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When families think of great destinations to view fall foliage, California is not typically the first state that comes to mind. More often than not, people head to the eastern half of the country to witness New England’s dramatic color, or The Great Smokey Mountains ablaze with reds, oranges, and browns. Lucky for us West Coasters, there are still plenty of great places to experience autumn’s splendor without hopping a plane and battling the “leafer” crowds. Here are a few of my favorite spots to see California fall colors.
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1. The Vibrant California Fall Colors of June Lake
There are few places in California more beautiful than the Eastern Sierra in the fall. Quaking aspens flanking June Lake seem to glow as the sunlight penetrates their leaves. There is just something about the granite covered mountainside reflecting in the lake with fiery trees highlighting the foreground that keeps drawing people back to June Lake year after year.
One of the most scenic drives in Mono County is the June Lake Loop. Come early in the season before the snowfall begins and the area around the lake takes on its winter coat. Colors tend to peak by mid-October.
More California Fall Colors in Mono County
If you are looking to add a bit of adventure to your California fall foliage hunt, Mono County has some outdoorsy experiences to consider.
What better way to enjoy the wilds of the West than on horseback? Adults and children as young as seven can join the two-hour Horsetail Falls Loop ride which is offered by McGee Pack Station. The foliage-filled ride follows a creek to Horsetail Falls and McGee Gorge before returning on the Canyon trail.
In Bridgeport, Leavitt Meadows offers several different horseback riding trips ranging from one to four hours in length. The rides near Secret Lake sound especially scenic. Riders ages seven and up are welcome.
The Mono County region is filled with several lakes that are perfect for kayaking or boating. Aspens and other brilliantly-colored trees line area lakes such as Convict Lake, Twin Lakes, Rock Creek Lake, and Lake Mary and Lake George in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Several area marinas have kayaks and boats to rent.
Read more about where to stay and what to do while visiting the Eastern Sierra with Kids.
2. The Remarkable Yellows and Oranges of Bishop Creek Canyon
Mid-September is the time of year to head high up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to view the vibrant fall foliage near Lake Sabrina, North Lake, and South Lake. These spots are located west of Bishop in Inyo County, just off Highway 168.
The elevation in the Bishop Creek Canyon area hovers around 10,000 feet, and the fall color reflects beautifully off the alpine lakes There are several great hiking trails in the area, perfect for leaf peeping.
3. Enjoy Fall Color in California’s Vineyards & Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Fall color in Napa Valley is an experience unto itself. Wineries are just finished celebrating “the crush” and the night air is distinctively crisp. The grape leaves turn colors In between stops at wineries (yes, there are plenty of family-friendly wineries out there), be sure to walk a trail or two in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. The big-leafed maples are gorgeous and their leaves sound so wonderful crunching underfoot. Color tends to peak in mid to late October.
Check out our guide to Kid-Friendly Napa Valley.
4. The Changing Aspens of the Lake Tahoe Area
5. Find California Fall Colors in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is like the prom queen. She’s never had a bad hair day and always looks picture perfect. No matter what the season is, Yosemite never stops short of wowing whoever graces her presence. While many of the trees in the park are evergreen, there are still maples, oaks, and dogwoods to spice up the scenery come mid-October.
The fall weather makes for nice mid-afternoon strolls on the park’s hiking trails. Be sure to read our guide on enjoying Yosemite Without the Crowds (pssst….. the fall is a good time for that).
6. Enjoy a Burst of Color in Julian
Yes, there really is California fall color in San Diego County! At 4,000 feet in elevation, palm trees and sandy beaches give way to Julian‘s mountain air, apple orchards, and some wonderful opportunities for leaf peeping.
This historic mining town is a great place for Southern California natives to get a taste of fall without having to hop on a plane. Grab a cup of hot apple cider and enjoy the view before heading back on down the mountain and into the land of endless summers.
7. Enjoy Urban Fall Foliage in Sacramento
California’s capital is filled with more than high rises and legislature. Sacramento’s 110,000 city-owned trees (and many more privately owned) create quite a vibrant spectacle come fall. When I lived in Sacramento, I absolutely loved taking the bridge over the river and gazing down at the beautiful trees below.
My kids loved jumping in piles of leaves in city parks and searching for maple leaves bigger than their tiny faces. If you can pick any season to visit the City of Trees, make it autumn.
Good to know: Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is another place to enjoy urban autumn color.
Look for the best hotel prices in California
8. See Fall in Samuel P Taylor State Park
15 miles west of San Rafael, the Bay Area crowds are non-existent and coastal redwoods intermingle with oaks and firs to create a lovely fall spectacle come late October. Samuel P Taylor State Park in Marin County is a great place to hike, bike, and enjoy the golds and browns popping against the evergreens. Pt Reyes National Seashore is nearby, a nice place to take in the sunset this time of year.
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