Fall Colors in California - Trip to Eastern Sierra

Introduction:

Last Update:

I revisit the Sierra at October 1-3

From Hope Valley in the north (highway 88) to Bishop Creek in the south. The next 2-3 weeks is the time to visit and see the Aspen trees fall colors.


Important note: check for smoke conditions before your trip.



California have short fall color season and you can enjoy it at the Eastern Sierra....


The western part of USA as well as California state has an amazing and divers nature but a red-yellow foliage trees during autumn season is associated with the north-east coast of the US with it dramatic color display (at states near New England…).

There are also beautiful areas of fall colors in Colorado and New Mexico but to the best of my knowledge not so much in California, where most of our wonderful forests are mainly evergreen pines forests.




In this Blog I will describe the places along highway 395 that I visit and saw the fall colors, from Bridgeport at the north to Bishop at the south.
I will provide more in depth description on Bishop area.

I will provide links to blogs on each locations.

The yellow colors in California mountain forests are usually from the Aspen, Cottonwood and Willow trees that are growing at the creeks, valleys, and at some mountain slopes.


 

Despite this year (2021) wildfires near lake Tahoe, I would recommend on few places to enjoy the fall colors of at the Eastern Sierra.

Most of the fall-color recommended to visit locations in this blog, except for Hope Valley, are located far south of lake Tahoe so I do not think they will be affected from this year fires or smoke.

 

Eastern Sierra is one of my favorite’s areas in California year-round, so the fall colors is just used as an excuse to visit this amazing but somehow less known part of the state.



Due Note 1: Make sure to respect this year (2021) all forest closures as results of the fires.

 

Due Note 2: In past drought years, color has arrived early and been short-lived (a week).


 

When we can see the fall colors:

This is the tricky part, the exact timing when the leaves change their colors is related to the weather leading up to fall and usually the peak timing of the yellow color is quite short, for only about two to three weeks.

Because tree yellow coloring depends on colder temperature and elevation, leaves start turning yellow earlier at higher elevations compare to the lower elevations. The cold cycles and moisture varies from year to year so peak coloring is not happening the same every year.

In my experience from the last three years the recommended weeks for East Sierra fall colors are just before winter, usually around mid-October.

 

For exact timing and planning for each location you can look at the following map or other web sites that track and report local fall color condition:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=12FSQxbVe9CedswOvJaWaeI5vvYU&ll=37.85374624754116%2C-120.27017115937497&z=7



For how long to plan our visit in the Eastern Sierra:

Assume you are starting your trip at San Francisco, or LA, I will recommend planning for at least a long-weekend trip i.e., at list 3 nights.

The drive east from San Francisco (or LA) to highway 395 and Bishop is quite long (around 6 hours) and there are many things to do in this area on top of watching the fall colors.


Things that I will not cover in this blog:

I will not provide in this blog additional information about what to do in this amazing area of ​​the Eastern Sierra.

As usual, I’m not covering in my blogs information on where to sleep or where to eat… I’m manly focus on nature and outdoor experience.

Everything I cover in my Blogs is something I did and I took all my pictures…

 

For additional information please look for my other blogs about the Eastern Sierra:

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/p/blogs-directory.html#jump9_EasternSierra

 

 

Trip route for those that are coming from San Francisco:

 


State Highway 108:

From the town of Sonora take highway 108 road east into the Sierra ridge, it is one of the most beautiful roads there is. The road is closed in winter, exact timing depends on the snow but usually it is close to traffic from mid-November.



The road climb into the Sierra and pass to the east side at an altitude of about 10,000 feet above sea level. When you are driving up near the pass and especially at the other side of the pass, when descending there are Aspen trees spread in the forest with yellow colors, stop at the roadside where it possible (outside of the highway asphalt) and enjoy the view.

Blog on Route 108:

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/05/california-state-highway-108.html

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/10/hope-valley-highway-88-autumn-colors.html

 

Continue driving on route 108 east to route 395 (Sonora Junction), which is the main traffic artery from north to south, east of the Sierra.

Turn right and head south on highway 395.

 

Twin Lakes:

On your way south you will reach the small town of Bridgeport, here you will take Twin Lakes Rd to the south-west, just after the first gas station on your right. This road will take you to Twin Lakes. In this area near the lakes there are clusters of Aspen trees and fall colors.

The lakes are popular location for many outdoor activities.


Twin Lakes Blog:

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/06/twin-lakes-bridgeport.html

 

Virginia Valley:

Continue south on 395 and then, about 12 miles south of Bridgeport, on the west side of the highway (right-side for the one driving south) you can see a large valley full of Aspen trees in varying degrees of yellow-orange colors.


Stop carefully at the shoulders of highway 395, there is no official parking lot so park as far as you can on the right side (there are relatively wide section you can do it safely).

Admire the view on the other side of the valley below, late afternoon near sunset is not the best timing because the sun will set at the exact direction you are looking at.

Here you can also take a side paved road to the Virginia Lakes area, enjoy the road as well as the beautiful lake (trip and hiking destination).

Virginia Lakes picture gallery:

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/09/virginia-lakes-eastern-sierra.html

 

Keep driving south on 395 and soon after you will reach, parking is on your right, high vantage viewing point to the south: excellent place to see Mono Lake and the small towns of Mono City and Lee Vining.

Continuing driving south, there are several other lakes in roads that are taking west of highway 395 into the mountain gorges. In many of those lakes you can find Aspen trees.

You can drive and explore Lundy Canyon Lake or drive to the beautiful June Lake Loop area.

 

June Lake Loop:

15-mile June Lake Loop drive passes along the shores of four mountain lakes each has different personality but in all there are Aspen trees.

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/05/june-lake-loop.html

 



Mammoth Lake:

You can also visit the many lakes near Mammoth Lake town, here I think there are less spots with Aspen trees, mainly near Twin Lake.

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/05/mammoth-lakes.html




 

The city of Bishop and nearby locations will be our main destination for fall color viewing.

 

Bishop:

From the town of Bishop drive east using Route 168 into the Sierra. This road will take you into one the most beautiful alpine valleys surrounded by jagged mountain ranges, clear streams, and lakes as well as lots of Aspen trees.

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/05/bishop-and-highway-168-west-into-bishop.html

 


As explained, the trees are getting the fall color according to altitude (and cold temperatures), Highway 168 rises from the lower Bishop valley to the high mountains area. Here you will surely find a yellow / orange trees at list at some elevation

At the lower elevation the trees may still be green, other areas up the road where the leaves turned yellow and maybe even higher sections that the leaves have already fallen.


 

On your drive you will pass ​​the small town of Aspendell which has a lot of Aspen trees growing in between the houses, depending on the timing it can be a very nice over here.

You can drive, slowly, in the town streets or stop at the unofficial viewing point on the 168-road looking on the town from above.


 

After about 15 miles from Bishop there is a split at the road, to road taking left towards S. Lake Rd and the road heading up the main valley.

I recommend continuing driving straight, towards Lake Sabrina that is located at the end of Route 168.

The lake itself is very beautiful and there is a hiking trailhead that you can take, it will lead you up into the high mountains and lakes.

Blog about Lake Sabrina hike:

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/05/sabrina-lake-hike-to-blue-lake.html

 

Just before the lake Sabrina (17.8 miles from Bishop) there is a side road that turns right.

Immediately after crossing the bridge it becomes a good dirt road that is climbing steeply on the mountain slope towards the northern lake (North Lake).

 

This location has the most beautiful fall colors landscape in the region and maybe in all of California!




On your drive up to the North Lake along the narrow path you will get into a beautiful Aspan forest just before reaching the lake.

Try to find a parking spot at the small parking lot and hike to the lake. On the remote (west) side of the small North Lake and the mountain slopes you will see all the Aspen Forest.

There is another larger parking lot on the other side of the lake so you can park there but the view from east to west is the magic view.



 

I must admit that last year (2020) I missed the fall color peak, I arrived too late, a week or two late (I arrived on October 24th), so most of the yellow leaves at this elevation where already on the ground but it was still very beautiful sight.

 

On your drive back, once you reach the road junction, you can visit the eastern valley. The road passes through a large Aspen Forest with very beautiful fall colors.

Keep driving on this road, parallel to South Fork Bishop Creek, all the way to the lake at the end (South Lake) and enjoy the valley scenery and colors.


 

Hope Valley:

It is impossible to end such a post on Fallen without mentioning Hope Valley on Route 88 east of Kirkwood.

https://www.yiftahshahar.com/2021/09/hope-valley-highway-88-autumn-colors.html


 

Because of the fires this year I do not recommend visiting this location, but this area is one of the most beautiful fall color location.

Summer is one of those places that is right on the edge of the fires (Tamarack Fire to the east as well as north and west of the giant Caldor Fire that also threatens the southern lake settlements).

As the Valley of Hope is called, I am hopeful that the fires will be under control and this location will not be harmed.



Hope Valley is one of the most beautiful places to see a fall colors, there are many Aspen trees that are growing all over the valley.

Just drive along the road and stop at lookout points, you can explore some off-road side trails with your car (4x4 car - Scotts Lake), Blue Lakes Rd or hike into the valley.

 

Hope Valley is located about 4 and a half hours drive out of San Francisco so it can be visited as one long day-drive or overnight sleep at nearby towns (like South Lake Tahoe).



 

 

Links to additional resources:

https://naturalhistorywanderings.com/fall-foliage/california-fall-foliage-reports-and-locations/


https://res.cloudinary.com/simpleview/image/upload/v1/clients/monocounty/EasternSierraFallColorGuide2013_f1a00f43-1c45-4bd4-9167-c1a764d3cf70.pdf

 


Additional Fall Color Pictures:





































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