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5 Easy Winter Road Trips from San Diego For Snow Activities

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Being that it’s February, a lot of people might be looking forward to spring or even summer already, but since it’s technically still winter, I created a list of some road trips from San Diego for anyone still wanting to enjoy the snow. As much as I love the sun, I really love the magical feeling I get being in the snow too!

Yes, I’m a San Diego native, but I’ve spent quite some time visiting snowy destinations and love that there is snow close enough for a day trip or a weekend getaway. You can read about how to find numerous areas with San Diego near here, but the destinations in this article are locations that are only 1-3 hours away.

Road Trips To Take To See Snow Near San Diego

Nearest snow to San Diego: Julian, CA

Visiting the quaint little town of Julian, is one of the popular places locals visit to see snow near San Diego that is actually in SD County. Just 1 hour 15 minutes east, it’s also one of the easiest road trips from San Diego. A historic gold mining town, nowadays Julian is famous for its apple pies. 

Fun fact: Julian number 412 on the list of 1100+ designated California Historical Landmarks! For what to do in Julian year-round, read this blog post.

Best snow activity in Julian, CA?

While you can find the nearest snow to San Diego here, Julian doesn’t get a ton of it so it’s the best location for winter hiking. That way you get the experience of snow hiking but without having to do a ton of prep for it.

Girl in Julian after a winter road trip from San Diego

The most scenic trail is Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. 4 miles round trip with a great view from the top, it’s suitable for both adults and kids. There’s a steady incline but definitely do-able!

Where to eat in Julian, CA?

I recommend Julian Grille for a sit-down dinner. The restaurant offers a good mix of options and a cozy atmosphere. This 1920’s cottage was turned into a restaurant in 1989 after serving as a residence and a deli before that.

Where to stay in Julian, CA?

If you decide to stay overnight while enjoying the snow near San Diego, there are a few options for you. To soak in all the historical vibes the town has to offer, check out Julian Gold Rush Hotel (the oldest operating hotel in Southern California) for its vintage charm. There are also plenty of options on Airbnb and VRBO.

For campsites in the area, check out the campgrounds at Lake Cuyamaca.

Girl camping in Julian on Lake Cuyamaca

Closest snow to San Diego: Laguna Mountains

Located only 1 hour away from the beaches, it’s hard to believe that the Laguna Mountains is the closest snow to San Diego. It can be unpredictable with snow falling anywhere between November to June in some cases. Most of the area is within Cleveland National Forest with parts of it falling in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. 

Some of the closest snow in San Diego is in Mt Laguna as seen in the mountains of this picture

Two things to keep in mind for these winter road trips from San Diego: 1) The I-8 exit for Sunrise Highway gets pretty backed up as it’s a checkpoint for chains, so it’s better to go early. 2) You’ll need an Adventure Pass for recreation purposes, which you can get here.

Best snow activity in the Laguna Mountains?

With a lot of open areas, Sunrise Highway is perfect for enjoying a day of sledding in the snow near San Diego. A popular spot with a festive atmosphere is a hill near the Meadows Information Kiosk. Because of its popularity, parking can be challenging and it can get packed. You don’t need any fancy equipment – a cheap sled from any local market will do for your day of sledding!

Where to eat in Mt. Laguna?

Pine House Cafe is a favorite destination for anyone visiting the area. Established in 1942, the historic log building has become known for its “rustic elegant” comfort food for anytime of the day.

Where to stay in Mt. Laguna?

In the Mt. Laguna area, Laguna Mountain Lodge or Blue Jay Lodge offer no-frills, simple options. On Airbnb or VRBO, you’ll find different home options. Since it’s located in Cleveland National Forest, there are also multiple cost-efficient campgrounds available such as Laguna Campground

Camping in Mt Laguna as part of a winter road trip from San Diego

Additionally, if you’re interested in making your road trips from San Diego a weekend trip and are looking for a resort option nearby, Viejas Casino and Resort is only about 16 miles away.

Snow near San Diego: Big Bear Mountain

Hands down, Big Bear in San Bernardino County is one of the most popular road trips from San Diego for snow activities. Only 3 hours away, you can either make it a day trip or a weekend getaway. Read my post on the ultimate winter weekend in Big Bear in addition to the basic details here.

Best snow activity in Big Bear?

If you like skiing but someone else likes snowboarding, lucky for you Big Bear Mountain offers the nearest snow to San Diego for doing both! You’ll see plenty of snowboarders at Bear Mountain, but next door at Snow Summit, you’ll tend to see skiers and more families.

There are also quite a few hikes around Big Bear. I personally enjoy Castle Rock hike if you are looking for a hike to do in the snow!

Girl in Big Bear on a winter road trip
Girl hiking in Big Bear on a winter road trip from San Diego

Where to eat in Big Bear?

We wanted to check out Saucy Mama’s on our weekend getaway – a 5-star pizzeria – but with a two-hour wait we ended up at Village Pizza. You can’t go wrong with either! If you are looking for some Mexican food then I recommend eating at El Jacalito Grill.

Where to stay in Big Bear?

From cabins to hotel rooms, there are tons of options to choose from when staying overnight in Big Bear. We booked Lenny’s Lodging through Airbnb and it was perfect for me and my husband. New to Airbnb? Use my discount code to get $55 off your first trip!

Couple of tips for finding lodging in Big Bear! You will need to look early and plan in advance. Lodging, especially in the winter, books up fast. Airbnb is a great option! I have stayed at multiple airbnbs and found them all to be pleasant.

If you can’t find a place to stay then my next best recommendation is to drive down the mountain and stay at Dynasty suites in Redlands!

Girl at lodging in Big Bear as part of a winter road trip from San Diego
Girl at lodging in Big Bear as part of a winter road trip from San Diego

Snow near San Diego: Mt. Baldy Resort

About 50 miles from central Los Angeles, Mt. Baldy is the perfect place to spend a day in a resort offering the closest snow to San Diego. Mt. Baldy Resort has some of Southern California’s best natural snow terrain but is also a destination for other seasons, too. Road trips from San Diego will only take you 2.5 hours.

Best snow activity in Mt. Baldy?

There are over 800 acres of terrain for snow activities. With the most vertical drop at 2100 vertical feet – this isn’t really the place for beginners though. But something that everyone can do no matter your skill level? Snow Tubing! Check out the Tubing Park at Top of the Notch recreation area for snow-play at an elevation of nearly 7,800ft. 

Girl Skiing at Mt Baldy. Mt. Baldy has some of the nearest snow to San Diego

Where to eat in Mt. Baldy?

After you wrap up your snow tubing experience, warm up at the Top of the Notch restaurant. The unique dining experience – overlooking Southern California and Angeles National Forest – are worth the road trips from San Diego even without the snow!

Where to stay in Mt. Baldy?

There are a few simple cabins in the area, but Airbnb offers plenty of other suitable accommodations for your stay. If you want to brave the cold, check out the campgrounds in Angeles National Forest, which is located about 10 miles from Mt. Baldy.

Snow near San Diego: Mountain High Resort

Formerly 3 separate resorts, Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood, CA is a premiere destination for winter road trips from San Diego. Similar to Mt. Baldy, it’s only a 2.5 hour drive. With no mountain driving and being cheaper than places like Big Bear, you’ll totally want to include this on your list of places for closest snow to San Diego.

Best snow activity in Mountain High Resort?

Take your pick! There are 3 mountains to explore (East, West, and North) that offer snow activities for all levels. There are different terrains for skiing and snowboarding, scenic sky chair rides at 8,200 ft., and even Yeti’s Snow Play for tubing, sledding, or fun snow play. They even offer Night Riding from 5:00pm-10:00pm! The variety of options all in one place definitely makes it one of the road trips from San Diego for snow.

Credit to Mt. High IG

Where to eat in Mountain High Resort?

Check out nearby Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood. It’s a family-owned restaurant offering food to satisfy any appetite for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Where to stay in Mountain High Resort?

Here is a list of recommended lodging options that include motels, cabins, camps, and clubs right on Mountain High Resort’s website, but of course don’t forget to check out Airbnb or VRBO!

Tips for taking road trips from San Diego to the snow

When taking any road trips from San Diego, you’ll always want to keep safety in mind, but here are a few winter specific tips for traveling in and to the snow:

  • Wear layers. Snow = COLD so the best thing you can do is to layer up to stay warm. Check out my recommendations below on how I keep from freezing when I visit snow near San Diego.
  • Bring appropriately sized snow chains for your tires. Depending on conditions, you might need to put chains on your tires to drive in the snow. Make sure they’re the right size and practice putting them on beforehand so you’re prepared when the time comes!
  • Pack an emergency kit. Fill it with extra water, snacks, warm blankets, and a flashlight in case you get stuck in the snow.
  • Beware of black ice. Don’t drive too fast and be careful when changing lanes. 

Where to Rent Snow Gear and Equipment

Don’t have your own gear or equipment? You can rent some at the resort you visit, especially when taking any kind of lessons if you’re a beginner or new to snow activities! 

Snow Gear Recommendations

I personally love skiing in bibs – I have these Flylow ones in white – so that if I fall the snow doesn’t go down my pants.

I also love colorful ski jackets. For my baselayer I recommend Merino Wool. I own this cute set from Kari Traa in 3 different colors. 

Girl in Kari Traa snow baselayers to help her stay warm as part of her winter road trip from San Diego
Girl in Kari Traa snow baselayers to help her stay warm as part of her winter road trip from San Diego

For an insulation layer, the Patagonia pullover is a great option. 

To keep my hands warm, I wear glove liners and mittens on top.

This hood wrap is my new favorite investment. I have it in turquoise and it keeps my ears so warm. As a bonus, I can pull it up and use it as a face mask too! I love wearing it with my goggles from Blender’s Eyewear.

For hiking in packed snow, I always wear my KEENS.

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM YOUR OUTDOOR LOVING GIRL

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5 Easy Winter Road Trips from San Diego For Snow Activities

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