California Nature


California Fall Foliage

Color change in the Sierras:
Mono County Tourism offers information on fall foliage: or call 800-845-7922.



  • Survival!
  • Deciduous trees shut down veins and capillaries (that carry water and nutrients) when temperatures drop.
  • If the leaves remain during winter freeze they can kill the tree.


  • Combination of shorter days and colder temperatures
  • Green (chlorophyll) absorbs sunlight and produce nutrients
  • Orange (beta-carotene)
  • Yellow (Xanthophylls and Flavonols) present in leaves, but only visible when Chlorophyll production slows
  • Red (Anthocyanin compound) manufactured from the sugars trapped in leaves, protects & prolongs leaf-life in Autumn

According to California Fall Foliage Expert, John Poimiroo, who needs Vermont when you have your very own leaf peeping season in California? It's hard to believe that nature can present such an amazing display of color, but each year as the temperatures begin to drop in the mountains, you can follow the changing of leaves through various elevations till the color changes reach the lower elevations at the base of the Sierras.

California fall foliage drives and vacations offer a fantastic autumn celebration with the peak color changes usually around early to mid-October. Inyo National Forest is considered one of the finest areas in California to discover the hand of nature at work. The mountains and meadows provide a symphony orchestrated with color in places such as Lee Vining in Mono County, part of the Inyo National Forest near Mammoth Mountain four seasons playground and ski resort.

Redwood forests of Eureka and Humboldt County, and mountain areas of Southern California such as Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto mountains offer mellower color changes that make for great weekend escapes. However, to get the full color change experience, head for the Sierra mountains.

To see the leaves change color, according to Sarah McCahill, it's about driving your car, according to Mono County Tourism, which produces the "Fall Color Guide", showcasing 17 places you can easily access by car to enjoy stunning fall foliage displays in California.

It would take about two days to see all the leaf viewing stops on the map, says John Poimiroo, a fall foliage expert in California. For those with limited time, visit several easily accessible locations such as Lee Vining shown in the photo above. The guide describes the trek-- Lee Vining Canyon 35 miles north of Mammoth Lakes -- take Highway 395 to the Tioga Pass/Yosemite National Park turnoff. Highway 120 climbs through a steep canyon, affording incredible views of the rugged landscape and the canyon's fall colors. If you continue on Highway 120, you'll reach Tioga Pass and the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Magnificent Mono Lake, an ancient inland sea with mysterious tufa towers, and sanctuary for millions of migrating birds, is one of the most magical visits, according to Poimiroo, a local.

You won't see all locations listed in the guide changing color at the same time-- leaves generally change 1,000 feet of elevation per week as the cold temperatures begin to drop. Starting at the top of the mountain in mid-September, the colorful displays move their way from higher elevations of an approx. 11,053-foot mountain to the foothills, taking over a month and a half to complete their annual cycle.

Here are some favorites of locals you may want to check out. If you notice a place mentioned more than others, it is merely because it is more popular and visited often during the fall foliage season which begins around late September and can go as late as the start of November, though by then, you'll often miss out:
Lake Arrowhead, via Highway 210 and rt. 18 from San Bernardino
Big Bear Lake
Hope Valley/Echo Summit, Highway 88 through Hope Valley
Southern Sierra
Yucaipa - in Oak Glen
Convict Lake, Grant Lake, Silver Lake, June Lake, Mono Lake and Lee Vining
Lee Vining, Mono Lake
Eastern Sierra thru Yosemite Valley
Lee Vining and along 395
Lundy Canyon, Conway Summit
Eastern Sierra - Lundy and Lee Vining Canyons
Hope Valley - Sorensen's, Monitor Pass on Hwy 89
Bishop Creek area:
McGee Creek: Still some good potential shots particularly around the stream at the pack station.
Lee Vining Canyon
Lundy Canyon
June Lake Loop, Grant Lake and around Silver Lake
Hope Valley - Hope Valley on Hwy 88, area around Sorensen's Resort
Sonora Pass aspens, Twin lakes and Virginia Lakes, Green Creek, Conway Summit, Rock Creek, Aspendel
June Lake Loop
Tioga Pass
Bishop to Conway Summit, Leaving Conway, to Green Creek, Dunderberg Meadow Rd.
Virginia Lakes
Lee Vining
Sherwin Creek
Crowley Lake, Hilton Creek and McGee Creek
Round Valley - Cottonwoods a
Hwy 50 just past Placerville to Sly Park Exit
Caples Lake - Aspens
Hope Valley near Kirkwood - Aspen
Eastern Sierra -
Mammoth Lakes, Twin Lakes
Rock Creek Lake
Sabrina Lake
Bishop Creek, North Lake, Lake Sabrina and along the South Lake Road by the Willow camp
Upper elevations past Aspendell and past the Mountain Glen campground, South Lake Road
395 into the gateway to the eastern Sierra mountains
395 and along 168, Bishop, South lake, Lake Sabrina and North Lake
Mono Lake on the slopes along the 395
Plumas County
Hope Valley
Eastern Sierra, Rock Creek -- From Iris Meadow Campground up to the Lake
Lundy Canyon -- From 395 up to the Lake
Virginia Lake -- From 395 (Conway Summit) to the Lake
Bishop Creek
Eastern Sierra
Sonora Pass
south on 395 to Mono Lake from South Tufa at sunset
Sacramento to Bishop via Carson and Monitor Passes and 395 and Caples Lake
Hope Valley around Sorensen'
Monitor Pass
Conway Summit/Dunderberg Meadow: Highway 395, Dunderberg Meadow Rd
June Lake Loop
Bishop Creek: Lots of nice color from above Aspendell to Lake Sabrina. Didn't have time to check out North/South Lakes but will do so tomorrow.
Eastern Sierra - Highway 395 between Lee Vining and Bishop, The upper part of the S-curve on Laurel Mountain, and drive to South Lake
Rock Creek Canyon - Above the Pack Station and around Iris Meadow campground. The canyon walls glow with yellow and orange mixed with lime green, plus reds.
Bishop Creek Canyon: Lake Sabrina and the groves past Aspendell offer a full spectrum of colors in the fall ranging from yellow, orange, red to green. The road to South Lake starts past the Mountain Glen campground.
June Lake Loop
Tulare County - Balch Park area of Tulare County about 6000 foot elevation on the west side of the Sierra
Eastern Sierra - South Fork of Bishop Creek all the way to South Lake
Eastern Sierra - Lake Sabrina, North Lake with its thick Aspens on the west side, on Mount Emerson and along the road to North Lake


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