You don't have to be a skier to find fun in the snowy Sierra Nevadas during winter. An inner tube, sled, or snowshoes are all you need to explore this winter wonderland. There are a number of slopes and snow play areas near Reno, Nevada, and Lake Tahoe, California, all conveniently located near the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
Snow play areas in Nevada are somewhat informal, while over in California there is a Sno-Park program run by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and other agencies. Many of the Lake Tahoe ski areas have areas dedicated to tubing and non-skiing activities, too.
Tahoe Meadows—or just "The Meadows" to locals—is a hub for hiking in the summer and sledding in the winter. After a fresh few inches of powder, you'll find every kid in town (and their parents) at the designated sledding hill, which is located across the highway from the Mount Rose Resort. This is part of the non-motorized snow recreation area.
Snowmobiling is restricted to another part of the park. Tahoe Meadows is a 30-minute drive from Reno. Because it's mostly made up of public land within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and parking is available along the highway, it's all free.
Driving to Galena Creek from Reno is easy if you don't count the elevation gain as you ascend higher into the mountains. Despite its altitude, this isn't where you come for big sledding and tubing hills. Instead, you can snowshoe the summer hiking trails such as Thomas Creek and brush up on your winter photography.
To get there, take the Mount Rose Highway to the Galena Creek Recreation Area and pass the Visitor Center to the parking area at the end of the road.
During the summer, folks flock to Incline Village, Nevada, to golf, but when the driving range becomes buried under snow, it turns into a dreamy playground for winter fun. This play area, located on Fairway Boulevard near the Chateau Clubhouse, is perfect for young children. The hills are gentle, yet still provide a thrill.
If you're working with different age groups and adventure levels in your group, North Tahoe Regional Park has something to satisfy just about anybody. The real thrill-seekers can go snowmobiling while the kids hit the grand slope with their sleds. Really little ones can stick to the little hill and parents can partake in a serene snowshoeing experience. Necessary gear can be rented at the concessions on the upper level of the park.
Hope Valley is in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, south of Lake Tahoe. You're free to snowmobile, cross-country ski, snowshoe, and even dogsled here during the winter. Download the Carson Ranger District Winter Recreation Guide online to get information about snowmobiling routes, responsible wildlife viewing, winter hazards, and more. Note that Blue Lakes Road and other parking areas in Hope Valley require a Sno-Park permit November through May.
The Spooner Summit mountain pass links Lake Tahoe to Carson City. It's only nine miles from Incline Village, which means powder heads could even combine the two for a full day of snow play if they so wish. Here, you'll find varied grades of steepness with the largest hills at the top and milder slopes at the bottom. It's totally free, but you must bring your own gear to participate.
Tahoe City's Winter Sports Park offers so much more than skiing. You can ice skate, cruise down the sled hill, strap into a pair of snowshoes, or explore the trails by bike (the resort rents out special, winter-friendly bicycles). An on-site restaurant and bar has you covered for après-ski activities. You must purchase a pass to ride on this family-friendly sled hill, but the tube is included in the price.
"Less climbing, more sliding" is Boreal's motto. This snazzy tubing park at the Boreal Mountain Resort includes a moving carpet so that kids can spend their energy zooming down the hill and not lugging their inner tubes up it. Unlike the primitive hills in the area, this one is well maintained. Admission includes all-day snow play.
The little ones can partake in the adventure, too, with Heavenly Lake Tahoe's "mini tubing." This smaller hill ensures that kids under 42 inches tall can join in on the fun. There is, of course, a more adventurous hill (500 feet) as well. If you'd rather, you can go on a guided UTV tour or ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster. In any case, the activities are located at the top of a gondola that provides pristine views.
Tubing, sledding, snowmen, and snowball fights are all welcomed activities at Tahoe Donner's Snowplay Area in Truckee. The sledding hills are gentle enough for younger kids, and the tubing lanes are monitored. If you need a hot drink or a snack between runs, there's a food truck parked at the entrance to the Snowplay section on weekends.