California Fall Color Report – 9/26/19
Following is a summary of reports on autumnal change across California. It is compiled from reports and photographs submitted by a network of volunteer observers. Similar reports on the status of fall color across California will be sent each Thursday until the Thursday before Thanksgiving Day.
A year ago, CaliforniaFallColor.com was reporting more orange in the Eastern Sierra than has Sunkist. What a difference a year makes.
This autumn, Peak color is arriving a week and a half late, with Near Peak color only just reported from Virginia Lakes and Sagehen Summit, both in Mono County (US 395).
The late arrival of fall color – which historically has peaked in a few locations before the first day of autumn – has exasperated Eastern Sierra fall color observers and complicated answering whether autumn’s show is on time or not.
That’s because locations in the Northern Sierra and Southern Cascades have filed photos showing Patchy color, well before the region’s mid-October norm for fall color.
Most definitely, fall color is late in the Eastern Sierra, but it’s too early to say it will be late everywhere.
What seems to be certain is that there’s plenty of lush foliage in the forests, because of last winter’s heavy snow and rainfall, meaning that the display of fall color this autumn could be one of the best (should weather conditions permit).
Ideal conditions for the development of vibrant fall color require: healthy trees, clear skies, warm days and cold nights. So far, Mother Nature has been providing those conditions.
Now that peak color is appearing, it will spread rapidly with Peak color likely to appear this weekend and next week (Sept. 27 – Oct. 2) at elevations above 9,000’ in the Eastern Sierra. It then descends by elevation at a general rate of 500 feet per week, meaning that if it is peaking in one canyon at 9,500’, the following week it will be peaking at 9,000’ and so on.
There are a few exceptions to this rule of thumb, of course. Some locations (Sagehen Summit, as an example) peak earlier while others (Tioga Pass) peak later than similar elevations.
High elevations do not inhibit seeing fall color, as paved roads lead right aspen groves and tree-lined lakes in numerous canyons along the eastern side of the Sierra, making fall color viewing easily reached.
Elsewhere in the Sierra, mostly Patchy color is being seek with Hope Valley (CA-88, Carson Pass) still a week away from Peak color. Yosemite, the Western Sierra and the Gold Country will peak from mid October to mid November
California’s vineyards peak by grape variety, between mid October and late November.
The Shasta Cascade region (northeast California) is reporting early patchy color at locations, but the region will not be peaking until mid October.
Southern California fall color spotters have not yet reported from the San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Santa Monica, San Jacinto or Laguna mountains. These areas are typically mid October to late November peaks, depending on location.
Ininally, California’s urban forests peak in November and its deserts in December.
We received the following reports four days ago (Sept. 22). A lot has happened since then, leading us to conclude that areas above 9.000’ in elevation are now all or mostly at Near Peak, which means GO NOW!
- Crater, Cold and Fish Creek, near Reds Meadow (7.500’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Bracken fern, locust and willow are brilliant gold along streams and hiking trails in the High Sierra backcountry. Strenuous hiking.
- Sabrina Campground to Sabrina Dam (9,000ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
The groves near Sabrina camp are usually the first aspen to really pop, and this year is no exception. Some orange and red are even visible already. As you wind up towards Lake Sabrina though, things mellow back down to light green.
- Willow Campground (9,000ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
Beautiful views from the road near Willow Camp, especially of the canyon wall above Parchers Resort & Rainbow Pack Outfit, but the trees along the road, which weather permitting will be gorgeous eventually, are mostly just light green.
- North Lake (9,255ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
The yellow has started to develop on the far side of the lake, especially low on the hill near the shoreline. The higher aspen, the aspen lining the now famous road view and the campground still have a ways to go.
- Weir Pond (9,650ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
The yellow is beginning to show on the west canyon wall above this scenic little pond. This spot is notoriously quick to turn and there was a noticeable difference in the color between last Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.
- Parchers Resort (9,260ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
The east canyon wall is covered in scrub aspen and the color is coming on, especially looking up canyon from the resort. This is another place which should be blanketed in yellow before too long.
- Table Mountain Camp (8,900ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
One of the more stunning groves which parallels South Lake Road, yellow is making it’s move and taking over the green hues quickly.
- Surveyors Meadow (8,975ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
This area offers some of the best views in the canyon when it’s lit up, and although it’s not there yet, there is substantial yellow showing and right next to the creek there is even a small patch of orange bursting from the edge of the grove.
- Lake Sabrina (9,150ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
Views from the dam will be stunning soon, but as of now just some patchy color, especially along the east shore across from the dam and near the rockslide.
- Mist Falls and the groves above Bishop Creek Lodge (8,350ft) – Just Starting – (0 – 10%)
Typically a late bloomer as far as fall color is concerned, this spot is about where it is expected to be, given the conditions throughout the canyon. Look for this to be one of the best stops in mid October if the weather plays ball.
- Aspendell (8,400ft) – Just Starting – (0 – 10%)
Not much going on in this charming little village yet. There’s a single yellow tree just before the neighborhood begins, but mostly it’s a sea of green.
- Groves above Cardinal Village (8,550ft) – Patchy (10% – 50%)
This was the biggest surprise of the week. Lots of yellow has taken over the shrubs on the east canyon wall extending down from Cardinal Peak down to the creekside groves adjacent to the old Cardinal Mine. This area is going to be amazing in another week if things continue on the current path.
These reports are current, though things change quickly in the Eastern Sierra. Some Near Peak areas may be at Peak by the weekend and others at the high end of Patchy will be Near Peak by Sunday. Still, there’s lots of time to see peak color throughout the Eastern Sierra for the coming two weeks, at minimum.
- Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Yellow and Orange trees along the road and at lake level while others are still pretty green. Take the Dunderberg Meadows Road for more sections of peaking color and better views of aspens in the distance along Virginia Lakes road.
- Sagehen Summit (8,139’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Orange and Green are the theme, here. No yellow to be seen but nice large groves of orange trees make this the best spot to go this week. Continue on to Johnny Meadows for more sections of great color. This will be the first place to be in full peak in next week’s report.
- Lobdell Lake Road (8,600′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Closer to 10% than 50% at this point but you can still find sections of yellow trees if you’re willing to walk around.
- Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Still just starting at the bottom of the grade near Leavitt Meadows Pack Station. Yellow and light green trees near the top.
- Tioga Pass (9,943′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Still not fully matured but good progress has been made over the last week. Head down Saddlebag Lake Road for the best viewing spots over the next 10 days.
- McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Patchy (10-50%) – Still green closer to US 395 but developing nicely around McGee Creek Pack Station and further up the canyon.
- Convict Lake (7850′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Great progress has developed here over the last week. Yellow trees are visible up the canyon and just above the lake but mostly green at lake level.
- Rock Creek Road (9,600’) – Patchy (10-50%) – Some yellow trees above lake level and beyond but still getting going along the road and entirely green in the lower section near Tom’s Place.
- Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Greener than Sonora Pass and Tioga Pass since the top is at a much lower elevation. It’s still going to be 10 days or so before prime viewing.
- Walker Canyon, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Just Starting (0-10%) – This location is usually the last to peak in Mono County. Usually, the last week of October. However, a lot of yellow and lime green leaves are appearing in the Walker Canyon and throughout Antelope Valley. Keep an eye out for an early peak, here.
- Conway Summit (8,143) – Just Starting (0-10%) – One small grove of yellow trees while everything else is very green still.
- Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Just Starting (0-10%) – Green around the lake and up the canyon. Some developing yellows are visible above the waterfalls if you want to hike up the trail from the trailhead.
- June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′
) – Just Starting (0-10%) – Green leaves are changing to light green leaves! Still a long way away but the process is under way. Look for peak colors here around the 15th of October. If you’re in town this weekend hike to Parker Lake or Little Walker Lake for sections of yellow trees above lake levels!
- Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – Just Starting (0-10%) – Just starting but some yellow leaves are starting to make an appearance.
- Devil’s Postpile National Monument (7,556’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – Willows along the middle fork of the San Joaquin River are peaking with golden and chartreuse color. This report is only for ground covers.
- Hope Valley, CA-88 (7,300’) – Patchy (10-50%)
- Floristan, I-80 (6,381’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
- Martis Creek Cabin, CA-267 (7,000’) – Just Starting (0-10%) – Aspen blight (ink spot) has damaged many of the aspen surrounding this photogenic abandoned cabin.
- Long Lake, CA-44, Lassen County (5,740’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
- Quincy (3,342’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
- Mill Creek at Highland’s Ranch Resort (4,737’) – Patchy (10-50%)
- Burney Falls (3,281’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
- Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park (5,900’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
- Harlan D Miller Memorial Bridge (Dog Creek), Lakehead (1,447’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
- Faery Falls (3,586’) – Just Starting (0-10%)
Previously from Inyo County
“Dude, autumn happens here, too.”
With that statement the Eastern Sierra stakes its claim to having enough bountiful, bright fall foliage to compete with fall color hot spots such as New England and the Rocky Mountains.
Inyo County and the Inyo National Forest are where Californians and out-of-state visitors find the state’s first burst of explosive fall colors, according to John Poimiroo, who edits California Fall Color, a blog and website (www.californiafallcolor.com) that provides weekly (often daily) reports on where to find fall color in California. The website also informs “dudes” that autumn in all its glory can be just as much a part of the California experience as hitting the beach.
The information and photos on the website comes from volunteer “color spotters” who send in photos and reports about the status of the fall color coverage in their area. Already in September, several “color spotters” in Mono County have been out in the high country to document the earliest signs of the arrival of fall. Likewise in Inyo County, with initial reports coming in from the upper reaches of the Bishop Creek drainage.
Those reports allow locals to help visitors time their travels to such popular leaf-peeping spots in Inyo County as Bishop Creek, South Lake, Sabrina, and Aspendale. That kind of “local knowledge” means California Fall Color has up-to-date information describing how quickly or slowly colors are turning in an area, and also provides insights and tips about where the best color-viewing areas are located.
Besides some early season reports, the website includes reviews of last season’s fall colors and offers insights on some of the more colorful locations for fall outings. The updates will continue to past Thanksgiving Day, though reports are often posted as late as December. Inyo County helps sponsor the California Fall Color effort, along with other counties and fall color destinations across the state.
What makes autumn so long-lasting in California is the state’s topography, which varies from foliage at 10,000 ft. in elevation down to sea level. “In New England, the color shows by latitude, descending from Canada through the northeast. Whereas in California, it drops by elevation,” Poimiroo explained.
The first signs of autumn are seen at the higher elevations in the Eastern Sierra. Typically, ground cover turns crimson in early September. Then, above 9,000 ft. in elevation, quaking aspen begin to show color, turning from green to lime to yellow to orange and fiery red along the grey, granitic slopes of the Eastern Sierra, he said.
Helping bolster the claim to fall color fame is the Inyo National Forest, which stretches the length of the Eastern Sierra. The Inyo beat out national forests in New England, the Allegheny and Green Mountains in a listing of the top ten fall forests evaluated for The Weather Channel, by GORP.com, a national outdoor recreation website. What they saw is what Poimiroo and his legion of California color spotters report each autumn … the state’s combination of stunning vistas and delicate color that continues for weeks on end.
California Fall Color got started in 2005 when Poimiroo was assigned to publicize Mono County in eastern California. “I soon found that autumn occurred across September and October and into November on the eastern side of the state. I then became aware of reports from other parts of California which established for me how widespread and long lasting our autumn is.”
“That isn’t what most Californians or its visitors think,” Poimiroo says. “They see California as without seasons, as along the coasts and throughout the vast central valley, there isn’t much color, but California is huge (780 miles long and 350 miles wide) and within it are large pockets of fall color that are truly breathtaking to behold. You just have to know where to see it and when to go. That’s why we created California Fall Color.”
To see the latest fall color reports, or to find out how to become a “color spotter,” visit www.californiafallcolor.com. …
Previously from Mono County
MONO COUNTY, Calif. – It’s the locals’ favorite time of year in Mono County, when life slows down, days get cooler, crowds disperse, and the landscape shifts into the rich yellows, reds and oranges that signal the arrival of fall. While the East Coast is famous for its spectacular fall displays, Mono County and the Eastern Sierra also boast a majestic, colorful transition into autumn that peaks late September through late October.
Experience the awe-inspiring scenery in a way that you might not have thought of before. Appreciate the magic of the Sierra this fall on horseback, on a Jeep tour, by kayak or high above it all in a chartered helicopter ride.
“Riding on horseback really allows you to see more of your surroundings,” explains Kira Olson, a wrangler at McGee Pack Station. “Unlike hiking, where you are looking at your feet and the trail most of the time, experiencing the fall colors while on horseback allows people to have a better and more intimate experience of the beauty of the Sierra.” McGee Pack Station,in Crowley Lake offers affordable fall horseback rides that start at just $65 per person. The two-hour Horsetail Falls Loop takes riders along a creek to Horsetail Falls and McGee Gorge and returns on the Canyon Trail. Rides leave at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
For an epic three-day adventure through golden aspen groves and expansive meadows, book the Fall Color Ride at Hunewill Ranch, in Bridgeport. If you’re not able to commit to a three-day ride, consider joining their wranglers on a day trip in the high country.
Leavitt Meadows, also located in Bridgeport, offers five different rides to choose from, ranging from one to two hours of saddle-time. Longer rides take adventurers out to hidden lakes where riders can relax and eat lunch along pristine alpine rivers tucked in majestic pines.
Horses not your thing? Sign up for a Jeep tour and try some four-wheeling along with the autumn viewing of changing colors. High Sierra Jeep Adventures’ experienced guides will drive you and your group out into the backcountry to experience the fall magic. The best thing about these guys? They will let you drive the Jeep if you have a current license. High Sierra Jeep Adventures is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and are located in June Lake.
Kayaking and boating also offer a completely different perspective as you paddle and glide through golden reflections on smooth water. Boats and kayaks can be rented at many marinas and lakes which are lined with brilliant aspens: Rock Creek Lake, Convict Lake, Lake Mary and Lake George (Mammoth Lakes Basin), June, Gull, Silver and Grant Lakes (June Lake Loop), and Twin Lakes in Bridgeport. Call in advance to verify hours, dates of operation and make a reservation for a boat or kayak in advance.
Or try something truly breathtaking and view the shift of seasons from the cockpit of a helicopter. “Everyone we take on a helicopter ride is ecstatic about the experience of seeing fall foliage from above,” says Ed Roski, owner and pilot at Sky Time Helicopter Tours. “You get to see everything – clumps of trees that haven’t yet turned color next to clumps of orange and red trees. We fly to areas that are hard to get to in any other way, and every day the scenery changes, especially in fall. We also see majestic waterfalls, bears, bald eagles, and all different types of wildlife. It’s truly a unique experience.” Sky Time Helicopter Tours, located in Mammoth Lakes, offers tours that take their guests all over the greater Eastern Sierra including over Mammoth Mountain, June Lakes, Lee Vining and more.
Experience something new this fall and explore the forests of Mono County as the canopy shifts to the gorgeous gold, orange and deep red colors of the changing season. For current fall color reports, and your free Eastern Sierra Fall Color Guide & Map, as well as the free Mono County Visitor Guide that outlines all the best fall color drives and hikes, visitMonoCounty.org.
About Mono County:
Located approximately 315 miles north of Los Angeles, and 280 miles east of San Francisco, Mono County accesses the east entrance to Yosemite National Park and welcomes visitors year-round. The Eastern Sierra’s vast playground is an easily reached destination whether driving the all-weather US Highway 395 or taking advantage of direct United or JetSuite X flights from Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Orange County (SNA), Burbank (BUR) and Denver (DEN). US Highway 395, which traverses Mono County from north to south, is a State-Designated Scenic Byway offering motorists tremendous vistas right from the steering wheel and countless side-roads, hiking trails, lakes, and roadside villages to explore. For more information or to request guides, visit MonoCounty.org or call 800-845-7922.