Every autumn, diminishing daylight hours and cooler temperatures send a message to California’s trees: Unfurl b*tch — it’s showtime! From the ground to the treetops, you’ll be dazzled by a brilliant display of yellows and oranges. The fall foliage in California is simply breathtaking.
Autumn colors travel with the elevations, starting in the highest mountains and descending to the foothills. Wind along California’s roads and trails to discover where the colors are peaking at any given time.
Below is a sampling of leaf-viewing sites — arranged according to peak times — from earliest to latest. And in this case, timing matters. Feeling adventurous? Take a walk for a closer look. It’s time for some ‘gram-worthy pictures!
Fall Foliage in California
Mammoth and June Lakes: Nature’s autumnal fire burns bright on the eastern side of the Sierra, where glaciers have chiseled stream-fed canyons deep into the mountainsides. In mid-September, drive west off US 395 near June Lakes and Mammoth Lakes to discover dense groves of quaking asows.
Yosemite National Park: In Yosemite Valley’s grassy meadows, the black oaks turn a soft, burnished gold, a subtle contrast to the scene-stealing school bus yellow of the cottonwoods. A non-native sugar maple, planted near Yosemite Chapel in Yosemite Valley, is one of the most photographed autumn trees. It exhibits a stunning red color.
Nevada City and Grass Valley: In downtown Nevada City, Nevada Street is adorned with century-old sugar maples and American sweetgums (liquidambars) that turn a vibrant red in autumn. In Grass Valley’s downtown, Neal Street is the nexus for Vermont-style leaf color, but a more expansive display of the early settlers’ tree planting lies just a mile away at Empire Mine State Park.
Julian: It’s not all palm trees and sandy beaches in San Diego. The county has its share of premium foliage viewing, too—all you have to do is head inland and uphill. In Julian, a historic mining town at 4,200 feet in elevation, autumn is the grandstand season. Experience color-changing black oaks at Lake Cuyamaca in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park or on the Five Oaks Trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve.
In conclusion, California offers an extensive variety of sites to soak in the spectacle of fall foliage. These vibrant displays of autumn hues provide a stark contrast to the usual palm trees and sandy beaches, making a fall road trip in California a must-do for any nature enthusiast.