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9 Closest Ski Resorts to San Francisco

After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 15 years, I’ve come to know how San Franciscans take our ski trips to the Sierras seriously. Skiing and snowboarding are central to the travel culture of the Bay Area in winter. Unfortunately, a lot of Northern California ski resorts are pretty distant from San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. If you’ve ever tried to take a day trip or a single night overnight ski vacation, you probably know what I mean.

Winter driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe to ski

The Lake Tahoe area is home to the most ski resorts in Northern California, but Tahoe is a big area. Not all of them are the closest options to the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, the largest resorts are close to a 200 mile drive each way. The drive from the Bay Area to Tahoe in winter can be arduous. It’s often filled with traffic, making the trip take longer than the mileage might suggest.

So where should San Franciscans go for quicker ski trips? While Bay Area residents don’t have any mountains within super-close proximity like folks in Denver or Salt Lake City do, there are a few resorts that are easier to access. Here are the ones you can get to the fastest on your next ski vacation.

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Editor’s Note November 2021: While most state level imposed restrictions in California have been lifted for the upcoming 2021-2022 ski season, ski resorts will still function a bit differently this winter. Some may still require reservations and others will limit season pass sales. At least three resorts in Tahoe (all Vail owned) will require proof of vaccination from all guests ages 12+ to dine indoors on the mountain. Masks will still be required indoors most everywhere. Be on the lookout for a forthcoming guide to the 2021-2022 ski season so you can plan for modifications on the mountain and know what to expect!

5 Closest Ski Resorts to the San Francisco Bay Area

Looking for as close as possible? Let’s start with the 5 closest ski resorts to San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

1. Dodge Ridge Ski Resort

  • Driving Distance: 164 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours
Dodge Ridge in the Sierras is the closest ski resort to San Francisco

The closest ski resort to the San Francisco – at least in mileage – is Dodge Ridge. It’s also the closest for drive time for anyone coming from the East Bay. Dodge Ridge is located off of Highway 108, about 30 miles northwest of the town of Sonora and fairly due north of Yosemite National Park. The drive route to Dodge Ridge doesn’t get as much weekend warrior traffic as the two major roads to Tahoe farther to the north.

My husband and daughter have made an annual pilgrimage to Dodge Ridge nearly every winter for the past 5 years for a father-daughter group trip. So our family has a lot of experience with what the resort offers.

The bottom line? Dodge Ridge is a great little resort with fun extras like tubing that is also very affordable. But it’s only great when Mother Nature cooperates. The resort doesn’t have snowmaking capability which can make the conditions quite variable. In epic winter weather years like the 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 winter seasons, the skiing there was fantastic. But in drought years like the winter of 2017-2018, it’s entirely possible the resort isn’t open for much of the winter at all. So watch the weather closely before planning a trip. 

2. Sierra-at-Tahoe

  • Driving Distance: 176 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours
Sierra at Tahoe Slopes
Photo courtesy of Sierra-at-Tahoe

Located just south of Lake Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe has the closest driving distance location of any of the Tahoe area ski resorts. San Francisco Bay Area travelers will arrive via Highway 50, detouring off the highway to the resort before even hitting Echo Summit or descending again to lake level.

With 46 trails and 14 lifts, Sierra-at-Tahoe is a solid midsize resort that has a lot to offer all types of travelers, especially families. For skiers with kids, there is tubing, sledding, and snow play in addition to a quality ski school. And Sierra-at-Tahoe is also one of the very few resorts in the Tahoe area with an on-site childcare for non-skiing kids (see my comparison guide of family-friendly amenities at Tahoe ski resorts).

There’s no slopeslide lodging available at Sierra-at-Tahoe. If you plan an overnight vacation, most of the hotel choices are farther away from the Bay Area down in South Lake Tahoe. But there are vacation rentals aplenty close by – especially in nearby Strawberry. (See area vacation rentals on VRBO).

3. Sugar Bowl

  • Driving Distance: 177 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 2 hours, 50 mins
Skiing Sugar Bowl with Kids - Bluebird day on the slopes

The closest ski resort to San Francisco in North Lake Tahoe is Sugar Bowl, and that’s also the largest resort on this list. So if you are looking for a full service ski option, head here. My family has skied Sugar Bowl many times, so be sure to check out my complete Sugar Bowl guide for all the details. 

Sugar Bowl is located just minutes from Interstate 80 just over Donner Summit. Its location along an interstate highway can make the drive very fast when weather conditions and traffic cooperate – sometimes under 3 hours. But that’s hard to count on. That said, I’ve done Sugar Bowl as a day trip (in my 20s, when getting up at 5am to ski seemed entirely reasonable). So it can be done! 

Slopeside lodging is available at the historic Hotel at Sugar Bowl and there are lots of vacation rentals in the town of Norden in the surrounding few miles as well.

4. Boreal

  • Driving Distance: 177 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 2 hours, 50 mins
Close Ski Resorts to San Francisco - Boreal Night Skiing
Photo courtesy of Boreal Mountain California.

Just minutes from Sugar Bowl along Interstate 80 is another mid-sized ski resort that is a quick trip from San Francisco. Boreal is unique in that it offers night-skiing, making it entirely possible to work a half day in the Bay Area in the morning and be skiing by dinner.

Boreal also focuses a lot on learning, so it’s a great option for families wanting to teach kids to ski. Prices are quite a bit more affordable than at the mega-resorts in Tahoe. Boreal also offers tubing and is home to the Woodward learning center which provides training for all sorts of outdoor adventure sports.

5. Bear Valley Resort

  • Driving Distance: 181 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours, 20 mins

Located in the Central Sierras, Bear Valley is another non-Tahoe resort that makes sense for a quick trip from San Francisco. It’s due north of Dodge Ridge and takes about 20 minutes more in drive time to get there, but the snow is a bit more reliable. In terms of skiable acreage, Bear Valley is smaller than Sugar Bowl and Sierra-at-Tahoe but bigger than the other resorts on this list.

The main thoroughfare to get to Bear Valley is Highway 4, which San Franciscans would take all the way from Stockton. While the drive is a bit longer than a few of the resorts on this list (in part because it isn’t interstate highway driving), the advantage of Bear Valley is that it’s a more affordable ski experience.

The historic and rustic Bear Valley Lodge offers the closest accommodations but the Tamarack Lodge at Bear Valley might be a better fit for more upgraded accommodations.

Honorable Mentions: 4 More Larger Ski Resorts Close to San Francisco

A lot of the resorts on the list above (with the exception of Sugar Bowl) are smaller ones with more limited terrain and lodging. If you want to take a longer ski vacation or want more of the perks of a larger ski resort, there are quite a few additional full service resorts in Northern California that only require a bit more driving to reach.

So here are 4 more ski resorts not that much farther from San Francisco to consider!

6. Kirkwood Mountain Resort

  • Driving Distance: 184 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours, 30 mins
Skier in snow storm at Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Located in South Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood is the California resort for ski and snowboard purists. The resort terrain is steep and deep, and the vibe is friendly and chill. The resort has a small amount of slopeside lodging, but amenities are still a bit dated and the non-ski scene is small. Of course, many Kirkwood fans like it that way!

Although the resort is a little bit closer in terms of mileage than the remaining ski resorts listed below, it can be challenging to reach when winter weather hits. That’s because it is located a bit farther off the main drags on narrower roads that require slower driving.

To reach Kirkwood, most Bay Area travelers take one of two routes. The first is Highway 50 from Sacramento to CA-89 connecting to CA-88. The other is to take Highway 88 all the way from Stockton in the Central Valley over Carson Pass. These roads may not be plowed quite as quickly as the larger thoroughfares. (Ask my husband to tell you about the time he got our Subaru Outback stuck in a snowdrift on that road a few years ago!). But if the drive is clear, you can sometimes reach Kirkwood pretty quickly and faster than a lot of other Tahoe resorts. And the payoff is more snow than anywhere else and superb skiing and riding.

7. Heavenly

  • Driving Distance: 189 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours, 20 mins
Heavenly Skiing Tahoe View

Straddling the California-Nevada state line in South Lake Tahoe is one of the largest resorts in Northern California. Heavenly has three separate base areas and a wide variety of skiable terrain. The gondola empties out into the busy town of South Lake Tahoe just steps from the casinos in Stateline, NV, making for a vibrant atmosphere and apres ski scene.

Heavenly is one of three resorts in the Tahoe area that is Vail-owned, meaning your Epic Pass is good here. My husband and I skied Heavenly a lot before we had kids and the resort works well for couples and singles. It also has a lot to offer families, as we discovered when we took our kids a few seasons ago. We plan to take them back again this year, so look out for a complete guide post later this season.

Getting to Heavenly is a straight shot from the Bay Area right over Echo Summit along Highway 50, a well-traveled road that is well-maintained. But traffic can definitely slow you down, especially on peak weekends or when a storm hits.

8. Palisades Tahoe

  • Driving Distance: 195 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours, 20 mins
Squaw Valley USA Olympic Entrance in Summer

If this ski resort name is unfamiliar to you, you aren’t alone – it’s brand new in 2021! Palisades Tahoe is the new name for Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, a powerhouse resort in the California ski scene. Palisades has everything guests might want in a full service ski resort, from luxury slopeside lodging to a vibrant village for dining and apres ski to some world renowned ski terrain.

To get to Palisades, guests from the Bay Area need to drive the busy I-80 corridor into Truckee. Then, exit onto CA-89 and drive a further 15-20 minutes to the resort.

9. Northstar California Resort

  • Driving Distance: 195 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 3 hours, 20 mins
Skiing Northstar with Kids - Mid Mountain

Northstar California Resort is the ski resort my family has visited most often in our ski travels. It’s one of the largest in the Tahoe region and is one of three resorts owned by Vail in Northern California. The vibe at Northstar is very family friendly, with an amazing ski school and lots of activities for non-skiers or after hours. See my complete guide to skiing Northstar with kids for the complete overview.

As far as getting there, Northstar is easily accessible from I-80. It’s located on CA-287 about a 15 minutes drive from the Truckee exit on a well maintained road. Traffic, like everywhere in Tahoe, is a major factor to consider on Fridays and Sundays in winter especially.

Looking for skiing and snowboarding close to San Francisco, California? These 5 ski resorts in the Sierras and near Lake Tahoe are the closest drive from the Bay Area! It's possible to do a day trip or an overnight ski vacation if you choose one of these resorts. #skiing #skitrip #laketahoe #california

What Northern California ski resorts have you found have the right mix of proximity and amenities for your traveling family or group? Leave your recommendations and stories in the comments.

Want more information about California skiing or skiing with kids? Check out these related articles.

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