November 04, 2020
As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
The season of pumpkin patches, crisp breezes, cozy sweaters, and colorful foliage is finally here. With the arrival of autumn, vibrantly gorgeous landscapes make the Golden State ripe for road trips—West Coast journeys are extraordinary during this time of year. Leaf-peeping in Northern California is a must-do, with the region's lush forests, rows of vineyards, and mountainous terrain. So, grab your outdoor gear and join us on a trip to see the spectacular fall colors in Northern California.
The Best Fall Foliage in Northern California
Mono County Fall COlors
Known for its numerous lakes and expansive forests, Mono County is one of the best places to catch the Eastern Sierra’s fall colors. On the road to Mono County, Highway 395 will give you views of the picture-perfect autumn landscape—you’ll definitely need to stop along the way to snap photos. Make sure to visit Convict Lake (no, convicts aren't found here, so don't fret). This is an excellent place to admire the vibrant fall foliage and rugged peaks, which reflect on the still, turquoise-blue waters.
Yosemite National Park
While Yosemite National Park draws droves during the busy summer and spring seasons, crowds tend to dwindle in the fall. But this is a prime time to visit. Yosemite Valley is framed with colorful trees, making it the perfect fall getaway for leaf-peeping. The valley is easily accessible by car through Northside Drive and Southside Drive, which both boast gorgeous views of the landscape and provide easy access to trails in the area. Shuttle services are also available if you just want to sit back and relax as you pass the fall foliage on your way to major trailheads.
Wine Country is among the best places to see fall colors in the Bay Area. So start your engines, and take a scenic drive through the rural backroads of Napa and Sonoma Valleys to gaze at the brilliantly colorful landscape. Watch as the leaves transform from emerald green to glistening gold and cardinal red. Stop by the top sights in Wine Country and revel in the mystical autumnal spirit. If you visit in early November, you might be able to partake in the ultimate celebration of film and food at the Napa Valley Film Festival.
Arguably, there's no better time to visit Lake Tahoe than in autumn—you can witness the vibrant hues of golden yellow, ruby red, and electric orange surrounded by sapphire waters. For the best views, explore the trails of Lake Tahoe and get your adrenaline pumping. Trek the Tahoe Rim Trail for a long adventure. Taking you upwards of 6,000 feet in elevation, this pathway promises breathtaking vistas. To experience a bird's-eye view, hop in a hot-air balloon and go for a ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons; photograph the copper, scarlet, and maroon colors covering the land below. Extend your Lake Tahoe trip and stay overnight at The Landing Tahoe Resort and Spa for a laid-back escape.
Just south of Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley is a wonderful spot to enjoy various outdoor activities—including hiking, camping, fishing, and skiing—year-round. But the area is most breathtaking during autumn. The fall season welcomes vibrant yellows from the aspens lining the valley floor. Driving to the valley is its own form of fall gratitude; the vibrant trees framing the roads channel all the autumn vibes, making you feel warm and cozy. Turn your trip into a weekend-long adventure at the Wylder Hotel Hope Valley, where warm mountain cabins, fine dining, and a wood-fired sauna await you.
Exemplary opportunities to view California's fall foliage are found in Nevada City, just an hour away from Sacramento. The pops of yellow, orange, and red make this quaint town all the more charming in the fall. The drive along I-80 east to Auburn affords gorgeous autumn views, filling you with excitement and joy. While you're in town, fulfill your fall dream of staying in a cozy cabin; book a night at Piety Hill Cottages for a marvelous evening in one of nine singular units surrounded by maple, birch, and cedar trees.
Bishop Creek Canyon
Visit the High Sierra this season to experience some of the best fall foliage in NorCal. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the majestic fall foliage near Lake Sabrina, North Lake, and South Lake, all of which are found just west of Bishop. With an elevation reaching 10,000 feet, Bishop Creek Canyon's beautiful fall colors are reflected on the still alpine waters, making it a sight to behold. Pick a trail around the lakes, and hike it for unparalleled leaf-peeping—Treasure Lake Trail is a prime choice; it leads you through the forest and along the water, taking you above South Lake for sweeping views.
Plumas County is popular for its displays of vibrant fall colors, especially along Feather River Canyon. Your drive along Highway 70 (also known as the National Scenic Byway) is sure to get you in the fall spirit. Dark black oaks, golden maple leaf trees, and red mountain dogwoods adorn the road, splashing the scenery with pops of vibrant colors. For a quiet and secluded stay, head to Ada’s Place in Quincy; choose from one of four individual cottages set amidst a gorgeous garden.
Mammoth Lakes Fall Colors
Mammoth Lakes is a hub for hiking, jogging, fishing, kayaking, and skiing. But come fall season, leaf-peeping lakeside is where it's at. Hike the seven-mile Mammoth Town Loop Trail, which takes you to Mammoth Creek Park and Snowcreek Ponds and provides glimpses of the gorgeous fall colors reflecting on the azure waters. Complete your Mammoth Lakes trip with a stay in a charming cabin at Tamarack Lodge, located on the edge of Twin Lakes.
The magical Shasta Cascade is all about the trees, so take a trip to the region to admire the gorgeous fall colors. Considered one of the best places to view fall foliage in the Golden State, the Shasta Cascade boasts rugged mountains, lush forests, crystal-clear alpine lakes, and rushing rivers. The blazing-red and bright-orange leaves dangling from the trees line Mount Shasta, creating a breathtaking sight. Explore the Shasta Cascade by hiking or biking through the landscape, then stop by Crumbs for cupcakes, milkshakes, and more treats.
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