To hear New England tell it, you’d think that glorious fall foliage only happens there. But we in the West respectfully disagree.
Veteran western leaf-peepers know that we can experience spectacular explosions of color, though their timing and hue depend more on tree species and elevation than latitude, as in the Northeast. Looking to do some peeping yourself? Keeping in mind that peak viewing dates can vary year to year, even at the same location, here are a handful of top spots near metro areas to get you started.
Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park
2 hours from Sacramento; 1 hour from Reno
At Lake Tahoe’s Ed Z’berg Sugar Pine Point State Park, mid-October is often prime time for a saffron-hued display of quaking aspens and black cottonwoods along the General Creek Trail. Fifteen miles south near Emerald Bay, the Taylor Creek Loop delights South Lake Tahoe visitors. Elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada, the riot of color starts in late September along many Plumas County roads, including the Feather River National Scenic Byway.
1-2 hours from San Francisco
Look to the vineyards, not the trees, for some of the area's most spectacular autumn leaves. Along Napa's Silverado Trail, for example, vineyards are ablaze in red, amber, and gold. Because each grape varietal changes color at a different time, the spectacle can last from mid-October all the way through November. In Mendocino County, Ukiah offers an in-town bonus to the surrounding vineyards: eye-popping oranges and reds that start in September and last through October on the Chinese pistache trees lining School Street in the historic downtown.
1 hour from Sacramento; 2.5 hours from San Francisco
Come autumn, Highway 49 through the Gold Country is paved in its namesake color—and others—thanks to stands of aspen and other deciduous trees mixed in with the evergreen pines. But from early October and sometimes into late November you'll find some of the most concentrated displays of color in the twin towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City, where the maples and liquidambars (sweetgums) light up historic districts, especially along Nevada Street in Nevada City and Grass Valley's Neal Street.
Smart Tip: For state-wide leaf reports, check the website California Fall Color.