FALL FOLIAGE IN CALIFORNIA: Places to Go, Colors to See by Barbara L. Steinberg
Summer’s golden, sun-filled hours have shortened and the evening air is turning crisp and cool, Mother Nature takes her cue to begin a spectacular and colorful show of fall foliage in the Golden State. Autumn’s palette of deep reds, glowing yellows and warm, earthy browns may be enjoyed in many of California’s regions. Visitors taking a relaxing drive, hike or bicycle ride through the scenic countryside will be instantly immersed in the season’s breathtaking beauty. Here are some of the more popular places to view fall colors in California.
Alpine County: Aspen trees and cottonwood explode in bright yellow and golden colors in Hope Valley, Markleeville, Ebbett’s Pass and Monitor Pass.
Big Bear Lake: During autumn, the valley is a brilliant palette of reds, oranges, golds and browns as deciduous trees and bushes prepare for winter hibernation. The area derives its color primarily from oaks, but also includes aspen and some maples. Fishing as well as all water sports on the lake remain open through October as do the traditional activities of mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding. Five-star on the YELP scale, The Aspen Grove and it's golds and yellows is the only one of its kind in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Bishop: Travelers from Southern California in search of fall foliage will find Bishop the perfect destination. Encompassing America’s deepest valley and two of its highest mountain ranges, the Bishop area offers a remarkable variety of fall color. A fall color guide is available for the area and includes viewing directions for the following High Sierra foliage hot spots: Bishop Creek, Lower Rock Creek, Rock Creek, McGee Creek, Hilton Creek, Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake Loop and Conway Summit. Many of the canyons make a good base for campers and fishing in this area is abundant. The chamber also post fall color updates and information on its website.
Grover Hot Springs State Park: (Located south of Lake Tahoe, three miles west of Markleeville on Hot Springs Road) Aspen trees provide Grover Hot Springs with its lush, fall colors. The vibrant leaves and the park’s 102ºF mineral spring waters combine to make the area a special treat and a favorite spot for campers and hikers. In the fall Clark’s nutcrackers, white-breasted nuthatches, and band-tailed pigeons reside in the forest.
Mammoth Lakes: The transition from summer to winter turns Mammoth Lake’s alpine canyons and lake shores into a blaze of color. Aspen, willow and cottonwood unfold in brilliant hues of yellow, orange and red. Stands of old aspen add to the magnificent beauty of the area.
Yosemite National Park: Autumn’s arrival magnifies the beauty of one of California’s most cherished parks. The dogwood’s leaves put on a glorious show, including colors ranging from yellow to salmon, purple to Bordeaux red. Bright orange and vivid red aspen are on display, especially in the high country.
Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park: Surrounded by a network of rivers and lakes, Ahjumawi Lava State Park is an ancient, wild landscape that turns a collage of colors in the fall. Canoeists, boaters and hikers will be overwhelmed by the park’s brilliantly colored foliage as they explore the area’s waterways, pools and lava flows. This predominantly untouched park is only accessable by boat. Boats may be launched at Rat Farm, located three miles north of the town of McArthur on a dirt road near the end of Main Street.
Plumas County: Visitors may savor Awesome Autumn foliage in Plumas County by taking a self-guided driving, biking or hiking tour along Highway 70. Several of the county’s most beautiful viewing locations are described in the following paragraphs. Fall color upadates are available on the Plumas County website's Leaf Peeper reports. Look for a free copy of the Plumas County Fall Color Guide, a map that outlines the best routes in the county, illustrates common species and explains why leaves change color. The guide is available at visitor information centers throughout Plumas County. Download a copy of the map and routes.
• Bucks Lake Road: A soothing drive along Bucks Lake Road showcases one of the largest groves of dogwood in the county and an incredible vista of the valley below. The road also features several pristine meadows covered with aspen and creek willow.
• Indian Creek/Indian Valley: One of California’s premiere pastoral drives begins where Highway 70 and Highway 89 intersect, heading towards Greenville and Lake Almanor. One side of the road is covered with masses of golden oak, chokecherry and dogwood. On the other side, the banks of a clear mountain stream are lined with amber willow and flaming red Indian rhubarb. Broad bands of oak and quaking aspen also descend the nearby ravines resembling giant, saffron waterfalls.
• Lake Almanor: The lake, with Mt. Lassen looming in the background, is always a scenic masterpiece. Autumn offers miles of reddened dogwood along Highway 36, and thickets of glowing birch and aspen along Juniper Lake Road and Warner Valley Road to Drakesbad. Stunning, crimson dogwood is also visible north of Chester in the Benner Creek area.
• Frenchman Lake: Fall colors illuminate the area’s unique geological formations, lava rock and stunning lake. Indian rhubarb, dogwood and chokeberry paint the area a vibrant red. Quaking aspen and oak cover the surrounding hillside in a blanket of yellow, making the area a treasure for those in search of fabulous fall color.
• Quincy/La Porte Road: Entering the town of Quincy, travelers will see a montage of oak, maple and poplar sprinkled among the homes, resting against an eastern Sierra background. The entire drive into La Porte winds through canyons crosses the Middle Fork of the Feather River and is a spectacular color excursion.
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park: (Located northeast of Redding, six miles north of Hwy. 299, on Hwy. 89 near Burney) The falls at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park provide a spectacular backdrop for the changing of the area’s oak leaves. While surrounded by a forest of multi-colored foliage, visitors may watch as 100 million gallons of water flow over the park’s 129-foot-high waterfall.
Castle Crags State Park: (Located six miles south of Dunsmuir along I-5) The towering, granite spires of Castle Crags are made more majestic by the colorful scenery of fall foliage. The park’s 28 miles of hiking trails provide the perfect venue for those desiring to explore the glory of autumn’s changing leaves.
Sonoma Valley: When in search of fall color, don’t miss California State Scenic Highway 12 through Sonoma Valley. Gold rolling hills and magenta-splashed vineyards are a palette of color. The tiny “Valley of the Moon” stretches over than 17 miles of back roads, offering endless opportunities for scenic views.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park: Located four miles north of St. Helena on Highway 29, ten miles of hiking trails guide visitors along steep hillsides for spectacular views of California’s trademark redwood groves. An official “watchable wildlife” site, trails pass by second-growth redwoods and through chaparral woodlands favored by California quail, western scrub-jays, woodpeckers, and coyotes. A horseback riding concession operates during summer and fall.
Grass Valley/Nevada City: This quaint area is known for some of the best fall color in the West. Giant sugar maple and liquidambar trees warm Victorian homes and historic districts with their brilliant hues. Premium fall foliage is scattered throughout both towns. Grass Valley offers a gorgeous hilltop vista. Nevada City’s colors are more centrally located and may be easily enjoyed on foot or bicycle. Two of the region’s most popular sites are Nevada Street in Nevada City and the enormous maple tree at the corner of Neal and School streets in Grass Valley.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park: (Located four miles northeast of Arnold on Highway 4) The dogwood trees are a continuous visual pleasure with their beautiful white flowers in the spring, burning red leaves in the fall and stark silhouette during the winter. This mixed conifer forest bisected by the Stanislaus River also has diverse but somewhat elusive wildlife. A special feature of the park are its two universally accessible trails.
Henry W. Coe State Park: Located about 40 minutes from Morgan Hill, this rugged wilderness park’s grassy woodlands and chaparral are broken by the canyons and ridges of the Diablo mountain range. During the fall, the north-facing slopes are a kaleidoscope of warm and cool colors, with large, yellow maple leaves, bright green bay leaves and live oak leaves with various yellow and red shades. The wilderness park is accessed by horse and foot trails only.
Note: As weather and elevation greatly affect fall color, it is suggested that visitors call ahead for additional information.