The Best Places to See Fall Foliage in Northern California

Vineyards in fall

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Fall is here and it's time to start thinking about autumn weekend getaways and West Coast fall road trip ideas. Looking for a place to go leaf-peeping? You don't need to travel to New England—fall colors abound in the northern parts of the Golden State.

You'll find the best autumn colors when the weather is cool and dry, but before the temperatures start to freeze. In all cases, pay attention to the weather and contact the destinations for updates on the current color conditions. The last two weeks of October are typically the best time to catch the foliage, but an unexpected fall frost may cause leaves to drop sooner than you expect.

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Mono County, California

Convict Lake in Eastern Sierra's, California.

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California's Eastern Sierra region, which lies east of Yosemite National Park and north of Sequoia National Park, is one of the best places in California to see wide swaths of colorful leaves flanked by mountain peaks and rugged canyons.

Travel along Highway 395 through Mono County to see picturesque autumn landscapes near the towns of Lee Vining, June Lake, and Mammoth Lakes. Convict Lake is a wonderful place to catch the sunrise on the rugged mountain peaks and watch the vibrant foliage reflected in the still lake. 

The Mono County visitor's bureau website maintains a fall foliage report on the top leaf-peeping destinations in the Eastern Sierra, which is updated weekly during the season.

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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley in fall

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While Yosemite National Park is busy through the spring and summer months, the crowds start to thin into the fall, so it's a great time for an autumn getaway.

In the Yosemite Valley, the vibrantly colored trees frame the base of the valley's landmark rocky landscapes. The valley is easy to traverse by car along Northside and Southside Drive and there are some lovely vistas accessible to all without having to trek too far off the path of the road.

You can also take the free Yosemite Valley shuttle providing bus service across the valley with stops at major trailheads, vista points, and all the overnight accommodation areas in the Yosemite Valley.

Beyond Yosemite Valley, there is colorful foliage near Glacier Point, Wawona, Tuolumne, and along the Merced River into El Portal.

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Lake Tahoe

View of lake tahoe in Fall

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Bunk in for the night in South Lake Tahoe at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino or The Landing Tahoe Resort & Spa. For the outdoorsy types, consider hiking on the Tahoe Rim Trail or fishing at the Tahoe Trout Farm. If you're adventurous, Lake Tahoe Balloons offers hot air ballon rides.

In the fall, Lake Tahoe is a great place to watch the colors change framed by the vibrant blue of the lake. Explore some of the best fall color views along Highway 89 by following the Truckee River Canyon from South Lake Tahoe to Truckee.

Bunk in for the night in South Lake Tahoe for a more vibrant evening community and active things to do like hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail, fishing at the Tahoe Trout Farm, or a hot air balloon ride with Lake Tahoe Balloons. Stay closer to Truckee for a more relaxed community and small-town feel.

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Napa and Sonoma Wine Country

Sonoma valley vineyard in fall

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After the annual fall harvest, the vineyards in Northern California's Napa and Sonoma Wine country start to change from green to gold to red. Drive the rural back roads of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys to see the brilliantly colored landscapes. Many ​wineries and vineyards have outdoor patios where you can enjoy the colorful autumn views with a glass of wine.

Some unique foliage viewing options include visiting Jordan Estate (Healdsburg) for a guided tour of the estate, vineyard, and farm and periodic vineyard hikes, and visiting Sterling Vineyard (Calistoga) to ride the gondola, an aerial tram that gives a one-of-a-kind view over the Napa Valley.