Experience Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierra, California
The Eastern Sierra is one of the best places to see fall colors in California. It runs along Highway 395 from Lone Pine to Bishop, to Mammoth Lakes, and to Lake Tahoe.
My first year really chasing fall colors here, I was completely blown away by the shades of yellow and orange that hug the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a fall-wonderland!
Fall is also the perfect time to explore the Eastern Sierra. The weather is cooler and the nights can be chilly, the bugs are gone, and the mild weather is perfect for hiking and backpacking. The days are also still warm enough to swim in the many lakes in the area, go stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, or go fishing.
When To Go
The fall leaves start changing colors at the end of September and run through October. Since fall foliage changes colors from North to South, California usually sees fall foliage changes later on than states like Vermont, Maine, Michigan or Colorado.
At the end of September, you’ll see some change in color, but colors typically peak around mid-October. But since the peak time changes year to year, follow updates from Mono County here. They do weekly updates.
Since the leaves change colors at different times every year, if you can be flexible, the best way to catch the peak, is to be more spontaneous. If you can’t, plan your trip around the middle of October, and you’re bound to see the most fall colors then. Just be flexible on the region in the Eastern Sierra!
Activities to Do
There’s a little something for everyone in the Eastern Sierra.
Since the weather is still mild, you can go hiking, backpacking, and camping. Just make sure to check the weather before, snow storms can happen during this time of the year. Also since the weather is more chilly in the evenings, make sure you have a sleeping bag and sleeping pad that will keep you warm. Also dress in layers! The days could be mild and the nights are chilly.
You can also do water sports like boating, kayaking, fishing, swimming and stand up paddleboarding (SUP). You can choose to bring your own from home or rent gear at one of the several places in the area. Lake Mary Marina, Convict Lake Resort, Silver Lake Resort, and SUP South Lake Tahoe are some of the places to rent boats, kayaks, and SUP boards from. Keep in mind, that some of these places may close at the end of summer depending on the season. So to be sure, call before to make sure.
If you’re feeling more like driving, there are so many different roads with stunning views and fall colors right from the road. Just drive around the area and explore! Just make sure to stay on paved and dirt roads to follow Leave No Trace.
Areas To Explore
1. Big Pine Canyon, CA
This is a beautiful scenic drive up the canyon that starts at 4,000 feet and takes you to 8,000 feet. The windy road takes you through aspen, cottonwood, willow, and evergreen trees.
If you want to hike or backpack, you can hike to Big Pine Lakes, either North Fork or South Fork. You can even hike to Palisade Glacier on the Big Pines Lake North Fork Trail. It’s the southernmost glacier in North America.
2. Bishop Creek Canyon, CA
Inside Bishop Creek Canyon, South Lake, North Lake, and Lake Sabrina are filled with fall colors. You can see the fall colors right off the side of the road, or you can go hiking further into the mountains with 360-degree views of the 13er peaks around. If you’re looking for fall colors with alpine lakes, this is the place to be. This is one of the best places to see fall colors.
3. Rock Creek Canyon, CA
This is a scenic nine-mile drive that takes you through the glacier-carved canyon lined with aspens. You can also hike on the Little Lakes Valley Trail at the end of Rock Creek Road.
4. Convict Lake, CA
Convict Lake is a short drive from the 395 freeway with vivid yellow and orange colors hugging the bright blue lake with the peaks hanging above. The hot springs in Mammoth are basically across the road from Convict Lake.
5. Mammoth Lakes, CA
Mammoth Lakes basin glows with fall colors during the fall months. Take a scenic drive through the Mammoth Scenic Loop. You can see fall colors by the Twin Lakes and Lake Mary campgrounds. You can also relax by Lake Mary, rent a kayak, boat or a stand-up paddleboard, and fish.
If you’re looking for a hike or a backpacking trip, the trails from Reds Meadow, Devils Postpile, and Agnew Meadow lead through beautiful fall colors. Ediza Lake, Rainbow Falls, Minaret Lake, and Thousand Island Lake are beautiful.
6. June Lake, CA
June Lake is beautiful year-round. The first time I heard about it, locals called it “Little Switzerland.” But in the fall months, June Lake is one of the best places to see fall colors. There are 4 lakes along the loop, June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake.
You can fish, kayak, stand up paddleboard, and boat on those lakes. There are plenty of sights right off the side of the road and if you’re looking for a hike, there are lots of beautiful options too! It’s like someone drew a gold curtain over June Lake.
7. Sagehen Summit, CA
This is also one of the first places that change colors. This is a scenic drive that ends at a popular hiking trail that leads to Lundy Falls surrounded by fall colored trees within the first mile.
8. Lundy Canyon, CA
This is a scenic drive south off the 120 East. Sagehen is a wide, well-graded dirt road surrounded by aspen groves that turn orange and crimson. This is usually one of the first places to change colors. Beyond the Sagehen Meadows viewpoint, the dirt road requires a map and a 4WD vehicle.
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