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Top Picks for Leaf Peeping in Northern California

Top Places for Leaf Peeping in California

The kiddies are back in school, the nights become longer and the days shorter. Time to pull out the heavy blankets, beanies, cable-knit sweaters, and boots in preparation for the colder temperatures. This is the time of year when snuggling in a fuzzy blanket next to a fire with a steaming hot cup of coffee is the most sensible activity. Welcome to autumn, my favorite season I look forward to all year because, leaf peeping! Along with the precipitous drops in temperature, deciduous trees at higher elevations stop producing chlorophyll and turn a magnificent golden hue before falling off in preparation for winter. Although California doesn’t have the bursts of red colored maple trees like the east coast and Japan, California offers leaf peeping opportunities for those willing to adventure for it. Typically the optimal time is around the last two weeks in October, although it is difficult to predict and depends on factors such as weather conditions and climate.

Most of Northern California’s fall foliage is located in the Eastern Sierras. Redwood trees are evergreen all year long. Be sure to check with local authorities before visiting to make sure the leaves have turned and also adhere to current COVID protocols. Here are my top picks for leaf peeping in California in no particular order:

1. Mono County

McGee Creek (Mammoth Lakes) – Located about 8 miles south of Mammoth Lakes, this site is also a campground. The opportunities for breathtaking photography abound here, as there is a small meandering creek (McGee creek) that is flanked by beautiful aspens on both sides. Wander a bit away from the beaten path and hike to McGee Lake (14 miles roundtrip) or Steelhead Lake (10 miles roundtrip). The picture below was taken from McGee Creek area on October 11, 2018.

Aspendell – This tiny community located in the Inyo National Forest approximately 14 miles southwest of Bishop boasts a population of 500. But what this area lacks in size it more than makes up for with its golden leaves. The drive from Bishop is beautiful as you approach a sprawling Jawbone Canyon carpeted by golden aspen leaves. Do be mindful of treading respectfully and not on to people’s private property.

2. Hope Valley – Just south of Tahoe and northeast of Carson Pass off highway 88 lies Hope Valley, a picturesque expanse of valleys and mountains. You will see several turnoffs from the highway such as Pickett’s Junction. Visit Grover Hot Springs State Park for a 4.2 mile hike and soak in hot springs surrounded by Mother Nature. The fee is $10 for adults and $5 for those up to age 16, max 8 people per reservation. Call ahead for reservations and to make sure it’s operating during COVID

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