The Best Places to Spot Fall Color in Sacramento & Northern California
Despite what New Englanders may say, California has its fair share of fall color. True, we may not have the spectacular shows of our East Coast counterparts, but there are still plenty of opportunities for “leaf peeping” here in the Golden State. The Sierra Nevada put on a fiery show, with quaking aspens, cottonwood, oaks, maple and willow, with the real showstoppers coming in late October and early November. You can even make a weekend of it by booking an overnighter in one of our many 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.
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.
It should be noted that for 2021, some areas are have been damaged by wildfire and may have unsafe air quality due to smoke. Please check the websites for the latest conditions. Also, many parks and recreation areas have COVID-19 precautions in place.
Nevada City/Grass Valley
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.
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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. Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen also has a kaleidoscope of colors.
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.
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. Note: Wildfires in 2021 impacted portions of Plumas County, including areas north of the Highway 70 corridor.
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.
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.
Tilden Regional Park
Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley has something for everyone, including a historic event center, botanical garden, golf course and miles of hiking trails! There’s also a 740-acre nature preserve with grasslands, streams and oak and bay woodlands that erupt into brilliant displays of red, orange and yellow come fall. There are miles of hiking trails to explore, though some are closed sporadically due to wildfire danger, so check online before you leave home. The park also has a merry-go-round, a little farm and a steam train for the kiddos.