Where to See Fall Color in Sacramento & Northern California
When it comes to fall color, California doesn’t get the same play as, say, New England, Colorado or the Great Smoky Mountains. After all, those areas are world-renowned for their brilliant displays of gold, orange and crimson. But out west, we also have our share of fall color. The Sierra Nevada put on a fiery show, with quaking aspens, cottonwood, oaks, maple and willow the real showstoppers come mid-October. A fall getaway to one of the many hotspots within a few hours’ drive of Sacramento is a great way to enjoy the season, especially when coupled with quaint mountain towns.
The season varies greatly depending on elevation and weather, so it can be difficult to predict when the leaves will reach their peak. But typically, mid-October to early November are prime times for leaf peeping in Northern California. For the latest updates, visit californiafallcolor.com, which has created an interactive map showing the status of turning leaves across California.
Map courtesy California Fall Color
If a weekend getaway isn’t doable, you can find plenty of fall color close to home. In Sacramento, the neighborhoods of Land Park, Midtown and East Sacramento are especially brilliant — look for gingko, Chinese pistache, liquid amber and scarlet oak. Other areas for leaf peeping include Auburn, Placerville and Folsom.
Nevada City/Grass Valley
Photo courtesy Nevada City Chamber of Commerce
Some of the best fall color can be seen just an hour away from Sacramento in Nevada City and Grass Valley. The Gold Rush towns have pops of sugar maples and liquid ambers throughout their downtown areas that transform into yellow, orange and red. Before you go, download a fall color brochure that highlights the best spots. You can also see red maples and quaking aspens on a driving tour along the Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway.
How to get there: To reach Grass Valley, take I-80 east to Auburn, then take Highway 49 north. To reach Nevada City, continue on Highway 49/Highway 20 for another four miles.
Where to stay: In Nevada City, Piety Hill Cottages has nine stand-alone units beneath the maples, birch and cedars. Some have their own private gardens, and a communal courtyard has chairs for lounging and taking in the autumn air.
Photo courtesy Cornerstone Cellars via Flickr
The Napa Valley and Sonoma County are a draw any time of year, but especially in the fall. Fall colors are around every turn, both from the native and non-native trees planted here, but also from the grapevines whose leaves begin to turn come October. Napa Bothe State Park is known for its redwood grove, but its oaks and maples put on an impressive display. Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen also has a kaleidoscope of colors — if you’re serious about fall colors, sign up for a fall photography workshop.
How to get there: Take I-80 West to Highway 12, then follow Highway 12 north to Highway 29.
Where to stay: The Cottages of Napa Valley are centrally located and nestled under a canopy of trees, with ample greenspace to spread out and take in the outdoors.
Photo courtesy jcookfisher via Flickr
Located south of Lake Tahoe on the eastern side of Carson Pass, Hope Valley is an all-season high-Sierra destination known for its fishing, camping, hiking and skiing. Come fall, the area is awash in brilliant yellows from the aspens that line the valley floor.
How to get there: From Sacramento, take Highway 50 east to Highway 89 south. Continue to Highway 88, where you’ll hit Pickett’s Junction and the surrounding wildlife area along the West Fork Carson River. Continue on Highway 88 west towards Carson Pass.
Where to stay: Nestled in an aspen grove, Sorensen’s Resort has cozy mountain cabins, a wood-fired sauna and a small café.
Photo courtesy Jim McClain via Quincy Chamber
Northeast of Sacramento, Plumas County is known for its pops of bright autumn color along the Feather River Canyon between Oroville and Quincy. In fact, Highway 70 is a National Scenic Byway. Deep crimson Black Oak, cheery golden Big Leaf Maple and bright red Mountain Dogwood swatch the entire corridor with color. A handy-dandy leaf-peeping map is available for road trippers. Quincy also has its own “Awesome Autumn” map.
How to get there: From Sacramento, take Highway 99 north to Oroville, then head east on Highway 70 towards Quincy or Graegle. Make a loop home by taking Highway 89 south to I-80.
Where to stay: Along the Feather River Canyon, the kitschy Belden Town Resort has rustic cabins surrounded by forested grounds. In Quincy, Ada’s Place has four homey cottages in a lovely garden setting.
Photo courtesy June Lake Loop Chamber of Commerce
Just east of Yosemite lies June Lake, a quaint mountain community ideal for nature lovers. In summer, visitors flock to the namesake lake to swim, boat and fish. But come fall, the trees surrounding the town erupt in a blazing display. A drive along the June Lake Loop (Highway 158) takes you past June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake and Grant Lake and showcases colorful groves of quacking aspen and willows.
How to get there: From Sacramento, take Highway 50 east to Highway 89 to Meyers, then south on Highway 395. At Highway 158, turn right.
Where to stay: The Double Eagle Resort is nestled among the trees, the commanding Carson Peak in the background. There’s a spa and fitness center, as well as stocked fishing ponds and hiking trails begging to be explored.
Photo courtesy Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism
Just minutes from June Lake, Mammoth Lakes also has spectacular fall colors. The Mammoth Town Loop is a 7-mile stroll through town, taking you to Mammoth Creek Park and Snowcreek Ponds. If you’re up for a hike, visit Reds Meadow or head south to Convict Lake, which is known for its bright yellow aspen grove.
How to get there: Follow the directions to June Lake, but continue on Highway 395 and head west on Highway 203.
Where to stay: Perched on the edge of twin lakes, historic Tamarack Lodge has charming cabins peppered throughout the forested property.