“Colorado or New England often come to mind when people think of fall color, but we have several areas in California with stunning fall foliage in late September, October and early November,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director and CEO of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), which hosts Camp-California.com, the travel planning website that features campgrounds with RV and tent sites, as well as cabins, RVs and other rental accommodations.
According to a press release, the aspen trees in the higher elevations of the eastern Sierra change first, usually from late September through mid-October, while the cottonwood trees of the Owens Valley usually change in late October and early November.
“The timing of fall color is affected by the combination of cooling temperatures and shorter days, but altitude is also a big factor,” Sipe said.
While there are many aspen lined roadways leading into canyons and lakes in the Eastern Sierra, here’s a sampling of several great places to see fall color during the coming weeks, along with recommendations on places to camp nearby:
— State Route 395, between the Bodie Ghost Town turnoff and Deadman’s Summit: There is a large open area with hundreds of densely clustered aspen trees just west of U.S. Route 395 that looks like the aspen covered hillsides you see in Colorado. You can overlook these aspen trees as 395 climbs toward the 8,047-foot Deadman Summit. Morning is the best time to see these trees as the sunlight hits them from the East.
— The Base of Tioga Pass, on Highway 120, about three miles west of Lee Vining: Visitors to Yosemite National Park in fall who travel across 9,941-foot Tioga Pass are treated not only to occasional dogwoods and aspen trees, but a valley on the east side of the Sierra that’s filled with aspen trees that they can see a few minutes after they cross over Tioga Pass and descend toward Lee Vining. The aspens in Gibbs Valley, roughly three miles west of Lee Vining, are silhouetted against dark green pine trees, which make for beautiful contrasts when the sun is shining on the bright yellow aspen leaves.
— The June Lake Loop: This 15-mile route features some of the most beautiful places to see aspen trees in California. Aspens along this route typically start turning bright yellow in late September and early October, though the peak varies from year to year, depending on how quickly it gets cold. Several lakes are located along the route, which add to the drama of this area, which is further accentuated by the jagged Sierra Nevada peaks in the background. The June Lake Loop connects with U.S. Route 395, about 14 miles north of the Mammoth Lakes turnoff.
— Tom’s Place to Rock Creek Lake: From U.S. Route 395, about 15 miles south of the Mammoth Lakes turnoff, you can follow Rock Creek Road just over 10 miles into the Eastern Sierra. You’ll see many areas along Rock Creek and on the surrounding slopes that are covered with aspen trees.
Places to Camp in the Eastern Sierra:
— Annett’s Mono Village near Upper Twin Lake: This campground, which is typically open until the end of October, is about 13.4 miles west of Bridgeport. It features campsites as well as cabins and motel rooms. monovillage.com
— Coleville Walker Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in Coleville: This campground, which is open through Nov. 10, features RV and tent sites, as well as motel rooms and an onsite restaurant that’s locally famous for the quality of its breakfasts. koa.com/campgrounds/coleville/
— June Lake RV Park in June Lake: This park, which is in walking distance from the heart of June Lake, features campsites as well as a variety of rental accommodations. The park is normally open through late October, weather permitting. junelakervpark.com
— Mammoth RV Park in Mammoth Lakes: This campground is open year round and features RV and tent sites, as well as park model RV rental accommodations. mammothrv.com
— U.S. Route 395, between Olancha / Cartago and Bishop: There are clusters of cottonwood trees lining roadways and creeks around the tiny towns of Olancha, Cartago, Lone Pine, Independence and Bishop. These cottonwoods typically turn bright yellow between mid October and early November, depending on how quickly the weather cools. The 80-mile section of 395, between Olancha and Bishop, includes numerous areas of interest, including the Lone Pine Film History Museum, which documents the many famous Western films and movies that have been made in the Lone Pine and Alabama Hills’ areas of the Owens Valley during the past century; the Eastern California Museum in Independence , which houses thousands of photographs and artifacts from the Sierra Nevada and Owens Valley region; and Mountain Light, a photography gallery in Bishop that showcases the work of Galen and Barbara Rowell.
— Lake Sabrina and South Lake: From Bishop, follow State Route 168, roughly 14 miles into the Sierra, where the road splits, giving you the option of driving into two different aspen filled canyons. You can keep to the right and drive to Lake Sabrina, for a total distance of 18 miles from Bishop, or make a left and follow South Lake Road to South Lake, for a total distance of 21 miles from Bishop. Keep in mind that the aspens turn much sooner than the cottonwoods in the Owens Valley, so if you come to the Owens Valley to see the cottonwoods in fall, you may be too late to see the aspens at their peak. But either way, you will see spectacular scenery here.
Places to camp:
— Boulder Creek RV Resort in Lone Pine: This park features RV and tent sites, as well as rental accommodations. bouldercreekrvresort.com
For ideas on other scenic places to visit across California, updates on fall colors and other great places to camp, visit Camp-California.com.