163,696-square-mile playground.
Bear Valley is the go-to destination for snowmobilers. Besides being an utterly stunning winter wonderland, it's the only place in California where visitors can rent a snowmobile and go touring without a guide. Freedom in the hills is a coveted escape, but for the novice riders there are plenty of guide companies all over the state that can keep you safe and show you secret local spots. The thrill of riding through the Sierra-Nevada Mountains surrounded by the stillness and roar of your own engine is unlike any other. Contact Bear Valley Snowmobiles and motor on up to the epic Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway.
Few sports are as short lived and complex as climbing frozen waterfalls. It requires a lot of gear, a lot of practice and a lot of strife, but successfully summiting is a rush few people ever get to experience. Every year, “the Big Melt” near June Creek freezes to create the best ice climbing in California. There is terrain for all levels and there are a number of local companies to outfit you and offer lessons. Simply contact California’s Ice Climbing Guides to begin the journey.
Backcountry skiers know that anywhere there are mountains and snow, there is a plethora of untouched powder. Needless to say, in California, which has both the Cascade range and the Sierra-Nevadas, there is a lot of backcountry to cover. Of course, you should never go out alone or without the proper training equipment. Tour guides like International Alpine Guides can introduce you to the terrain. The scenery is mind-boggling, and the fresh lines unparalleled.
Strap on a couple of flappy paddles and go for a stomp through the frozen woods. No field of snow is too wide or too deep, no slope too slick. There are great snowshoeing routes all over the state of California, but some of the best are Mt. Tallac Trail in El Dorado National Forest, the Pacific Crest Trail, Lake Almanor Recreation Trail, and a whole bunch of other awesome spots you can view here.
The Monarch Butterfly Migration
Every year California enjoys a spectacular butterfly migration, where thousands of colorful Monarchs emigrate. The best spots to witness this massive and wild fluttering of orange is in San Luis Obispo County, Pismo Beach, and in Goleta in Santa Barbara County. If you are into nature you absolutely must check this out. It's a powerful experience to see so many creatures moving gracefully on their great migration.
The Gray Whale Migration
Monarchs aren’t the only creatures who migrate through California in the winter. Huge gray whales also pass by the coast in impressive numbers. These slow and gentle giants travel thousands and thousands of miles from the cold waters of Alaska south to their breeding grounds in Baja. Visitors can go out on whale watching boats to see the mammals breach and spout water high into the air, gracefully gliding and diving along. They can also be seen on occasion from the shore, but don't you want to take advantage of the great Pacific waters?
Yosemite National Park
Even if you've been to Yosemite National Park before, visiting in winter is a totally different experience. Snow hangs heavy in the trees and ice shrouds the lakes, ponds and rivers. Most of the campgrounds and trails stay open year-round so whether you want to backpack, camp or just go for a day hike, there are some fantastic options. Many rock climbers also think of winter as peak season since the rock is much easier to grip in the cold. Bring your ropes and draws and try your might on some of the best rock climbing in the world.