Where to see fall foliage in California

New England may be famous for its autumn show, but California fall colors are a sight to behold as well—you just have to know where to look. From the Sierras to SoCal, here are your best west coast leaf peeping destinations.


Prime time: Mid-October through early November.
The best views are: From the hiking trails north of the lake.

Just a short drive from Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake is nestled among the trees in the San Bernardino Mountains. In the fall, the changing colors contrast dramatically against the many evergreens in the area. Get a hiking trail map at the Discovery Center on the north end of the lake, and head out for some prime viewing. The five-mile Cougar Crest Trail offers some of the most spectacular views, but because it is a bit of a challenging trail, it might not be best for young kids. The Woodland Trail is a family-friendly 1.5-mile loop that starts right at the Discovery Center and is a great place to see fall foliage and the lake below.

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Prime time: Late September through October.
The best views are: From Highway 89 running from Truckee to South Lake Tahoe.

JIn the fall, the Lake Tahoe region explodes with the colors of aspen, maple, oak and more. Drive along the western shores of the lake to take in the array of colors against the blue of the water. Highway 89 follows the Truckee River Canyon along the route from the lake to the town of Truckee. The scenic drive is 42 miles long and prime for fall foliage. Don’t delay! A sudden frost can cause the leaves to drop very quickly.

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Prime time: October.
The best views are: From vista points found along hiking trails.

On the Oregon border, hidden lakes and valleys offer spectacular displays of California’s fall colors surrounding Mount Shasta—but only for those who seek them out. Get your hiking boots on to see the best of the season. For a short easy hike to a breathtaking view, the John Everett Vista Point Trail is just 20-minutes long. If you prefer to hike through the colors and enjoy panoramic vistas along the way, hit the moderate 3-mile Grey Butte Trail. Both trailheads are located off Everett Memorial Highway.

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Prime time: Mid-October.
The best views are: Driving the Wowona Road.

In October, deciduous aspen, dogwood, oak and others create sea of beautiful fall color that contrasts with the parks famous evergreens. Against the dramatic backdrop of some of the most beautiful views in the state, Yosemite is one of the very best places to see fall foliage in California. Drive the Wowona Road to visit the Mariposa sequoia grove and get a good look at changing leaves. Stop at the Old West mining town along this road to make it a full day trip. If you prefer to do your leaf-peeping from the trail, hikes throughout the park also offer great views of the changing fall leaves.

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Prime time: Mid-October through early November.
The best views are: Seen while touring the vineyards.

When the wine harvest is in and the leaves on the vines are changing color, fall in Napa Valley is a feast for the senses. Take a tour of some of the vineyards and stop in for a wine tasting. Many offer outdoor patios, where you can sip your favorite vintage while you overlook the fall landscape. Sterling Vineyards has an aerial tram, and views from the both the tram and the winery are spectacular. Smith-Madrone, Silverado, and Viader also have beautiful outdoor areas and incredible views of the surrounding country filled with brilliant colors in the fall.

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Prime time: Early October.
The best views are: Along the June Lake Loop.

Considered by many to be the best place in California for fall foliage, June Lake is found at the base of the Sierras, 20 miles north of Mammoth Mountain. Take the Loop off Highway 395 and follow it through a beautiful basin of meadows and four lakes. The aspen trees are the star of the autumn show here, peaking in early October. There are plenty of places to stop along the loop for great photography and a number of hiking trails to follow. Take a break at the picnic area on the shores of Silver Lake, a perfect stop for lunch and a photo op.

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Prime time: Late October.
The best views are: Along the Pacific Coast Highway.

The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a scenic drive any time of year, but mix in the dramatic cliffs and ocean on one side with the brilliant fall colors on the other, and you have a picture-perfect scene. Big Sur is only one of the stops on the PCH that offers great fall foliage, but it could easily be the most impressive. The sheer height of the cliffs and the water crashing on the shore below offer some of the most breathtaking views in the state. Stop here late in October to catch more reds and oranges and not just yellow, which you’ll find earlier in the season.

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Prime time: Late October into early November.
The best views are: Among the apple orchards.

Just an hour northeast of San Diego, Julian is a quaint old mining town where you can see fall foliage in California. Fall foliage is unusual this far south, but Julian’s apple orchards offer a chance for leaf peeping late in the season. Visit the Raven Hill Apple Orchard to pick some fresh apples, enjoy a mug of cider, and take in the California fall colors in the autumn sunshine.

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Prime time: Late September through October.
The best views are: At Big Pine Canyon on the south end of the area.

Before ski season, Mammoth Lakes has leaf-peeping season, and the cottonwoods, aspens, and alders here are a sight to behold. Hike the trails or take a scenic drive—either way you will be surrounded by brilliant colors. Head to Big Pine Canyon to the south, and be rewarded with some of the best in fall foliage that California has to offer. Stop by the welcome center on Highway 203 for a guide to the best spots to view the California fall leaves throughout Mammoth Lakes.

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Prime time: Mid-to-late October.
The best views are: Along the paved trails, perfect for strolling or biking.

Just west of San Rafael in the Bay Area, you will find this peaceful park where nature blends beautiful golds with the greens of firs and redwoods. Bring your bikes—paved trails allow families to pedal through the trees and stop along the way for a picnic. Finish your day with a trip to nearby Point Reyes National Seashore, a great place for shell hunting on the West Coast, as well as incredible views of the sunset.

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