Best Places To Ice Climb Near The Bay Area

December 15, 2012 5:00 AM

The Bay Area is a hotbed for year-round activities, from distance running and cycling to deep-sea fishing and sailing. But for winter sports such as ice climbing, snowboarding and skiing, residents know that the Bay Area rarely has any snow, let alone ice for climbing. Fortunately for winter sports enthusiasts, there is an abundance of prime locations throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains in which to pursue their sport of choice. This guide covers five of the best places near the Bay Area for ice climbing. Ice climbing is a physically demanding sport and all safety precautions should be observed before engaging in this activity.

Cascade Falls
Bayview Campground, Lake Tahoe Basin
California Highway 89
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 543-2600

Cascade Falls has been described as one of the world’s best ice-climbing destinations. Visitors can park at the vista point along Highway 89 overlooking the postcard-perfect view of Emerald Bay on the lake’s west side. From this vista point, visitors must walk to the Bayview Campground, which is closed during winter along with Emerald Bay State Park, across the highway. But behind the campground is the trail leading to Cascade Falls, approximately one mile away. The falls are located at the end of Cascade Lake and are considered to be an excellent location for beginners to ice climbing.

Related: Getaway Guide: Weekend Guide to Lake Tahoe

Eagle Creek Canyon
California Highway 89
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 543-2600

Like Cascade Falls, visitors to this popular ice climbing location in Lake Tahoe must take Highway 89 towards Emerald Bay and Tahoe City. There is free parking along Highway 89 at the vista point at Emerald Bay. While taking in the incredible views of Emerald Bay, visitors must follow the posted signs to the beginning of the Eagle Falls Trailhead. The best ice climbing is at the inlet to Eagle Lake, approximately 2.3 miles away.

Lee Vining Canyon
Highway 120
Lee Vining, CA 93541
(760) 873-2400

Despite being the furthest location from the Bay Area, Lee Vining within the Inyo National Forest, along with neighboring June Lake, is considered THE best location in California for ice climbing and has to be included if Bay Area residents want to sample the best. Located just south of the town of Lee Vining and 25 miles north of the community of Mammoth Lakes, the entrance to the canyon is located next to the Poole Power Plant on Poole Power Plant Road. Highway 120 through Tioga Pass closes during the winter, so travelers must take Highway 395 or fly into Mammoth Lakes. Many ice-climbing schools operate during the winter, most notably the Alpine Institute and Sierra Mountain Guides.

Related: Getaway Guide: Weekend Road Trip to Mammoth Lakes

Sugar Bowl
629 Sugar Bowl Road
Norden, CA 95724
(530) 426-9000

At a distance of approximately 180 miles, the Sugar Bowl ski resort is the closest location for travelers coming from the Bay Area for ice climbing. The resort is located not far from Donner Lake off Highway 80 and just before the town of Truckee. Alpine Skills International, located at the Backcountry Adventure Center, offers two daily ice-climbing sessions and includes both professional guidance and all climbing gear. The center also has equipment rentals and retail goods for purchase, in addition to a series of informational clinics.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
(209) 372-0200

The trip to the Yosemite Valley during winter is a treat in itself, but for ice climbers, it is a veritable winter wonderland. There are a number of choices for climbers in categories ranging from easy to very difficult and expert levels. The most well-known ice climbs in Yosemite are at Sentinel Falls and Widow’s Tears. Unfortunately, the Yosemite Mountaineering School does not offer winter ice-climbing classes and moves all of its operations to the Nordic Center at Badger Pass, where it runs a ski school.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. His work can be found on

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