Looking for fall colors in California? From bright gold Aspens and deep red Maples to vibrant grape vines in wine country, Northern California is decked out in all of its fall glory in September and October.
But you can still experience fall in Southern California, too. While the colors may not be as dramatic as up north, you’ll still feel the changing of the season and drink in gorgeous fall foliage.
Read on for my top 10 picks for the best of California leaf peeping.
California in Fall
1. Yosemite National Park
Fall is my very favorite time to visit Yosemite! There is something almost sacred about the serenity and peace here this time of the year.
Plus, the park is stunning draped in yellow, orange, and brown foliage.
With the end of summer, the crowds are gone from beautiful Yosemite Valley in the heart of the park. It’s the perfect time to take in iconic sites like the granite cliffs of Half Dome and gorgeous Bridal Veil Falls.
Photographers will want to stop by the Tuolumne Grove Trailhead or capture the Yosemite Chapel framed by leafy red Maples.
On our most recent fall visit to the Eastern Sierras, we turned off 395 near Lee Vining to Tioga Pass before winding our way to Yosemite’s east entrance.
The flaming yellow Quaking Aspens are unique to this area. Backlit by the sun, they make a crackling sound as they shimmer in the breeze.
Where to stay in Yosemite: If money’s no object, stay at the historic and magical Ahwahnee Hotel. Otherwise, cute Sage Cabin makes the perfect base inside the park.
2. Convict Lake at Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes in California’s Eastern Sierras is home to more than a dozen lakes. This area fairly blazes with golden fall foliage in October.
One of the most beautiful places to take it in is at scenic Convict Lake, just 15 minutes from Mammoth itself. (Mammoth also makes a great road trip from the Bay Area.)
It’s both intimate and picturesque here with the lake surrounded by the mountains on three sides and beautiful autumn foliage.
Convict Lake got its name in 1871 after a group of prisoners escaped from a prison in Carson City and headed here. The sheriff rounded them up and gave the lake the moniker of Convict Lake.
Fun fact: The oldest rocks in the Sierra Nevada Range were discovered here. It’s the perfect spot for a fall picnic or hike around the lake.
This lake is also stocked with rainbow trout for world class fishing. And you can horseback ride here, too!
Where to stay in Mammoth: Stay in Mammoth at a luxe cabin in the woods with five star views.
Check prices and availability on the Mammoth cabin here.
3. Napa Valley
The harvest happens here August to December…through late October for whites and early November for red varietals with late harvest wines by the end of the year.
You can join in the fun at grape crushes and harvest festivals.
There’s no better way to take in the ruby reds and dazzling copper colored grapevines than from the air with a hot air balloon ride.
Or take a canoe or gondola ride down the scenic Napa River. The river is just as beautiful in fall as it is in summer!
Many of the local vineyards here have specially planted silver maples and liquid ambers for stunning fall displays. Check out the fan shaped golden leaves of the ginkgo biloba trees at Niente Winery in Oakville.
You can find California natives trees showing off their color at Bothe Napa Valley State Park. Walk the Redwood Trail by Ritchey Creek under bright yellow Maples.
Where to stay in Napa: Stay at the Cottage Grove Inn in Calistoga. Nestled in an old grove of elm trees and steps from downtown Calistoga, these luxury cottages comes with bicycles.
Check price and availability at the Cottage Grove Inn here.
4. June Lake Loop
June Lake—11 miles north of Mammoth and a three hour drive from Reno, Nevada—makes the perfect base for a fall weekend.
We spent the better part of a day (with plenty of stops and a picnic) on our e-bikes cycling the incredibly scenic June Lake Loop but most do it as a scenic drive.
The 16-mile “loop” veers away from Highway 395 onto State Route 158 and then joins it again.
And it is incredibly stunning in fall! The colors here peak as the summer temps turn cooler from mid-September to mid-October.
You’ll see the bright yellow quaking Aspens intermingled with vivid evergreen pines on mountain sides, in forests, lakeside, and along the highway.
Fall fishing is big here and so are hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
The 16 mile route loops past four scenic lakes: June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake.
Stop and breathe in the beauty anywhere on this low traffic road. Then swing into town for a refresher at June Lake Brewing.
Where to stay at June Lake: Stay at the edge of the lake in a cozy romantic cabin. It’s just minutes from town.
Check price and availability on the cozy cabin here.
5. Lake Tahoe
The idyllic mountain town of Lake Tahoe near Reno is well-loved for summer swimming and boating as well as its legendary downhill and cross country skiing when it’s blanketed by winter snow.
It’s one of the best places in California to visit in January.
The big secret? Fall is an incredible time to visit this jewel of the Sierra. Leaf peepers shoud head to Hope Valley at South Lake Tahoe for great hiking and the ultimate golden foliage.
Or check out the quaking Aspens at Marlette Lake on Tahoe’s east side. The five mile hike is crowd-free in fall.
Luther Pass—between Meyers and Hope Valley—also offer masses of aspens, pines, and firs and is where serious fall photographers head.
Another option: Head to beautiful Fallen Leaf Lake on the South Shore. You can rent kayaks at the General Store to admire the colorful shoreline from the lake.
Where to stay at Lake Tahoe: Stay at the rustic and romantic Brockway Lakeview Cabin, perched on a hill high above King’s Beach.
It’s the best of historic Tahoe charm with easy access to groceries, restaurants, and more.
Check price and availability at The Brockway Cabin here.
6. Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta in the Cascade range is the fifth highest mountain peak in the state and is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
In fall, Siskiyou County’s Oaks, Big Leaf Maples, Aspen, and Dogwood trees are painted orange, yellow, rose, and burgundy in a breathtaking splash of color. Snow-capped Mount Shasta in the background completes the picture.
Hikers in search of fall leaves should explore the numerous trails here, including Castle Lake Shore, Box Canyon, and McCloud River Falls trails.
Strolling Lake Siskiyou in Autumn is always a good idea. Or for a more challenging hike, walk the four miles to Maple Falls.
The trail is lined with golden foliage. Cabin Creek—between Mt. Shasta and McCloud is also a winner with tumbling falls adding to the picturesque setting.
Where to stay in Mount Shasta: Stay at the adorable Chestnut Cottage downtown with mountain views. It’s close to everything.
Check price and availability at the Chestnut Cottage here.
7. Bishop Creek Canyon
Bishop Creek, in the Inyo forest just outside of Bishop in the Eastern Sierras is the perfect place to see the changing aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees for breathtaking fall displays.
At Bishop Creek Canyon, gold and orange foliage lines the lake with the bright blue sky bringing the Sierra Nevada mountain range into stark relief. It’s a memorable view.
Fortunately, fall is a lengthy season in the Sierra Nevada so you have plenty of time to watch the color move from the higher elevations to the lower ones…all the way into November sometimes.
Bishop Creek Canyon is about 30 square miles with two forks: North Lake and South Lake. Mid-September is a great time to go.
If you’re heading here in October, visit Lower Rock Creek Canyon with abundant color everywhere.
It’s also the perfect spot for an adventurous mountain bike ride! Or enjoy an easy walk.
Heading to Bishop Canyon in late October? Try Round Valley and Bishop itself at lower elevations.
Watch the color creep through the desert scrub and brighten up the valley floor.
Where to stay in Bishop: Stay in a romantic log cabin with spectacular mountain views. It comes complete with an antique bathtub and wood burning stove.
Check price and availability of the chipmunk cabin here.
Jessica | Uprooted Traveler
8. Lundy Lake near Bridgeport
Lundy Lake is another magical fall destination in the Eastern Sierra!
We visited here on a chilly October morning and watched a whole family of deer move off the gravel road we were driving after turning off I-395 as the sun lit the tips of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
By the time we returned mid-morning, there were a number of photographers jockeying for position around Lundy Lake…and it was easy to see why.
With soft morning sun reflecting the mountains in the lake and bright yellow aspens crackling everywhere, the scene looked like the cover of a calendar.
The Lundy Canyon trail is a 5.3 mile out and back hike that first takes you through a scenic fall forest to the lake and then meanders uphill towards a scenic waterfall at the back of the lake, gaining a couple of hundred feet in elevation but nothing too challenging.
There’s an incredible lookout point part way to the waterfall.
Look right to the waterfall or left across the whole valley of bright fall colors, cradled by mountain peaks on both sides.
Where to stay near Lundy Lake:
Stay 30 minutes north at the edge of June Lake in a cozy romantic cabin. It feels secluded but is close to everything.
If you’re in Southern California, Julian makes a great fall day trip from San Diego or a weekend from LA. This charming little mountain town is famous for fall fun!
With seven varieties of apples grown in nearby orchards, you might not be surprised to learn that it’s all about the applie pie in Julian.
The best places to go? Taste test at Julian Pie Company or Mom’s Pies… or make your own. There are plenty of options for picking apples and pears direct from the orchard in town.
As a former mining town, there’s lots of history to explore here. In fact, at one time there were more than 200 gold mines in the area.
Today, you can tour some of the restored mining tours with Eagle Mining Company.
To see the bright red, orange, and fall foliage drive in this area, drive Highway 78 into town, walk Main Street, and head to Banner Grade.
Where to stay in Julian: Stay at the Eaglenest Bed and Breakfast. After a gourmet breakfast, you can walk to Main Street.
Check price and availability on the Eaglenest B&B here.
10. Santa Ynez Valley
Another great place to enjoy fall if Northern California is too far afield is the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, the Central Coast’s famed wine country in Snata Barbara County.
You’ll find more than 120 wineries in the six communities clustered here and plenty of activities to celebrate fall.
From grape stomps to wine and craft beer tastings and festivals, there’s something for everyone.
Drive Foxen Canyon Wine Trail for vivid vineyard views of fall colors or take a bike ride through the forested canyons on Tepusquet Road near Byron Winery. Guadaupe’s Osco Flaco Lake is framed by bright yellow willows this time of year.
Where to stay in Santa Ynez Valley: Stay at Westbrooks Farm, in your own private ranch retreat with fall’s valley views. You can collect your own eggs for breakfast if you like!
Check price and availability at charming Westbrooks Farm here.
Looking for real-time updates on where to see California fall color? Visit a map available here.
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