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5 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 not all of them are the closest options to the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, the largest resorts like Northstar, Squaw and Heavenly 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 December 2020: Note that much of California is under a short term stay-at-home order at the moment that restricts leisure travel and may make renting hotels or other lodging more difficult or impossible at some ski resorts. Check out my complete guide to how the stay-at-home order affects California travel to find out what restrictions may be in place at your ski destination of choice. Be sure to also check out my post about how the 2020-2021 ski season will be different so you can plan for modifications on the mountain and know what to expect!

Closest Ski Resorts to the San Francisco Bay Area

1. Dodge Ridge Ski Resort

  • Driving Distance: 164 miles
  • Drive Time without Traffic: 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 and along a route that doesn’t get as much weekend warrior traffic. Dodge Ridge is located off of Highway 108, about 30 miles northwest of the town of Sonora. Its location is north of Yosemite National Park, but quite a bit farther south of Lake Tahoe. 

My husband and daughter have made an annual pilgrimage to Dodge Ridge 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: 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: 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. 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: 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: 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.

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

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

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