English (US)English (US)

Popular Pages:

Visit California logo

Best Fall Hikes in California

Best Fall Hikes in California

Kick up some leaves on these autumn hikes around the Golden State

Removed from Likes

Feel a briskness in the air? As the sun slants closer to the horizon, autumn paints a warm-hued palette on California’s forests. Dried leaves crunch underfoot. Tawny hillsides beckon. Diminishing daylight sends an urgent message: Get outside now.

Savor leafy splendor on these best fall hikes in California and prepare to “fall” in love with the Golden State’s season of gold.   

Southern California Fall Hikes

1. Lower Doane Valley & French Valley Loop, Palomar Mountain State Park

Where: near Valley Center, 60 miles northeast of San Diego
Details: 4 miles round-trip; easy

At this conifer-studded park at 5,000 feet in elevation, autumn arrives in a color-changing tableau of thimbleberry, serviceberry, and bracken ferns, their gold and crimson leaves in flagrant contrast to the evergreens. Start leaf-peeping at Doane Pond, a popular fall photography spot. Follow Doane Valley Nature Trail alongside Doane Creek, which trickles past showy dogwoods, white alders, black oaks, and box elders. Loop back on French Valley Trail, where golden meadows give way to oak-dotted hills.

2. Main Loop, Oak Glen Preserve

Where: Yucaipa, 80 miles east of Los Angeles
Details: 2 miles round-trip; easy

The nonprofit Wildlands Conservancy manages this family-friendly preserve with easy walking trails, a botanic garden, and 115-year-old Los Rios Rancho, Southern California’s largest apple ranch. Just west of the barn, hike the preserve’s Main Loop to see Oak Glen’s namesake oaks glowing buttery gold and squirrels and woodpeckers squabbling over the best acorns. Box elders and sycamores add extra color pops to the festivities. After a hike, nab a slice of apple pie at Los Rios Rancho.

3.  Pine Knot Trail, San Bernardino National Forest

Where: Big Bear Lake, 100 miles east of Los Angeles
Details: 7 miles round-trip; moderate

Big Bear Lake is home to majestic conifers, but in autumn broadleaf trees steal the spotlight. At Aspen Glen Picnic Area, admire the golden shimmer of oaks as you start this trek to a knock-your-socks-off vista. Pine Knot Trail offers plenty of shade and switchbacks, making its 1,100-foot climb surprisingly manageable. At Grandview Point, elevation 7,784 feet, you’re rewarded with spectacular views of Mount San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest mountain.

4. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, Sand to Snow National Monument 

Where: Morongo Valley, 17 miles north of Greater Palm Springs
Details: 1.5 miles round-trip; easy

Leaf-peeping in the Mojave Desert? It might seem unlikely, but Fremont cottonwoods are the signature tree of desert canyons and washes, and in late autumn the trees turn brilliant shades of yellow. Wander amid an enchanting golden forest on wheelchair-accessible Marsh Trail, then extend your trip by looping around Desert Willow Trail. Don’t forget to bring binoculars: The year-round water that supports cottonwoods and willows also attracts an astounding array of birds. Big Morongo Canyon is an internationally recognized birding site.

5.  Tyee Lake #1, Inyo National Forest

Where: 20 miles west of Bishop 
Details: 4.4 miles round-trip; challenging

The chromatic canyons of the Eastern Sierra are revered leaf-peeping spots—especially if quaking aspens are your fall-color jam. You’ll see a riot of iridescent aspens just by driving Highway 168 into Bishop’s mountain canyons, but this trail offers a deeper dive. From the trailhead at 9,000 feet in elevation, the path zigzags uphill through glowing yellow-gold groves to the first Tyee Lake at 2.2 miles. If you’re feeling ambitious, even more lakes await higher up.

Northern California Fall Hikes

6. Whiskeytown Falls, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Where: Whiskeytown Lake, 20 miles west of Redding
Details: 3.4 miles round-trip; moderate

Most California waterfalls look their best in spring, but Whiskeytown Falls is glorious in fall too. Autumn rains rev up Crystal Creek’s flow, and dogwoods, bigleaf maples, and Indian rhubarb put on a dazzling color show. James K. Carr Trail makes a steep-but-quick ascent to the base of this triple-tiered waterfall, which splashes down 220 feet of moss-covered granite. At the falls’ pool, ascend the stairsteps to two viewing platforms—aptly named Photographer’s Ledge and Artist’s Ledge—to see its middle cascade. 

7. Saratoga Gap & Ridge Trail Loop, Castle Rock State Park

Where: Los Gatos, 60 miles south of San Francisco  
Details: 5.2 miles round-trip; moderate

Castle Rock State Park sits on one of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ highest ridges, offering unsurpassed views of timber-covered slopes descending all the way to Monterey Bay. Hiking here is rewarding year-round, but in autumn, the black oaks don their golden coats. Follow Saratoga Gap Trail past showy oaks, red-barked madrones, and geologic marvels—massive sandstone outcrops that were sculpted and chiseled by wind and water. Loop back on Ridge Trail, enjoying more golden oaks plus broad vistas of the mountain slopes cascading to the sea.

8. Cascade Canal Trail, Bear Yuba Land Trust

Where: Nevada City, 60 miles northeast of Sacramento
Details: 1 to 5 miles round-trip; easy

Elevate your autumnal vibe in this beautifully preserved Gold Rush town dotted with broadleaf trees dressed in shimmering fall hues. Pick up a maple-cinnamon latte in town, then meander along this level path that hugs a gently flowing canal. Beneath towering Douglas firs, groves of dogwoods and big-leaf maples show off bronze, crimson, and gold leaves. Stay on this trail for up to 4.5 miles one-way, or for more variety, turn onto Orene Wetherall Trail, which travels downhill to a woodpecker wildlife preserve.

9. Sagehen Creek Trail, Tahoe National Forest

Where: 8 miles north of Truckee
Details: 1 to 4.8 miles round-trip; easy

Fall foliage is most dramatic when you’re enveloped in it, so survey Lake Tahoe’s vibrant colors from this narrow, aspen- and willow-lined path beside Sagehen Creek. The trail sticks close to the stream most of the way, meandering in and out of aspen stands, tunneling through pine groves, and skirting bucolic meadows. You’ll share this trail with plenty of happy dogs and their owners. In 2.4 miles, the path ends at Stampede Reservoir, but you don’t have to go that far to see the best aspen groves.

10.  Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park

Where: 30 miles east of Groveland
Details: 2.5 miles round-trip; easy

Yosemite shines in every season, but starting October 1 you don’t need a day-use reservation to enter the park. That date coincides perfectly with autumn’s low-angle light, crisp air, and colorful leaves. Near Crane Flat, an easy hike on an old paved road delivers you to Tuolumne Grove’s majestic trees. Each giant sequoia is a remarkable sight, but this grove delivers on fall foliage, too: Beneath the conifer canopy, dogwoods turn stunning shades of gold, burgundy, and plummy pink.

Looking for even more leaf-peeping opportunities? Check out 8 Perfect Places to See Fabulous Fall Colors.

Removed from Likes
California Winery

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up and get weekly travel inspiration and ideas

Subscribe to our Newsletter