Some people think California does not have seasons. Wrong. If you have seen how the leaves change from green to intense red, yellow and orange while driving from south to north, you’d agree California has one of the best fall color viewing routes.
To start a fall color viewing trip, the first big question is when. Well, every year is different, but normally the peak season starts from late September and ends mid-November. Unlike the east coast, the color drops by elevation in California. According to fall color expert John Poimirro, "The colors start turning at 10,000 feet in the Eastern Sierra starting in early September and continue through November."
Since most leaves are vulnerable and won’t last long, it’s better to track from these two real-time update website.
1. California Fall Color
Run by John Poimirro, this website provides full year update of California’s fall color on major spots. It uploads photos from contributing photographer and tell you what that spot exactly looks like today. You can also check the archive from last year to when pre-planning you trip.
2. California Fall Color Map
It’s Google Map with the status of the colored leaves, updating every day.
Here’s how it looks like today:
Instructions to read the map here:
When you see most of the leaves turn orange and red, go now!
The second question is where.
Where to visit:
1. Highway 395
A road trip along highway 395 is highly recommended. Driving from south to north, you’ll see the leaves turning from deep green to red, yellow and orange, which gives you a feeling of traveling through time. Small villages and parks along the highway provides the view of peaceful countryside with colorful autumn views.
Also, since this is a 557-mile route in California, you can travel as early as mid-September for the North colors or as late as late November when the South leaves finally turn red.
2. Mammoth Lake
Before the skiing season, mammoth has its leaf-peeping season. A variety of trees including aspens, cottonwoods and alders holds a breathing-holding sight for travelers. Either walk a trail or take a scenic drive to be surround by the best California colors. Stop by the welcome center on Highway 203 for a guide to the best spots to view the California fall leaves throughout Mammoth Lakes.
(Photo Credit to Albert de Bruijn)
3. June Lake Loop
Drive north from Mammoth Lake along highway 395, you will see June Lake Loop, which is one of the best fall foliage viewing spot in California. The aspen trees are usually peaking in October. There are also hiking trails to walk and a plenty of picnic spots along the lake.
4. Yosemite National Park
The autumn view of Yosemite can be gorgeous with a sea of colored trees contrasted with the parks famous evergreens. Yosemite is not among the best to see fall foliage in U.S., but it’s definitely worth stop-by if you plan more than a weekend trip. But do check the fall color map constantly, an early snow can make all the leaves fall easily.
(Photo Credit to Shubhika Bharathwaj)
5. Bishop Creek Canyon
Red, yellow, orange aspens greets you when heading into Bishop Creek Canyon from late September to early October. Plenty of outdoor activities to do in the canyon including hiking, camping and fishing.
6. Big Bear Lake
If you just pass the peak season of the north colors, you still have a chance at Big Bear Lake. A short drive from Los Angeles, the Big Bear Lake also features the contrast between the colored trees and evergreens. Take the 5-miles Cougar Crest Trail from Discovery Center for the most spectacular views along the Big Bear Lake.
Where to stay:
Bishop is highly recommended!
“Bishop, California is a friendly town nestled in between two majestic mountain ranges, the iconic Sierra Nevada mountains to the West, and the White Mountains to the East. This unusual geographic location makes Bishop incredibly special and during your stay here you will enjoy stunning, world-renown scenery, unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities, and a lively rural culture.” –Bishop Visitor Information Center
With widely planted aspens and easy to spot snow covered mountains, many visitors like to take a day and wondering around the town, enjoying the clear view and friendly atmosphere around the town.
Besides it’s special geographic location, Bishop is the biggest town along Highway 395 if you are not heading to Lake Tahoe. It means you get to sleep in good hotel, have decent food and able to purchase plenty supplies for the trip ahead!
Also, make sure you take a California fall color map before you hit the road again. Most hotels in town provide that map.
Cannot wait to go? More recommendations here: