Fall is in the air, so it is time to start thinking about exploring where to find the best fall foliage in California for your next road trip in the state.
The cool and dry air activates those changing leaves, so pay attention to the temperatures and check the local fall foliage reports to time your trip perfectly.
Usually, the last half of October is when the fall leaves in California reach their peak, but it all depends on the temperature and elevation of each location. The higher the elevation, the earlier the leaves will most likely change.
Listed below are some great points to check out as you plan your fall day trip or a relaxing weekend drive through California!
Eel River, Humboldt Redwoods State Park
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The redwoods don’t change color in the fall, since they are evergreens, but their surrounding trees do!
Spot some trees changing color around Eel River located in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, not far from the Avenue of the Giants.
The brilliant color of the fall leaves against the blue lake water makes for the perfect Instagram picture!
Drive along Highway 89 through the Truckee River Canyon for views of some of the best fall foliage in California.
For those spending the night at Lake Tahoe or nearby, take a hot air balloon ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons to see the trees from above!
The Tahoe Rim Trail also offers terrific views of the fall leaves for those that want to get out and go for a hike.
On your way to the next spot on this list, Hope Valley, take a lovely drive through Carson Pass, just south of Tahoe on Route 88 to see the native California trees in full color.
It’s a beautiful stop on any California fall foliage road trip.
Explore this scenic road near Sorensen’s Resort near Highways 88 and 89.
The beautiful aspens will be showcasing their quaking red, yellow, and orange leaves.
For a great hike with fabulous fall views, take the old logging road that begins behind the rusty gate to the west of Sorensen’s Resort.
The trail leads through colorful aspen groves of yellows and oranges. After a two-mile hike, take the right Y marked 31053 on a U.S. Forest Service sign. Then take a right at the next fork also. Follow the rock arrows to the cliff and the Hope Valley Overlook, where a magnificent view is in store.
A short way from Fallen Leaf Lake Campgrounds, you will come to Frederick’s Meadow next to Fallen Leaf Lake. Here you will find a vista of Mount Tallac with the beautiful yellow Aspens framing it.
The Glen Alpine trailhead that leads through colorful fall trees is a lovely mile stroll on the cobbled path to Glen Alpine Springs.
McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
Take the 1.3-mile loop that passes the famed 129-foot-high Burney Falls. The falls are surrounded by various colors of foliage, which makes a terrific backdrop to the falls. Along the trail, you will enjoy the many shades of crimson, gold, and orange.
For a great photo opportunity, take pictures of the fall leaves reflecting in the pool at the falls.
Pit River & Fall River Mills
Located between Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Lassen National Forest, the small town of Fall River Mills has some of the prettiest fall colors in Northern California.
Take Pit River Canyon Rd in nearby Pittville to get sweeping views over the town and of Burney Mountain in the distance.
Castle Crags State Park
Whether your drive-through or explore some of the park’s 28 miles of trails enjoy the Castle Crags towering spires amongst the colorful fall foliage in this California state park.
The Oregon Ash trees seem like they are blazing against the evergreen trees! But don’t pass up the small things, like the ferns along the forest floor, which are just as beautiful.
Tip: Head out early to catch the yellow Aspen glow and the shining creek just after dawn. The clearings in the early morning light make the trees seem almost glowin
Highway 395 in Mono County
Travel Highway 395 near Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes, and June Lake for views of stunning autumn landscapes where the mountains edged with colorful leaves.
Enjoy sunrise at Convict Lake, and watch the glowing leaves reflect in the peaceful lake.
Before you go, check the Mono County Visitors Bureau website for the foliage report. It is updated each week during the fall season.
While in Mono County, you can’t miss beautiful June Lake, a peaceful resort town set on a lake in California’s Sierra Mountains.
Drive the 16-mile road of June Lake Loop amidst brilliant aspens and craggy mountains or head for a hike around Parker Lake for the best fall foliage views!
For one of the best fall foliage destinations in California, visit Lundy Canyon alongside Mill Creek in Mono County in the Eastern Sierras.
This beautiful grove of aspens turns brilliant yellow as other foliage turns yellow, and the evergreen trees provide a beautiful foil and contrast to the color-changing trees around it.
This 3-mile out-and-back trail is a stunning fall hike in California!
The Mammoth Lakes area offers some magnificent fall foliage hikes as the leaves showcase their vibrant yellow.
Although the area offers an array of beautiful California fall foliage, here are some prime spots for leaf peeping:
- Devils Postpile National Monument: With magnificent views of the 60-feet tall towering columns of basalt, the old aspen trees seem to glow as you walk the trails.
- The scenic drive along Minaret Road to the Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge offers breathtaking fall views of the Sierras.
Yosemite National Park
There is nothing better than looking across the rocky landscape of the Yosemite Valley to see the vibrant fall trees and golden meadows.
Along both the Northside and Southside Drives, there are plenty of vistas to view the fall colors without having to walk far.
Glacier Point and along the Merced River also are full of colorful fall foliage.
Sonoma Wine Country
In the fall, the Sonoma Wine region begins to turn to red and gold, particularly in the cool and chilly Alexander Valley.
Many of the wineries offer outdoor patios to enjoy a glass of wine as you take in the fall landscape!
Jordan Estate in Healdsburg offers fall vineyard hikes and guided estate tours.
Napa Wine Country
Not far from Sonoma, Napa also has beautiful fall colors.
The best can be found at the beautiful Far Niente winery, where gingko trees turn brilliant yellow in fall and scatter their leaves alongside brilliant golden vineyards.
Another great place to see California fall color is Sterling Vineyard in Calistoga, has an aerial tram where you can look out over the Napa Valley.
Bishop Creek Canyon
With the rugged mountain peaks in the background, Bishop Creek Canyon is one of the best places for fall foliage in California. The area’s colorful assortment of leaves is jaw-dropping during the changing seasons.
The area around North Lake boasts the best of the fall colors!
Enjoy the reflection of the brilliant orange fall foliage in the lake’s surface and go for hikes in the surrounding area.
Golden Gate Park
While most of San Francisco doesn’t really get much in the way of fall color, the trees in Golden Gate Park can turn brilliant red and orange.
It’s a great place to spot fall leaves in California if you don’t want to stray from the city to get some fall vibes!
Joseph Grant County Park
Located in the Santa Cruz mountains near San Jose, Joseph Grant County Park is a fantastic place to spot fall leaves in the South Bay if you don’t want to make the trek inland to Lake Tahoe or the Eastern Sierras.
Beautiful fall color is truly never far from wherever you are in California if you know where to look!
UC Davis Arboretum
The campus of UC Davis is home to a beautiful arboretum with gorgeous yellow and maroon-red foliage in the fall.
It’s free to visit this 100-acre arboretum which is located alongside Putah Creek.
Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Fall colors in Los Angeles? Why not! The Los Angeles Arboretum has beautiful fall colors, even when the weather feels anything but fall-ish!
During late October and early November, expect to see the garden’s chinaberry, redbud, maples, and sour gum trees in their brilliant crimson, golds, yellows, and orange colors throughout the 127 acres.
Tip: Even though the whole area is beautiful in the fall, be sure to head to the Arboretum’s Celebration and Meadowbrook Gardens. Here the foliage is the brightest and best.
Spend a day or overnight in this cozy mountain resort situated on peaceful Lake Arrowhead. The beautiful California fall foliage makes for stunning scenery.
Drive along Route 173 around the lake and through the mountains to enjoy how the painter’s palette brings the maples, cottonwoods, and black oaks to full color.
Take part in the leaf peep-a-palooza from mid-September through October and enjoy Lake Arrowhead Oktoberfest.
Big Bear Lake
Within the trees of the San Bernadino Mountains, this area comes to life with a dramatic sea of fall colors at Big Bear Lake.
Mill Creek Road offers a stunning scenic foliage drive, and is a can’t-miss if visiting Big Bear Lake in fall.
There are several fall foliage hikes in Big Bear. Here are a few favorites:
- Take time to walk the family-friendly Woodland Trail. It is a 1½ mile loop beginning at the Big Bear Discover Center.
- Pine Knot Trail: This begins as the Aspen Glen Picnic area. The hike is a 6-miles round trip and requires an Adventure Pass for parking.
- Town Trail: This 3-mile round trip hike is ideal for a fall dog walk or a bike ride. Tip: hike it in the late afternoon when the sun’s rays angle through the leaves.
- Castle Rock Trail is a 2-mile round trip hike that features brilliant yellow leaves.
While enjoying a leisurely 5-mile drive through the oaks and black walnut trees that encompass this quaint town, stop and get a fresh taste of fall at one of the apple orchards in Oak Glen.
Here you can pick some apples just for the trip or for all that fall baking you are planning on doing. Before you leave, grab a glass of fresh-pressed cider.
The Snow-Line Orchard offers the perfect stop for everyone in the family – cider and doughnuts for the kids and a winery/cidery for the adults!
For beautiful fall foliage, apple picking, and all sorts of other fall goodness — head to Julian, California!
This pristine fall wonderland is one of the higher elevation towns in Southern California so you’ll enjoy beautiful California fall colors and plenty of crisp fall air.
Lake Cuyamaca has the best fall colors in all of San Diego county!
Pin this Guide to California Fall Foliage!
Laura Gray is a freelance writer and retired elementary teacher based in Norfolk, VA. She spends her summers enjoying the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, traveling the world, and exploring the beautiful United States. Her favorite places to visit are National Parks, waterfalls, and lighthouses.