Autumn is in full bling, and California’s trees are having their moment. For leaf-peepers, it’s go-time to see aspens, cottonwoods, dogwoods, maples, and oaks decked out in flashy fall regalia. But you have to act fast. John Poimeroo, editor of the seasonal blog California Fall Color, says that some of the state’s highest alpine trees have already hit their peak colors, while lower-elevation groves are just starting to turn. Check his website for weekly updates, find out more about autumn leaf locations in California, and go see the leafy spectacle at these sure-fire spots.
1. Eastern Sierra
From Bridgeport to Bishop, aspen groves have celebrity status (at least on Instagram). Due to last week’s stormy weather, the trees above 9,000 feet have already peaked, but lower canyons are lagging behind. Fill your windshield with color by cruising Highway 168 west from Bishop. Near Bridgeport, stop for photo ops on the snaking drive up Sonora Pass (Hwy. 108). Hike uphill to aspen-lined Parker Lake off the June Lake Loop or tunnel your way through Lundy Canyon’s dense groves.
2. Carson Pass
South of Lake Tahoe on Highway 88, the aspens of Carson Pass have unfurled their colors, offering a diverse palette. On the west side of the pass, Hope Valley is an easy score for glowing golds and opulent oranges, especially in the groves surrounding Sorenson’s Resort. On the east side, admire the tawny red aspen stands near Caples Lake and Woods Lake.
3. Plumas County
Plumas County’s trees are in serious show-off mode. Drive the Feather River National Scenic Byway near Quincy to see Pacific dogwoods turning deep wine-red and bigleaf maples waving their massive yellow leaves. Frenchman Lake and Frenchman Creek are lit up with flamboyant aspens, cottonwoods, and oaks. For daily updates, check Plumas County’s “Awesome Autumn” Facebook page.
4. Napa Valley
Procrastinators, take heart: California’s vineyards provide a dazzling kaleidoscope that lasts till late November. Colors change according to grape variety, so if the cabernet vines aren’t in full splendor, check the chardonnay fields. Best bet: Drive Silverado Trail between Napa and Calistoga. In Oakville, see the fan-shaped golden leaves of 100 ginkgo trees at Far Niente winery, plus Japanese maples. Or survey the colors from on high: Ride the aerial tram at Sterling Vineyards to look down on a mosaic of tawny orange and copper vines.
5. Oak Glen
The mile-high climate of this rural Southern California hamlet lends itself to apple-growing, pumpkin patches, and fiery fall colors. Oak Glen’s namesake oaks glow a lush, buttery gold, but the real head-turner is the black walnut, whose leaves turn amber and crimson. Take in the chromatic scenery, then stop at Snowline Apple Orchard for to-die-for cider donuts.