A heavy-duty dose of snow has finally arrived in the Sierra, making now a good time to head to the hills to take advantage of relatively inexpensive sledding and snowtubing spots.
One of my favorite places for snow play is the sno-park at Yuba Gap, located just off Exit 160 along Interstate 80 about 75 miles east of Sacramento.
The price for a sno-park permit is just $5, making this one of the best deals around.
But one cautionary note for Yuba Gap sledders: The little store at nearby Snowflower that sold sno-park permits last year had a sign in the window recently stating that permits were no longer sold there. While permits can be purchased in Auburn or at nearby Boreal, the best bet is to buy a permit before you leave home.
Yuba Gap has a fine sledding hill, but getting from I-80 to the sno-park can be a little tricky along the last mile or so of one-lane, ice-covered road. Even if I-80 is dry, consider bringing chains in case you get stuck.
The state also offers many other sno-parks around the Sierra.
A little farther east on I-80, a handful of snowtubing spots provide a good time for more money.
Just off I-80 at Exit 165, Tubes R Us Tubing Center near the north side of the freeway at Cisco Grove Campground features nice, sunny slopes.
East on I-80 at Exit 171, Kingvale Tubing and Sledding Park looks thrilling, especially with the sharp left turns at the bottom of the runs.
But it's hard to beat kid-friendly Soda Springs for snowtubing. Located off I-80 at Exit 174, this place does it right. The nearby lodge is a great place to warm up and eat lunch indoors.
For those seeking sled runs off Highway 50 at Echo Summit, Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe offers a groomed slope.
For each of these hills, be sure to call ahead for schedules, snow conditions, pricing and parking availability.