Best Places to See Fall Colors in California

Aspen Trees and the Sierras, California
Aspen Trees and the Sierras, California.

Betsy Malloy

You might think that Yosemite National Park would be the place to go in California for fall foliage, but the park is actually made up of mostly evergreens. Instead, to find gorgeous fall colors in California, you'll have to travel to the eastern part of the state along the slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The best way to do this is by following the route from Bridgeport to Bishop along U.S. Highway 395. The eastern slope of the Sierras has the perfect conditions for aspen trees to grow, and these provide the majority of fall color California. The aspen tree's heart-shaped leaves flutter in even the smallest breeze, sometimes looking like it's covered with thousands of yellow butterflies flapping their wings. They don't tolerate shade and thrive best in plentiful sunshine, which they get under the open skies of Eastern California.

Mono County's fall foliage offers additional leaf-peeping opportunities, including the colors surrounding Lobdell Lake, Green Creek, Lundy Canyon, Parker Lake, Rock Creek, and Lee Vining Canyon.

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Gull Lake

Aspen Trees on the Road to McGee Creek

Betsy Malloy

The June Lake Loop drive is the perfect location to start your leaf-peeping. Along a short 15-mile loop drive that passes through the town of June Lake, you'll be able to see four lakes that provide the perfect mirror for the colorful foliage. The town sits just off California High 158, a few miles south of the town of Lee Vining, which can be reached from U.S. Highway 395.

Gull Lake is the smallest lake on the June Lake Loop and is the closest lake to town. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in looks. Large stands of aspen cascade down the hillsides around it, making streaks of hillside color that seem to be created by an oversized paintbrush. When those colors reflect in the mirror-smooth water, it doubles the beauty.

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Silver Lake

Sunrise at Silver Lake

Betsy Malloy

Silver Lake is on the east side of June Lake Loop, and this view is one of the area's most-photographed. To get in position for the best possible photo, you need to be standing on the lake's western shore moments after the morning sun strikes the trees. Besides this gorgeous view, you'll find some picturesque small boats docked on the lakeshore, and you can get a cup of coffee across the street to warm up those fingers and toes that nearly froze while you were waiting for that perfect shot.  

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Convict Lake

Autumn aspen trees line Convict Lake Sierra Nevada mountains, CA
Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

About 25 miles south of June Lake, you'll find Convict Lake. The name might sound a little scary, but the escaped convicts it was named for are long gone, leaving you safe to enjoy the dramatic views of rocky mountains with yellow aspens spilling down the slopes. You can take a walk on the trail that goes around it, or rent a boat and get out in the middle of it. To get there, use Convict Lake Road, which begins just across the highway from the south end of the Mammoth Airport.

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McGee Creek

Aspen Leaves at McGee Creek

Betsy Malloy

On a perfect, glorious fall day, the drive from US Highway 395 to McGee Creek could easily be the most beautiful three miles in California. Start your drive a few south of Convict Lake, or about five miles south of Mammoth Lakes. Exit Highway 395 near Crowley Lake. The short drive east from the main highway will take you to the creek in a few minutes. But what you see along the way will have you stopping so often that it might take an hour or more to drive just three scenic miles to get there.

When you reach the end of the road to McGee Creek, you'll find aspens growing along a mountain stream, and its banks covered with so many golden leaves that you can barely see the ground.