Updated: Mar 27
Julian and the surrounding San Diego mountain communities are the only places in San Diego County that you can find covered in snow on occasion. Yes, snow in sunny San Diego! In about two hours you can go from surfing to snowball fights to the hot desert sun. It's really one of my favorite aspects of San Diego.
We get anywhere from a dusting to a few feet on a rare occasion. Unlike Big Bear or Mammoth, snow in the San Diego mountains doesn't last long. Typically, the snow may even start melting the same day. How long the snow lasts depends on how much snow we get and how long the cold spell lasts. Most of the time it's gone within a day or two. So, if you want to come up for the snow don't dilly dally. The San Diego mountain region has been known to get snow as early as November and as late as Mother's day in May. We get most of our snow from January to March. Check out the Julian Webcam and Mount Laguna Webcam before you plan your trip. Mount Laguna, Palomar Mountain, Lake Cuyamaca, and Julian are located at different altitudes, sometimes resulting in some areas having snow while others will have none. For those coming to play in the snow, here's some local advice.
Plan in Advance
Snowstorms can be a bit tricky to predict with accuracy until the storm arrives. Check the weather forecast here. This does not stop the masses from venturing out in hopes of finding snow. Do all your necessary preparations while the storm is developing so that you can get the most out of a snow day. To have the best possible snow day experience, I recommend booking a vacation rental. This allows you to arrive before the storm hits, you have a yard to play in the snow, and as long as you stay put you don't have to drive in dangerous road conditions. For those doing a day trip arrive early in the day. The region is crowded by noon.
This is your fair warning, snow days bring LARGE amounts of visitors to the mountains. See photos above. The San Diego backcountry infrastructure was not designed to accommodate for such spontaneous large amounts of tourism therefore there is lots of congestion on high tourism days. Our local emergency agencies (fire department, towing, etc) are staffed to accommodate the local population, and staffing is not increased on busy tourism days. It is critical that you clean up after yourself. There is no local government entity to clean up after the visitors. Additionally, we have no way to dispose of the trash left behind. The region also has a major bathroom shortage.
Be sure to check the road conditions before you head up the hill. It's strongly recommended that a driver with experience driving in snow, is the one that drives. It's not easy to drive with snow and ice on the windy roads. Always make sure you have the proper size chains for your vehicle and know how to put them on before you head up the hill. Stopping in the middle of the road to put them on is not safe. Car accidents increase dramatically when there's snow. We have a very limited amount of emergency resources in the mountains. Resources are limited and stretched to the max with a sudden, dramatic increase of visitors. Lastly, it's strongly advised to fill up on gas before you head up the 78 or 79. We only have one gas station in town.
When To Come
Weekdays are the best time to come all year long especially when there's snow. During a holiday snowfall, we get thousands of visitors per day trying to play in the snow. In 2015, one local estimated over 30,000 visitors trying to come to Julian in a single day. Only about 4,000 people live here. If possible, arrive early in the day. The mornings are icy but everywhere will be packed by noon.
What To Bring
Bring all your waterproof snow gear with you (snow gloves, pants, jacket, and boots). Expect it to be cold than you imagine. Few stores carry a very limited variety and supply of snow gear/winter clothing. Sorry ladies but high heels are not a good choice when there's snow/ice on the ground.
Bring a change of clothes for everyone. Even with waterproof clothes, you're probably going to be dripping wet and cold after playing in the snow.
Be prepared with water and food for your party. Playing in and eating snow dehydrates you so bring lots of water. After a long drive and playing, you're sure to get hungry. If you come on a weekend, you may have to wait an extended period of time (two-plus hours) to eat at a local restaurant. That's not an exaggeration so come prepared! If you do decide to wait it out, please be patient with the staff. They are doing their best to serve everyone in a timely manner.
Packing Check List
4WD/AWD vehicle with snow tires, working headlights, working windshield wipers, and the proper size chains for your tires
Extra snow gear
Change of clothes
Food and water
Your AAA card
Trash bags for the trash you create and your wet clothes
Snow shovel, for if you get stuck.
For the health and safety of your pets, it is strongly advised against bringing your dogs with you to experience the snow. Most dogs aren't used to windy roads and long car drives. During snowstorms, the San Diego mountain regions experience LARGE amounts of traffic which means that you and your pet will be cooped in the car for an extended period of time. San Diego dogs aren't acclimated to the cold weather and walking on snow/ice. If you are cold, so are your pets. The snow, ice, and wet pavement are extremely cold for dogs to walk on.
When there's snow, outdoor dining is limited or closed. This means you will need to leave your pet in the car for extended periods of time.
In December of 2020, I witnessed a nasty dog fight in the Julian Historical District. I have also witnessed many close calls. We only have one animal hospital with very limited hours in Julian.
Jess Martin Park is the only place dogs are allowed to run off their lease in the designated no leash area from August 1st to January 1st. The Cuyamaca Ranch State Park and Palomar State Park only allow leashed dogs on select paved areas. This means the dogs are not allowed throughout most of the park, including where visitors play in the snow. Dogs are permitted in the National Forest Wilderness. Once you enter the Cleveland National Park, dogs are not permitted. Pets are only allowed in certain areas for your animals safely, the publics safety, to preserve the natural habitat, and due to wildlife. Please be conseriderate of your pet the an environment you are bring them to. Law enformacement is very present on snow days and will enforce the rules.
If you bring your pets with you they need to be comfortable around large crowds, strange dogs, and being left in the car. You need to bring pet food, water/bowl, collar/leash, poop bags, a warm dog coat, and paw bodies. These items are not sold in any local retailers.
Please pick up after your pets.
Where To Play
The San Diego mountain communities do not have designated places for the public to play in the snow, like ski resorts. Please be mindful of where you stop to play. Most of the region is privately owned. We ask that you take a little extra time in making sure you're on public lands and not private property. Even if you are on public land, we ask that you stay respectful of the land, wildlife, and natural resources as you play.
Here's a list of public spots you can play at:
William Heise County Park
Jess Martin County Park
Julian Museum & Pioneer County Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Lake Cuyamaca Recreation & Park
Palomar Mountain State Park
Cleveland National Park in Mount Laguna
Whispering Winds Catholic Camp & Conference Center (Reservations Required)
*Recreation areas may have day-use fees. These fees help pay for maintenance and services.*
When dirt and ground covering can be seen through the snow, it is time to find a new place to play in the snow. Over sledding cuts ruts into the ground that destroy the natural ground cover. It is vital that you leave no trace when you visit the local mountains.
The snow oftentimes covers signs and fences. Make sure you are not on private parking.
You can be convicted of a misdemeanor for trespassing and subject to fines. Do NOT play on private property, on the highway, in the Julian Pioneer Cemetary (see video above), in Frank Lane Memorial Park in neighborhoods, and in unsafe areas.
Lastly, on just about all major roads partially the Highways, there is no parking allowed along the road. No parking means NO PARKING. Illegal parking adds to traffic congestion. Local law enforcement does patrol the area. Cars parked in no parking areas will be ticked and the vehicle may be towed.
Snow accumulation plays a vital role in the local water supply. It is important to leave the snow for others to enjoy and for the local watershed. Do not block your windshield with snow. Driving with a blocked windshield is not safe and puts others in harms way.
We are very grateful for everyone who finically supports our community through purchases made at the local businesses. Without tourism, our local economy would greatly suffer. Every dollar spent is multiplied throughout our community. From creating jobs for locals to funding the nonprofits that support the community's needs. Tourism financially supports the mountain community. That being said the revenue it brings in isn’t enough to keep up with the infrastructure demand needed to support tourism on the scale we receive. It’s a “they come and we try to build it” situation. That is why we need visitors to help maintain the region by leaving no trace when they visit.
Please please take everything you bring with you back home. Our mountains are beautiful and home to lots of wildlife. It's always a very sad sight to see when they are covered in trash. There is no local government entity to clean up after the visitors. Additionally, we have no way to dispose of the trash left behind. We ask that you please help us maintain a clean environment for the animals and the generations to come. Do not leave trash of any kind including, but not limited to sleds, dirty diapers, snow gear, and more. Anyone who litters can be fined up to $1,000 and community service (see the law here).
As always, thank you for supporting our community. Have a safe trip!