4 California Ski Resorts in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

The Sierra Nevada Mountains run along the eastern part of California and are home to some of the most famous parks in America, like Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This mountain range also contains the highest peak in the U.S.—Mount Whitney—and is the longest contiguous U.S. mountain range.

Between the multiple ski resorts, beautiful winter landscapes, and plentiful activities and casinos, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range provides a unique and fun vacation place during the winter months. Ideal for families, couples, friend groups, and even solo travelers, you may never want to leave these gorgeous mountains.

Follow this five-day itinerary to explore some of the best ski resorts in the area. Your adventure begins in Tahoe at the Reno-Tahoe Airport, a 90-minute drive from your first resort. You’ll want to rent a car for this trip to get from resort to resort more easily.

DAY 1 – LAKE TAHOE

As you trek to the first West Coast ski resort on the list—Kirkwood Mountain Resort, take time to explore the towns and areas along the route. First, stop at Lake Tahoe, one of the clearest bodies of water and the second deepest lake in the U.S. It might be too cold to swim in winter, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying a breathtaking backdrop of lush woods and mountains.

South Lake Tahoe, California. Photo Courtesy of Travis Wise.

After enjoying the view or hiking around the lake, it’s time for lunch! The town of Zephyr Cove has quite a few spots to eat. Stop at Casey’s for a craft beer and some all-American eats, Blue Lake Tavern for a slice of pizza, or Harumi Sushi for a roll or two.

Continue the drive toward Kirkwood Mountain Resort until you reach Carson City, Nevada. Full of museums and rich history, you may not have enough time to stop at all the attractions, but be sure to take a quick stretch and view the public art.

It will be about another hour of drive time to reach Kirkwood Ski Resort, which should be just in time for dinner. Kirkwood Mountain Resort has a few on-site restaurants and a bar for an evening drink. After dinner, relax and unwind in the resort’s lodges or complexes for a restful night of sleep.

DAY 2 – KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN RESORT

Day two begins with a hearty breakfast from Monte Wolf’s Mountain Kitchen, located at the resort. Here, you’ll find breakfast burritos that will keep you full until lunchtime. Kirkwood Mountain Resort is open year-round, so there are plenty of ways to enjoy the mountain air regardless of the weather. Next, head to the equipment rental area to grab a pair of skis or a snowboard for the day.

Skiing in Lake Tahoe, California. Photo Courtesy of Aaron Feen.

Strap on your helmets and get ready to shred. There are routes for everyone, from beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders. If you prefer to go at a slower pace, there are also rentals for cross-country skiers. Spend the morning exploring the terrain before heading back to the lodge for a bite to eat. Visit the General Store for casual fare, including deli sandwiches and pizza slices, so you can get back to skiing.

When your day is over, you’ll want to return your gear, collect your things and start the drive to the next resort. Heavenly Ski Resort is only about an hour’s drive away. Upon arriving, you’ll find many restaurants available on the property, from a donut shop to fancier sit-down restaurants.

When you’re ready to get some sleep, there are two lodging options to choose from, one near the gondola and the other by Lake Tahoe.

DAY 3 – HEAVENLY SKI RESORT

There are quite a few must-do activities at Heavenly Ski Resort. Start the day off with a picturesque adventure on the scenic Gondola ride, where you’ll experience incredible views of the surrounding area. This 2.4-mile trek takes you up the mountain to a lovely café, where you can snag a breakfast before soaking in the vast wintry landscape from the Observation Deck. Spend the rest of the morning skiing the slopes of Heavenly. There are a whopping 97 trails available with varying difficulty that you and your family can enjoy. Easily explore and find your favorite runs with 28 chair lifts to choose from.

The Heavenly Ski Resort gondola in South Lake Tahoe.

Head back down the gondola for some excellent cuisine options for lunch. Multiple restaurants serving everything from pizza to seafood are situated right on Lake Tahoe. After the meal, you can spend the afternoon and evening browsing local shops, ice skating, or catching a magic show.

If you’re on an adults-only trip, Heavenly Ski Resort has ample access to five nearby casinos so you can play a few rounds of Blackjack or try your luck at slots. With so much to do in Heavenly, you’ll want to spend a second night at this ski resort.

DAY 4 – OLYMPIC VALLEY AND PALISADES SKI RESORT

The fourth day of your West Coast ski trip requires an early checkout, so you can travel an hour to the Olympic Valley area. Before leaving Heavenly Ski Resort, stop by the donut shop for a quick and easy breakfast.

Olympic Valley stretches about 58 square miles and features lovely alpine forests. It is home to Palisades Tahoe, which has the longest winter season in the area. You’ll be able to ride down the slopes until late spring, sometimes even summer!

Palisades Tahoe ski resort in California. Photo Courtesy of EQRoy.

Famous for hosting the 1960 Olympic Games, Palisades Tahoe is jam-packed with activities ranging from live concerts and lake drives to skiing and hiking. Once you arrive at the resort, take the aerial tram to High Camp. You’ll enjoy incredible views and a marketplace high in the mountains. Then, spend your afternoon at the Terrace, which features beautiful views of Lake Tahoe and a lunch buffet.

Head down the mountain by skiing or tubing. Afterward, you can catch up on shopping in the village and find a scenic spot to enjoy your goodies from the High Camp marketplace.

The Village at Palisades Tahoe offers amazing slope-side lodging for your last night in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

DAY 5 – NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA RESORT

Your final day in the mountains will take you to Northstar California Resort. Since this resort is only a short distance (about 30 minutes) from Palisades Tahoe, you can enjoy a leisurely morning before heading to the slopes. This helps set the mood perfectly, as Northstar Resort is well known for its laid-back atmosphere.

Aerial photo of Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe, California. Photo Courtesy of Lance Huntress.

Begin your visit to Northstar by enjoying a breakfast sandwich from Copper Lane Cafe. It’s also a great stop for any snacks or other travel necessities. Then choose from various activities like snow biking, snowshoeing, skiing and ice skating. These activities allow you to enjoy the scenic area, exploring lush pine forests and tranquil peaks and valleys.

If the weather is not great or if you need a break from the cold, there are extensive indoor activities to pursue, like candle making, shopping, and catching a movie. From fun to forests, Sierra Nevada is a winter delight for families and outdoor enthusiasts.

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