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Skip the Beach—California’s Ski Resorts Offer a Better Summer Trip

Sure, the coast is nice, but the mountains are where it's at in summer when it comes to hiking, biking, and views that don't quit.

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California’s 840 miles of coastline get all the love in the summertime, but the real stars of the show are the mountain ranges, where the air is crisp, the skies are clear, and the pine trees smell divine. The state’s ski resorts that inhabit these glorious peaks are far from sleepy during their relative off season. Rather, these adventure meccas are brimming with lift-served mountain biking and hiking, mountain coasters, zip lines, golf, kid’s diversion, and more. These five California resorts serve it all, no complicated details involved.

Also Read: Bag Mountaineering-Level Peaks At These Resorts, No Experience Required

Squaw Alpine

Brews, Jazz and Funk Fest, Squaw Alpine
Photo: Courtesy of Squaw Alpine

On their own, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows feature more than enough summer activities to entertain anyone. Together? You’re going to need to stay longer than you thought just to scratch the surface of all there is to do at Squaw Alpine.

Hot Ticket: Beers, Jazz, and Funk Fest, Aug. 14-15, 2021. This popular weekend in Squaw’s village is a celebration of beer and music—what’s not to like? Brews from over 35 breweries will be on tap to sample while you groove to the tunes from favorite regional bands.

Squaw Alpine Summer Checklist

• Hiking is free and extensive at both base areas—start your journey at Squaw and ride the Aerial Tram to High Camp at 8,200 feet. From there, the two mountains’ trail networks are easily accessible for any and all levels of hiking, accentuated with waterfalls, wildflower meadows, and dramatic lake views.
• For the sports history buff, the Olympic Museum at High Camp showcases the 1960 games that took place at Squaw Valley, and is free with your Aerial Tram ride.
• Although there is no lift-accessed mountain biking, visitors can gain access to four bike-friendly trails from the base or by Aerial Tram.
• Or just tool around on the paths that wend along the Truckee River and straight down to the lake.
• At the base, kids and adults can try their hand at a 30-foot indoor climbing wall and 45-foot outdoor wall, SkyJump bungee trampoline, or a ropes course with harrowing bridges, and zip lines.
• Bonus: There are drop-in yoga classes at Wanderlust Studio in the village.

Northstar at Tahoe

Northstar Biking
Photo: Courtesy of Northstar

Northstar’s welcoming resort atmosphere is perfect for summer family retreats. The mountain’s secluded location keeps guests insulated from Lake Tahoe’s summer bustle, while still providing the best of what the Sierras have to offer.

Hot Ticket: Enduro World Series, Aug. 24-25, 2021. Watch racers speed down the mountain, powering over obstacles, and launching jumps at this world-class enduro event. Pros and amateurs alike can enter and test their mettle against the course.

Northstar at Tahoe Summer Checklist

• Hiking is free and plentiful on the mountain; trekkers can depart from the base or take the lift up to access an array of easy to advanced hikes.
• The resort’s lift-serviced bike park is the largest in Northern California, featuring 33 trails of mixed terrain for all ranges of ability levels. The lake and valley views from the extensive trail network are not to be missed.
• Down at the base, the Kid Zone rules the scene. Families will want to take advantage of the wide range of attractions, including a climbing wall, bungee trampoline, roller-skating rink, miniature golf course, gem-panning course, and Spider Climb structure. While the kids play, live music entertains every Friday through Sunday.
• Adults can wind down after a tiring day with yoga, spa sessions, or a round of golf.
• Northstar’s panoramic 72-par golf course is parallel to none in the area; golfers will experience the top-notch course under the shade of California pines and the towering mountainside.

Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth via ferrata
Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

The beaches of Southern California are always crowded, unless you’re on the shore of one of the many lakes of Mammoth. For the land-lovers, there’s biking, golfing, and more to keep kids of all ages entertained at Mammoth Mountain.

Hot Ticket: Mammoth Wine Weekend, Aug. 20-22, 2021. Wine and dine around the village with tastings, winemaker dinners, a wine walk, and live music at this event that features more than 30 wineries.

Mammoth Mountain Summer Checklist

• Scenic gondola rides fly tourists up the mountain to 11,053 feet, where they can eat, explore, take in views, or visit an interactive exhibit center.
• A Via Ferrata guided climbing course offers an adrenaline-fueled way to take in the views while getting your daily workout in. There are six routes that progress in difficulty.
• Miles of hiking trails are accessible from the base, mid-mountain, and the top of the gondola.
• Mammoth also offers some of the most diverse mountain biking terrain in the U.S.; its lift-serviced bike park contains over 80 miles of singletrack, with terrain and designated areas for all abilities.
• The mountain’s golf course is nestled between mountains and lakes, offering pristine playing space for its 18-hole, par-70 course.
• Kids will enjoy the Adventure Center, where a rock climbing wall, zip line and bungee trampoline await.
• Older children to teens can participate in Mammoth’s overnight summer camps, where they play and explore in a traditional summer camp setting in the High Sierras.
• Mammoth Mountain stays buzzing with events all summer, from concerts to motocross events.
• Close by, the Lakes Basin and local rivers offer world-class trout fishing and spectacular views to hike and bike by the water.
• Horseback riding is also available at the resort—explore the backcountry with a leisurely sense of adventure.

Heavenly Mountain Resort

Heavenly Ridge Rider
Photo: Courtesy of Vail Resorts

Heavenly Mountain Resort, as part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Discovery, has revamped its summer offerings to serve up the biggest and most exciting range of activities around Lake Tahoe.

Heavenly Summer Checklist

• The resort features the Ridge Rider mountain coaster with some unbeatable views, sending riders swerving around rocks and trees, with the deep-blue lake visible in the distance.
• The less adventurous, although equally picturesque, way up and down the mountain is by 2.4-mile gondola ride.
• Visitors can test their luck at gemstone panning in Heavenly’s natural rivers, and are encouraged to keep what they find.
• At the base, there are rope courses and granite climbing walls available for fearless climbers of all ages.
• Explore the whole mountain via hiking trails or even by ATV tour at 9,000 feet.
• There’s truly something for everyone and every level of activity: the Epic Discovery Adventure Pass allows for all-inclusive options or the ability to pick and choose from activities as you desire.

Big Bear Mountain Resort

Big Bear zip line
Photo: Courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort

Smaller than its Mammoth-sized neighbor, but certainly not lacking in charm and family-friendly vibes, Big Bear comes to life in the summer. There’s also a bustling lake recreation area that’s not to be missed.

Big Bear Summer Checklist

• Hikers have access to two summer trails on Snow Summit and an extensive network of Forest Service trails in the San Bernardino National Forest.
• The scenic Sky Chair lift takes visitors up a mile-long ascent to reach hiking trails, mountain biking, and splendid views of the mountains and lake.
• The Snow Summit Bike Park rules the mountain for all kinds of riding. All ranges of ability levels can take advantage of singletrack, cross-country, downhill, and multi-feature tracks that lead all over the mountain.
• Kayak or stand-up paddleboard on Big Bear Lake, or take a fishing tour. Or just spend time with your feet in the cool water of an alpine lake.
• The Bear Mountain Golf Course is more on par with the happy golfer: the 9-hole course is set at 9,000 feet with a stunning backdrop of the mountain.
• The base of the mountain features a 30-foot climbing wall, bungee trampoline, zip line, and free fall bungee-assisted jump for adventurers of all ages.

Looking for more great summer activities at North American ski areas? See the top 5 picks for Utah here, or see SKI’s entire summer content channel here.