After Labor Day weekend, it’s a magical time to be in the Sierra Nevada range. The large assortment of fall festivals will keep you entertained while Mother Nature brings the fireworks. We’re talking about the fall color in the High Sierra. Compared to other parts of the country, the landscape, vegetation and meadows create a display unlike anywhere else in the world. While you still have a few weeks until the fall color starts, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite spots for fall color in the High Sierra.
Best Time To See Fall Color In The High Sierra
Just like any natural phenomenon, timing is essential. Fall color in the High Sierra arrives around the middle of September and peaks through October, but the exact timing for when the leaves change color varies somewhat from year to year. You also need to take into account where you’re headed in the High Sierra.
Sugar Pine Point State Park – Getting More Acquainted With Ma’ Nature
When you think of Tahoe, the first trees that come to mind are conifers. In autumn, the stars of the show are the stands of aspens. They bring the “pop” of color for this time of year. And, one of the best places to see them in person is to head over to the General Creek Trail in Sugar Pine Point State Park. The 4.5 mile loop contains a vast stand of black cottonwood and quaking aspens that are a sight to behold. Additional Leaf Peeping Hikes in North Lake Tahoe include Page Meadows, Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake. Nature guides and outfitters, including Tahoe Adventure Company, provide guided educational hikes and bike rides through the backcountry.
Frederick’s Of Tahoe
What summer is to high paced energetic fun such as mountain biking, autumn is to a peaceful stroll amongst sunfire yellow Aspen leaves. A fall getaway is your chance to catch your breath and escape the doldrums of daily life. One of our personal favorites to take in Mother Nature’s display is Frederick’s Meadow. Located next to Fallen Leaf Lake, this stand of Aspens are surrounded by peaks that reach more than 10,000 feet. While summer can be quite busy, fall is the perfect time to enjoy this beautiful meadow. In fact, it’s a great time for a romantic vacation.
Where There’s Fall Foliage, There’s Hope Valley
If there’s one place that’s the most iconic for fall photos, it’s Hope Valley. A large sweeping valley with bright yellow aspens against a backdrop of deep emerald conifers. And overlooking it all, tall dark granite peaks sprinkled with early snow. A scene that looks as if it’s from a postcard. Just twenty minutes south of South Lake Tahoe in Alpine County, the drive itself is worth the journey.
Glide Your Way To Color In Truckee
Not to be left out of Mother Nature party, Truckee is a great basecamp for leaf peepers. Nearly surrounded by destinations with autumn’s artwork. Places like Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail are adorned with colorful displays. But one of the easiest to access from Truckee is Martis Valley. As of this summer, the newly paved 10.2-mile path connects downtown Truckee to Northstar. Along it you’ll find the golds and browns of willows and grasses contrasting against the deep green of the pines.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park – On A Journey For Color
Among the tall giants of this state park, you will unexpectedly find a deep spectrum of fall colors. The contrast of the giant sequoias as a background with the dogwoods dressed in red and big leaf maples transitioning to yellow and gold… let’s just say the scene will leave you speechless. If that isn’t enough, head a bit further north on Highway 4 to see an explosion of color transforming aspens.
Tioga Pass – Scenic Drive
At a summit elevation of 9,943’, Tioga Pass is the highest highway pass in California. Although just about every bend in the road reveals another awesome view, the dramatic and rugged Lee Vining Creek off of Poore Power Plant Road is a great option for fall color. This graded dirt road accesses you to a forest of aspens that line the creek. You’ll be rewarded with a display of red, gold and green with views of the 13,000-foot Mount Gibbs and Mount Dana towering overhead. Go here for the most up-to-date fall color report from Mono County Tourism.
The Eastern Sierra is filled with a multitude of places to see autumn’s display of color. If Tioga Pass is a bit too far from where you’re staying, places like Rock Creek Road (pictured above), the iconic June Lake Loop Road, and Virginia Lakes Road will leave you speechless and still capture the essence of the season at its best.
Tip Toe Through The Aspens In Bishop Creek
Another Eastern Sierra hotbed of Vermilions and Crayola Lemons is within Bishop Creek Canyon. You could arguably say it’s one of the most beautiful places to take in the changing seasons, possibly in the country. Just a short drive from the cozy hamlet of Bishop, it isn’t just the destination either. All along the winding road up, you’ll be rewarded with groves of Quaking Aspen and Willow in different states of change. The cherry on top though is when you explore on foot.
Don’t Take It For Granite Fall Colors In Yosemite Valley
In the spring, to catch wildflower displays you begin in the low elevations and slowly ascend as the snowmelts. While in the fall it’s the opposite. In September, the highest elevations begin to change and cascade downward to the lower elevations where the fall “bloom” can happen as late as December. Specifically, Yosemite Valley is right in the middle of the transition and home to a veritable smorgasbord of colors. Dark oranges/browns on black oaks. Reds and pinks on Dogwoods. Bright yellows on Cottonwoods. Sugar Maples turn a brilliant red near the Yosemite Chapel. With less crowds and a potpourri of colors, it makes an autumn visit well worth it.
Striking It Rich In Gold Country
As the high country and mid-elevations dim in their autumnal brilliance, it’s time to head lower into the Gold Country. Just a few miles outside of the Arch Rock entrance, you’ll find the winding and weaving Highway 140. A road that’s framed by the mighty Merced River and the deep canyon it’s cut over the millennia. Within it willows, oaks, and cottonwood light up an already radiant fall day. And as you finish snapping countless photos, continue further to the historic town of Mariposa. Here you can reap the county’s harvest and sip on award-winning wines and ciders.
A Little Bit Of History With A Dash Of Foliage
On the northern edge of Yosemite National Park, you’ll find Tuolumne County and what is considered the best-preserved Gold Rush Town in California – Columbia. The “gem of the southern mines” is like traveling back in time to the sights, smells, and sounds of a nineteenth century mining town. Alongside merchants dressed in 1850’s attire and the sound of a stagecoach rumbling into town, you can enjoy the change of seasons as well. The display of reds, yellows, and orange hues against the largest concentration of gold rush-era structures is a sight that you won’t soon forget.
Biking @ Mammoth – Combining Cycling With Leaf Peeping
If you’re an adrenaline junkie AND want to get in some leaf peeping at the same time, look no further than Mammoth Mountain. Boasting 3,600 acres and 80 miles of single track, it offers a vast assortment of terrain for all abilities AND a chance to get in some fall foliage viewing. From rocky mountain faces above a sea of color or a trail that rushes through a forest of golden aspen, you’ll end up feeling inspired AND invigorated.
Fall in the High Sierra is quite beautiful but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared. Like all mountainous regions, weather can change fast. Reviewing the weather forecast is important, especially when heading into the higher altitude areas like Tioga Pass. While you may have a few weeks until the fall “show” begins, get prepared as Mother Nature WILL deliver some amazing fall color in the High Sierra.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at https://localfreshies.com
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