As unlikely as it may seem, there are places with snow near Los Angeles! It’s true, in Los Angeles, you can play in the sand at the beach then go to play in the snow in the same day. How is this possible? First a lesson in the local geography.
The Los Angeles area has three mountain ranges that define its landscape. The Santa Monica Mountains is on the west of Los Angeles. It’s elevation is less than 3,000 feet and is the mountain range that starts with the Hollywood sign and ends at the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. The Santa Monica Mountains forms the southern border of the San Fernando Valley.
The northern border of the San Fernando Valley has two ranges, primarily the Santa Susana Mountains on the west and the San Gabriel Mountains on the east. These San Gabriel mountains stretch east from the northeast San Fernando Valley to San Bernardino County. It is in these San Gabriel mountains, with peaks exceeding 10,000 feet, that are at the right elevation and climate to get regular snowfall. The San Gabriel Mountains can be reached from Los Angeles within an hour drive and are the snowy mountain backdrop for a lot of photos of downtown Los Angeles.
The San Gabriel Mountains get regular snowfall, at least when it rains. That’s why there are ski areas like Mount Waterman and Mount Baldy. These areas were built in the late 1930s and 1950s with chair lifts so old that anyone who hasn’t skied in the 1980s are motified when they ride them. The peak elevations of these areas are 8,000 feet high and feature with steep, advanced terrain suited to the skill level of those who have been skiing since the 1980s.
The fact that these mountains have these primitive chairlifts shows that Los Angeles has a history of regular snowfall. On average, there would be a decent snowfall once every ten years with the last major snowfall in the city limits occurring in 1962.
However, the entire state entered drought conditions from about December, 2011 and for over seven years we have had little to no rain with no snow as well. What snow there was, was made by machines in the ski resorts. Instead of seeing the mountains blanketed with white snow, only a few narrow trails would be covered in machine made snow.
But all things pass and the tremendous rains we had last winter and in the past few months have helped to replenish our water supply and bring us out of drought conditions. The drought was actually officially declared over in March, 2019 which is a huge relief and things are getting back to normal, which means the snow is back!
With the recent rains and snowfall, being the good dad that I am, I thought of taking my kids up to play in the snow. I initially thought of going up Angeles Crest Highway (California State Route 2) into the Angeles National Forest and up to Mount Wilson. This road is just north of La Canada and so not too far away, an hour drive away and at the top where it gets cold there is snow.
The reason I know is this is because I am a car driving enthusiast and I used to drive my car and ride motorcycles up there (when I had them). Several times I drove or rode up there in the winter and remembered seeing snow at the top. In some instances, the road was barricaded closed due to snow or landslides.
My plan was to drive up the highway, find a nice snowy spot and park on the side of the road to let the kids play in the snow. We had tried to do that several years ago but we had gone up too late in the season and all the snow had melted. There was only a huge boulder of ice in the parking lot of a camp area. But the snow had just fallen two days ago but when I looked up Angeles Crest Highway on Google Maps, alas, the road was closed due to too much snow!
I had to find an alternate snow destination and I didn’t want to drive too far away and keep it cheap as well. I figured that any road that goes up to the mountainous area near the 2 highway should have snow as well. I looked again on Google Maps and found what should be perfect, State Route 39 north of Azusa. It’s not too much further away and located between Mount Waterman and Mount Baldy so there’s bound to be snow along the road. I was a bit hesitant because I found out online that the northernmost part of this road has been closed since 1978 due to rockslides!
Nevertheless, we packed our snow clothes, lunch, snacks water, two snow saucers and set off. We got halfway up the 39 when traffic came to a standstill. It turns out the road was being plowed of snow so we had to wait for the snow plows to finish their work. While we waited, the kids ran out to hillside where there was a little bit of snow covering the ground. It wasn’t ideal but hey, the kids got to play in some snow.
After a while traffic started moving and we continued north. I wanted to see the closed portion of the road and our timing couldn’t be more perfect. We drove all the way up to the point where the road has been closed and found a perfect winter play place.
The road was plowed of snow all the way up to where the road is barricaded closed. And the road is closed to vehicular traffic but you can walk past the barricades on foot into a safe area with 2 feet of fresh, untracked snow! It was almost like a resort area sans chairlifts and lodge.
My kids made snow angels, did some sledding, we had a snowball fight, made a snow wall as a shield against snowballs, the kids had a great time. It wasn’t very cold and the backdrop was beautiful, ridges of snow covered mountains against a sunny sky.
So the next time it rains and snows in the mountains, you can drive up to this area and others to play in the snow. You could even go down afterwards to the beach in the same day!
Just fyi, here are some specs on local mountain ski areas an hour outside of Los Angeles:
8,030’ peak, 1,030’ vertical drop, 150 acres
3 chair lifts, 255 trails
60% advanced, 20% intermediate, 20% beginner
No rentals, no gas station
8,600’ peak, 2,100’ vertical drop 800 acres
4 chair lifts, 26 trails
54% advanced, 31% intermediate, 15% beginner