The valley is about a 3¼-hour drive up State 4 from the Bay Area. Even on a busy weekend, the drive rarely breaks four hours, because State 4 is closed at the pass and gets little traffic.
WHERE TO STAY
The 1967 Bear Valley Lodge (from $99; bearvalleylodge.com) has rooms that aren’t much more than a place to sleep, but it doesn’t matter: Everyone hangs out in the soaring four-story Cathedral Lounge, with a vast fireplace made from granite boulders the size of cars. The four restaurants and two bars won’t win any awards but will keep you fed.
Many prefer to rent a nearby condo with a kitchen (from $195; bearvalleyvacationrentals.com); Sundowner is the nicest to date, but check to see whether a new building called Silver Mountain has any of its spiffy 2- or 3-bedrooms on the rental program yet. If you end up in one of the older condos―Creekside or Condo Bear―call to ask the rental agency which have been updated and which haven’t. Unless you have a thing for shag carpeting and macramé.
The cabins and vacation homes scattered up on the ridge offer great views and quiet. They’re accessible only by snowmobile, and a whole fleet tricked out with kid seats and luggage trailers stand ready in the village.
The Sunday-morning rush to leave Tahoe doesn’t really exist here. Take your time and enjoy the day before heading down the mountain. If you’re going to the Bay Area, when you get down near Stockton, regulars say that detouring around I-205 by taking State 99 south, then State 120 west will avert most Sunday delays.
More: Great snowy getaways