California Fall Colors | The 8 Best Places to See California Fall Foliage

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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

California Fall Colors June Lake
June Lake Loop | Photo by: Flickr/Brandon Levinger

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. 

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

California Fall Foliage Bishop Creek Canyon
The road to Lake Sabrina | Photo by Flickr/DonCannon

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

California fall colors bothe napa valley state park
Bother-Napa Valley State Park | Photo by Sharlene Earnshaw

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

California Fall Foliage on the Truckee River
Fall Foliage on the Upper Truckee River | Photo by Flickr/ Jcookfisher
 
Fall color is easy to find around Lake Tahoe. In South Lake Tahoe, head over to the Fallen Leaf Lake area to enjoy the yellow aspens of Fredrick’s Meadow. The one-mile trail to Glen Alpine Springs is also in the area and full of color. 
 
In North Lake Tahoe, head to the Tahoe Rim Trail where it meets Ward Creek Boulevard and hike 1.5 miles north to Page Meadows. Marlette Lake near Tahoe and the upper Truckee River are two more nice places to enjoy the aspens. October is your best bet for Tahoe fall color. 

5. Find California Fall Colors in Yosemite National Park

California fall colors Yosemite
Fall Color in Yosemite Valley | Photo by: Flickr/BernardSpragg

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).

Check for amazing deals on family-friendly hotels near Yosemite

6. Enjoy a Burst of Color in Julian

California Fall colors
Julian in the Fall | Photo by: Flickr/GoldenStatePhoto

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 fall colors

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

California Fall Colors Samuel P Taylor State Park
Samuel P Taylor State Park | Photo by Sharlene Earnshaw

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.

Lead Image by: Bigstock/SNEHITDESIGN

Best Spots to View Fall Foliage with Kids in:

Northern and Central California | Southern California | Utah | Texas| Tennessee| New England | North Carolina | Ohio | Pennsylvania | Oregon | Washington

About the author

Sharlene Earnshaw is Trekaroo’s Editor in Chief. She lives in sunny Orange County, CA, with her husband and 13-year-old son and daughter (twins!). She is a self-proclaimed National Park junkie and has the goal of visiting each and every one with her kids. When she isn't traveling to places like Norway, Peru, Disney World, and Hawaii with her family, she enjoys hiking, beach days, obsessively rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, and planning her brood's next trip.
18 Responses
  1. Kim

    All great suggestions. Just note that Yosemite Falls doesn’t have any water this time of year. We went last year in September to show my mom, and we pointed to where the water ought to be.

  2. Amie O'Shaughnessy

    That June Lake photo is incredible. I’ve never been to the Eastern Sierras over the fall months but hear it is amazing … on my must-see list! Thanks for sharing the info.

  3. Lisa Bergren

    Mmm, good reminder that California has her own special brand of Autumn to glory in!

  4. Mara

    OK, I hadn’t ever thought about visiting California in the fall, but you’ve convinced me and my New England prejudices!

  5. Jennifer

    Okay, I live in Southern California, and all I see today (it’s October) are palm trees and chaparral. I miss fall foliage, though; guess I should head even further south to San Diego County like you recommended!

  6. Anna

    Wow, June Lake looks AMAZING! These are great recommendations for California (somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit)

  7. Elizabeth

    You mention san diego but you don’t give the specific town…Do you mean Julian? Thanks!

  8. Sharon

    Great pictures and places to visit. Please check-out Plumas County and Lassen Volcanic National Park. Fall colors are just starting. We have many different elevations so the colors last longer. Add on hiking in the park, fishing at Lake Almanor or Bucks Lake and the County wide Barn Quilt Tour. Lots of festivals scheduled for the fall. Come make your own apple cider. www.plumascounty.org

  9. Sharon

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEY0OcQs8ho
    Please check this video on Fall Colors in the Feather River Canyon and Plumas County.

  10. Malik Ashar Azeem

    An absolutely amazing blog post. One of the better ever.

  11. John Damiano

    If you are east coast homesick and live in SoCal I suggest going to big bear and staying at the golden bear cottages. It’s great.

  12. Michael's Woodcraft

    Absolutely stunning pictures! Fall is the best time of year for me. I spotted the turkey in your picture!

    Check our my post on our fall colors here in SC, Rich Colors of Autumn

    I enjoyed browsing around your site, lots of beautiful pictures.

    Michael

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