Looking for fall color in California? Head east to experience fabulous fall colors in the Eastern Sierra.
Come September and October, the already spectacularly beautiful Eastern Sierra of California gets dressed up in brilliant fall colors, from yellows and oranges to reds and maroons.
If you haven’t experienced fall in the Eastern Sierra yet, it’s time to plan a trip!
You can see leaf color in the Eastern Sierra mainly on aspens, cottonwoods, and willows, and grasses. Evergreen trees and craggy gray mountains provide a nice contrast to the blazing colors, creating picture postcard scenes everywhere you look.
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It’s the most colorful time of the year in the Eastern Sierras, a time of year when you feel the urge to get out onto the road, on an epic Highway 395 road trip through the region.
Whether you choose to drive Highway 395 and explore side roads to look for color, or you want to enjoy a stay at one of the scenic campgrounds in the region (many campgrounds are nestled amidst brilliant displays of leaf color), you’ll have a wonderful time in the Eastern Sierra in fall.
Excited? Let’s get started discovering the best places for fall colors in the Eastern Sierra!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Eastern Sierra Fall Colors: The Best Locations
Eastern Sierra Fall Color Map
Getting to the Eastern Sierra
Where to Stay in the Eastern Sierra
Tips for Viewing Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierra
Best Locations for Eastern Sierra Fall Colors
We’ve described the best Eastern Sierra fall color locations going from south to north along Highway 395, the main highway through the region.
Big Pine Creek and Canyon
About fifteen miles south of Bishop, Big Pine Canyon is the southernmost area where you can expect to find decent amounts of fall foliage viewing.
Big Pine Canyon offers color along Glacier Lodge Road, which climbs from the valley floor to about 8,000 feet where the road ends at the lodge.
Follow the road west from Highway 395, and look for color from aspen, willow, and cottonwood, along Big Pine Creek and on the sides of Big Pine Canyon.
Big Pine Creek flows year round, and it’s one of the more powerful creeks we found in the Eastern Sierra. You can hike a short trail to the First Falls, or go further to the Second Falls.
You’ll see color along the creek as you hike! Aspens and shrubs mingle with aromatic Jeffrey pine along the trail to the First Falls.
Bishop Creek Canyon
One of the most gorgeous places for fall colors in California is Bishop Creek Canyon in the Eastern Sierra. It is a veritable visual feast when colors peak in the area.
Head west along scenic Highway 168 West from town. The road runs beside Bishop Creek in many places, with lots of color from willows and aspen.
Bishop Creek has three forks, and each fork ends in a high elevation lake. Surrounded by mountain peaks, the lakes offer superb photo ops in any season, but more so in the fall.
First, take the signposted turn for South Lake Road. The road ends at the lake, and all along its length you’ll be treated to large swathes of color along the canyon walls and by the side of the creek.
There are several places along the road where you can pull over to the side to take photos.
Parchers Resort is a great place to stop for a snack, ice cream, or a cold drink. At the resort, Bishop Creek runs right by the road, with aspen and willows for color.
At South Lake, there are several trails you can hike (even for a short distance and back) to get up close to the color. But you’ll find color from aspen along the fringes of the lake if you do not want to hike at all.
Cardinal Village and Aspendell
Once you return to Highway 168, keep going west and you’ll come to a small community called Aspendell.
At Aspendell, we found some of the tallest and largest aspens we’ve seen so far in the Eastern Sierra, right along the road that runs through the community.
At peak color, they are a magnificent sight!
Nearby Cardinal Village Resort also has pretty colors. We saw a lot of color from willow here, but there are also aspens that blaze bright yellow when the leaves have just turned.
And before you hit Aspendell, the Intake Two reservoir is also worth a stop. Vegetation lines the lake and hangs over the water here, creating tranquil spots of color and stunning reflections. You can walk a loop trail here to enjoy the beauty.
Back on Highway 168, take the turn towards North Lake, which is a much-coveted photo spot when colors are at peak.
There are dense stands on aspen on the far shore of the lake, and behind them, the mighty peaks of the Sierra Nevada rise up, sometimes topped with snow. It’s a postcard view, especially when conditions are right for reflections!
Sunrise is the best time for photography here, but if you are not trying for that perfect Eastern Sierra fall photo, you can visit any time of the day to view the beautiful sight.
If you like, you can do the moderate hike to Grass Lake, which also has pretty color in the fall. The trail starts near North Lake.
Be warned, though, that getting to North Lake is an adventure. The road changes to dirt a short distance after you make the turn onto North Lake Road, and progressively becomes very narrow and winding. Not for the faint of heart!
Trailers and RVs are not permitted on the road.
Lake Sabrina is a beautiful lake with a superb setting, but the colors are pretty far away, on the opposite shore of the lake and along the canyon walls just behind.
Still makes for a gorgeous photo, though. When the colors change to orange and red from yellow, it looks like ribbons of volcanic lava are running down to the lake.
We aren’t done at Bishop yet! The little park in town is worth strolling: there are many deciduous trees here that change color in autumn, and a little lake for added beauty.
And to the east of town, head to Buckley Ponds and the Owens River, where you will find majestic cottonwoods. Go east on Warm Springs Road and then take the little roads to the north and south near the river to look for color.
WHERE TO STAY IN BISHOP
Creekside Inn | Cielo Hotel Bishop | Holiday Inn Express | Best Western Bishop Lodge
North of Bishop, the Round Valley area features lots of cottonwoods, as well as poplars.
You can get expansive views of meadows with colorful grasses and pockets of cottonwood trees, framed against the backdrop of the mighty Sierra peaks. Look for vista points along Highway 395, so you can stop to take photos.
Also be sure to get off Highway 395, and take Old Sherwin Grade Road and Lower Rock Creek Road, which run parallel to the highway, all the way up to Tom’s Place. Mature cottonwoods line the road here!
Rock Creek Canyon
Rock Creek Road is one of our favorite Eastern Sierra fall color destinations. Here you can combine a scenic drive with a scenic hike for a superb day out in nature.
The road runs along the creek, which is lined with deciduous vegetation. With swathes of color also coming from stands of aspen on the canyon walls, the 9-mile drive offers many picturesque scenes.
Unless you want to hike, you should stop at Rock Creek Lake (there’s a resort here) to stretch your legs before making the drive back.
Once the road changes to dirt and gets narrow, you can’t turn back until you hit the Mosquito Flat trailhead. When we drove the dirt portion, it was brutal, with large potholes.
But if you want to hike all or part of the Little Lakes Valley trail, drive to the end of the road, where you will find the trailhead. Arrive super early to nab a parking spot.
The Little Lakes Valley hike is one of the most beautiful trails in the Eastern Sierra that does not come with a lot of elevation change.
Along with a string of scenic alpine lakes set amidst mountain peaks, you’ll also find stands of aspen and grasses for color in the fall, although the vegetation changes to mainly evergreens as you keep hiking. You won’t want to turn back, though, the trail is too beautiful!
McGee Creek Canyon
Another beautiful drive that ends at a trailhead, McGee Creek Canyon is a must in the fall, when colors are at or near peak. The drive offers swathes of color, and if you do not wish to hike, you can turn around in the parking lot at the pack station.
Hiking is the best way to enjoy the views and the color here, and while it’s not an easy hike, you can go as far as you want and then turn back. The mountains you see here are unique, with mineral deposits that make them look striking against the blue sky.
As with Rock Creek, arrive early because the parking lot tends to get full, especially during the summer and fall. You can also arrange for horse rides up the canyon: McGee Creek Pack Station offers rides.
As you begin the hike up the canyon, look for color from the stands of aspen along the creek bed to your left. If you stay left, you can stay close to the creek bed and the color as you hike.
Continue hiking and you’ll come to areas where the vistas open up and you see swathes of color from aspen along the canyon walls. Beaver Pond, where you can snap photos of fall color reflections in the water, is a good place to turn around and head back.
No matter the season, Convict Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in the Eastern Sierra. Fall brings an added dimension of beauty to the lake, making a visit here even more captivating.
If ever a spot called for an early morning wake-up on vacation, Convict Lake is it! Arrive just before sunrise and stake out a spot to watch as the sun paints the mountain faces gold.
It’s a super popular place, especially in the fall, so be prepared to share the viewing areas, and the pleasant hike around the lake, with many other visitors during the day.
You’ll see fall color from stands of aspen along the shore, as well as willows that line the water’s edge, giving it a golden fringe at peak.
Reserve a boat rental and get out onto the water to appreciate the sublime beauty all around you. The marina is usually open until the end of October. Look for bald eagles!
While you will mostly find evergreens in Mammoth Lakes (the Mammoth Scenic Loop is a gorgeous drive through stands of Jeffrey pine), you will still find fall color from willows, reeds, and aspen, along the creeks and lakes.
Mammoth Creek Road Trail is a paved walking and biking trail where you can get up close to foliage colors in town. You’ll also find trails near Sherwin Creek campground.
The Lower Lakes Basin along Lake Mary Road is another good spot for fall colors. Walk or bike trails in the area to find stands of color, or walk to viewing areas to view the color at the water’s edge.
WHERE TO STAY IN MAMMOTH LAKES
The Village Lodge | Tamarack Lodge | The Westin Monache Resort | The Mammoth Creek Inn
June Lake Loop
The June Lake Loop is another of our favorite destinations for fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. Along the 16-mile length of road, you’ll find some of the prettiest drive-to lakes in the Eastern Sierra.
June Lake fall colors are some of the most scenic you will find in the Eastern Sierra.
As you begin the loop from the south entrance, you’ll arrive first at June Lake, fringed with lots of aspen. It’s a beautiful alpine lake, with a beach. Drive down to water level to see the colors from a different perspective.
At peak, the bright pure yellow of the aspen leaves combined with the deep blue of June Lake and the sky on a nice weather day create a scene you won’t soon forget. In some years, golden wildflower bushes add to the beauty of the scene.
Next up is the small Gull Lake, where you can walk the shore. Stands of aspens ring the water, along with willows, casting stunning reflections in the green water.
As you continue along the June Lake loop, marvel at the color on both sides of the road and up the surrounding canyon walls.
Silver Lake also offers gorgeous fall colors, both on the shore by the road, where there are dense stands of aspen, and on the far shore. At Grant Lake, look for beautiful reds and rusts on the grasses by Rush Creek.
Boating is among the many fun things to do in June Lake. June Lake, Gull Lake, and Silver Lake all have marinas, so if you find them open, be sure to reserve a boat rental for your visit!
One of the best easy fall hikes at June Lake is the hike to Parker Lake. The pristine lake has a beautiful setting amidst Sierra peaks and the fall colors at peak are breathtaking.
Mono Lake and Lee Vining
At Lee Vining, Tioga Road (CA Highway 120) heads up over Tioga Pass and into Yosemite National Park.
We prefer this drive in the summer, when wildflowers add a lot of color, but fall at Tuolumne Meadows can be beautiful as well, with the grasses turning to shades of red and brown.
And while Mono Lake is not known for its fall foliage, walk the boardwalk trail at the Mono Lake County Park to see bushes and grasses dressed in fall colors. The limestone tufa towers at Mono Lake are an added bonus!
We would rate Lundy Canyon among our favorite spots for fall colors in the Eastern Sierras. In good years, the yellow from the dense aspens can be almost blinding.
From Highway 395, go west along along Lundy Lake Road for a scenic drive all the way to the lake. A little ways beyond the lake, you will find parking for the Lundy canyon hike, and color on the aspen stands by the road.
To experience the full effect of fall colors here, you have to do the moderate hike up Lundy Canyon. You can go as far in as you wish, and then head back.
Not only does the trail meander through aspen forest for brilliant yellow color at peak, you are also treated to a series of three waterfalls created by Mill Creek.
Virginia Lakes Road is very scenic, with views of aspens from the time you turn onto the road from Highway 395, all the way up to the parking area at Big Virginia Lake.
There are several lakes to which you can hike here, so if you have the time, hit the trails for magnificent views of the mountains and the pristine alpine lakes.
While the full trail is challenging (and long) beginners can hike up to nearby Blue Lake, or a little further to Cooney Lake and Frog Lakes.
You’ll see lots of color on your way to Blue Lake, and then around Blue Lake, Cooney Lake, and Frog Lakes.
One of the most spectacular fall vistas you’ll see anywhere, Conway Summit is a roadside pullout along Highway 395. At 8,900 feet above sea level, the viewing area includes a lookout over Mono Lake, shimmering in the distance.
At peak, entire hillsides here are awash in yellows, oranges, and reds, making it a coveted photo spot in the Eastern Sierra come fall.
Green Creek Road and Summer Meadows Road
A little before you hit the town of Bridgeport, Green Creek Road and Summer Meadows Road offer a gorgeous show of fall color at peak.
Green Creek Road, which goes for about eight miles to the campground and trailhead, offers views of meadows with colorful grasses and rivulets of molten gold color along the canyon walls.
Summers Meadow Road features color on either side of the road and along the canyon walls. It was very pretty when we drove it, but we had to turn back after a while because it’s a dirt road and we were in a passenger sedan. Very bumpy!
Green Creek Road is also dirt, but it was easier to drive when we visited.
Twin Lakes, Bridgeport
Not to be confused with the Twin Lakes in Mammoth Lakes, these Twin Lakes are in Bridgeport. Go west from Highway 395 along Twin Lakes Road for about 13 miles to arrive at the first lake. The second lake is just a short drive from the first.
From along the side of Twin Lakes Road, you get beautiful views of Lower Twin Lake, framed by the mountains. The deep blue of the water contrasts beautifully with the yellows and golds of aspen and cottonwoods along the shores.
There’s a marina at Twin Lakes that offers boat rentals and is open until early November. Call to reserve a boat for your visit: the views from the water are spectacular.
Sonora Pass Road, officially California Highway 108, is one of the three roads over the mountains. The Walker River flows past at the start of the road.
Before it starts climbing, Sonora Pass Road traverses wide open meadows, colored shades of tawny brown and red in the fall. It’s a unique landscape, and very beautiful.
Once you start climbing, you’ll be treated to fabulous colors at Leavitt Meadows. We were here at close to peak, and saw the entire gamut of colors, from green to yellow to orange to crimson and burgundy.
As you climb higher and higher the road gets very curvy and steep, and the views are breathtaking at every bend.
Note that the road is not suitable for RVs and trailers.
There’s a pullout from where you can view Leavitt Falls. This is a good spot to turn around if you are heading back into the Eastern Sierra.
Walker River Canyon
Highway 395 traverses the scenic Walker River Canyon with its steep grey-brown walls. The river flows right alongside the road in many places, making this stretch of road extremely picturesque, no matter the season.
In the fall, aspen, cottonwood, and willow provide lots of color right by the water as it spills and bubbles over rocks and races along.
There are places along the road where you can park and just enjoy the beautiful color and the sound of the water, or eat a picnic lunch.
If you drive the side roads at Antelope Valley, you’ll see stands of magnificent cottonwoods that are very old.
At the north end of the canyon is Topaz Lake, located on the California-Nevada border. You can drive down to the road that runs along the lake for a nicer view of the water.
The northernmost of the three roads that goes over the Sierra Nevadas, Monitor Pass Road, officially California Highway 89, is another stunning fall drive.
Stands of aspen mingle with evergreens for a pleasing display in the fall. There are pullouts where you can stop to take in the views at leisure and snap photos.
Drive over the pass into Markleeville and Hope Valley for more stunning fall color en route to South Lake Tahoe. Along the way, there are smaller roads and dirt roads to explore if you have a suitable vehicle.
Hope Valley, Markleeville and Ebbett’s Pass are technically not the Eastern Sierra but the colors here are so gorgeous that you have to include them in your Eastern Sierra fall colors trip!
Plus, there are other fun things to do at Lake Tahoe in the fall!
Exploring this area is best done from a base in South Lake Tahoe, from where Hope Valley is just a 30-minute drive.
While all of Hope Valley is ablaze with color at peak — there are lots of tall mature aspen to admire here — one of the most photographed spots in the area is the Red Creek Cabin.
The cabin is located along California Highway 88, a couple of miles past Red Lake. It’s a beloved fall photo spot, so there is a pullout from where you can take photos.
To explore the area further, drive California Highway 89 to California Highway 4, which goes up to Ebbetts Pass. All along this stretch, to Markleeville and beyond, you’ll see lovely color from aspen, willow, and cottonwood, along the East Carson River.
There are turnouts along the road to stop and soak in the beauty, and you can drive as far up as you wish before you head back.
Eastern Sierra Fall Color Map
Getting to the Eastern Sierra
From Los Angeles
If you are driving up from Los Angeles, you’ll take California Highway 14 North to Highway 395 North.
Along the way to Big Pine and Bishop, you can stop at Red Rock Canyon State Park to snap photos of the stunning rock formations.
At Lone Pine, take in the beauty of the Alabama Hills if you have the time: drive Movie Road and do the short Mobius Arch Loop Trail to enjoy fall color in the desert (bushes turn bright yellow).
You can also drive up Whitney Portal Road to enjoy panoramas of the Owens Valley. You may even catch the trees and bushes around Lone Pine Creek Falls at peak color!
From San Francisco
If you are driving from San Francisco, you’ll take I 580 East to California Highway 120, which is a fun drive, especially as it traverses Yosemite National Park before heading down to Highway 395 at Lee Vining.
Note that you’ll have to pay the national park fee for Yosemite, unless you have the America the Beautiful National Parks pass.
Yosemite may also require reservations if you head out on or before September 30.
If you have the time, you can alternatively drive to South Lake Tahoe along I 80 East and Highway 50 East, and then make your way south on Highway 395.
Looking for a car rental for your Eastern Sierra fall getaway? Consider Discover Cars! They scour multiple providers to get the best price for you, including brands like Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, Budget, and Sixt.
Check availability and book your rental car now!
Where to Stay in the Eastern Sierra
Coming from the SF Bay Area, we based ourselves in three larger towns when we did a 10-day fall road trip from South Lake Tahoe to Bishop: South Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Bishop.
If you are coming from the south, you could stay in Bishop and then Mammoth Lakes, and explore from those two bases.
Bishop, Mammoth Lakes, and South Lake Tahoe all have plenty of accommodation options, lots of dining options and grocery stores, and gas stations to fill up.
Hotels and Other Lodging
Creekside Inn in Bishop is conveniently located along Main Street. Bishop Creek runs through the property. Guest rooms feature either a balcony or a patio, with views of the creek or the mountains. The hotel features a year-round outdoor hot tub and seasonal outdoor swimming pool. Book a stay here!
The Village Lodge in Mammoth Lakes has a convenient location in the village, walking distance to shopping and dining. The property features a heated outdoor pool and five hot tubs. Units range in size from a studio to a three-bedroom apartment. Book a stay here!
Tahoe Lakeshore Lodge and Spa in South Lake Tahoe is a beachfront property. Rooms and apartments have lake views, and the property offers an outdoor seasonal swimming pool, a hot tub, and onsite spa. Apartments come with full kitchens. Book a stay here!
The Coachman Hotel in South Lake Tahoe is centrally located, with easy access to shopping, dining, and the beach. The property has a seasonal outdoor pool and a hot tub. Parking and wifi are free. Book a stay here!
Tips for Viewing Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierra
The Best Time to Go to See the Eastern Sierra Fall Colors
Deciduous leaves turn color in the fall when air temperature drops and daylight decreases.
Peak varies from year to year. Plus, color begins, peaks, and ends at different elevations at different times.
In general, trees at higher elevations start changing color earlier, and trees on the valley floor start turning later in the season.
This means that the Eastern Sierra of California has a long fall foliage season, generally starting in mid-September and running up to the end of October.
If you have the luxury of going at short notice, keep tabs on the websites and social media accounts of Mono County and Inyo County, the two California counties where you’ll find most of these locations we’ve described above.
Californiafallcolor.com is another excellent resource, with live reports from people actually in the region. They regularly issue an updated fall color report for the Eastern Sierra (and other parts of California) during the season.
What if going at short notice is not possible?
For most of us, trips have to be planned far ahead of time.
In that case, arriving in the first few days of October is a good idea, because it’s right in the middle of the range and you’ll likely get to see the peak at some spots.
We did our Eastern Sierra fall road trip from October 8 through October 18, and saw a riot of color in many places, although we arrived at South Lake after the wind had dropped the leaves from the aspens there, and were too early for cottonwoods.
How much time should you spend?
Obviously, the longer you have, the more you can explore or chase hot spots of color, but you can do most of the drives we’ve described in three full days, if you start early.
If you want to do a longer hike or two, you should allow at least a couple of additional days.
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