Best Places for Fall Color in California
SACRAMENTO, CA [September 21, 2021]—Autumn enjoys an extended season in California due to the state’s range of climates. Starting in the High Sierras in September, fall colors run as late as November at lower elevations. The changing of the seasons provides a great excuse to take a road trip to enjoy the show. The California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns (CABBI) has compiled a list of great spots to catch fall color in California this year.
The historic mining town of Julian offers visitors a delicious taste of fall. At 4,000 feet in elevation, San Diego County’s endless summer gives way to the crisp mountain air, apple orchards, vineyards, and beautiful fall colors. Hike the Five Oaks Trail at Volcan Mountain Preserve, which is home to some of the region’s oldest and largest black oaks. More black oaks ring Lake Cuyamaca in a blaze of color at Cuyamaca State Park. At Palomar Mountain State Park, hike the Thunder Ridge or Chimney Flat Loop to enjoy the changing colors of the bracken ferns and leafy oaks. Back in town, grab a slice of apple pie and stroll the charming storefronts dating back to the late 1800s.
Where to stay: Just a short walk from town, Orchard Hill Country Inn is a charming collection of cottages nestled on five acres featuring an idyllic pond ringed with hammocks and Adirondack chairs.
Every autumn, the aspens and oaks along California’s Highway 108 put on a dazzling display of fall color against a backdrop of pine forests and bright blue skies. The scenic route winds through the Stanislaus National Forest, passing alpine lakes, meadows, and mountain vistas as it skirts the northern boundary for Yosemite and climbs up to Sonora Pass. One of the best spots for fall color along the route is the vista point at Donnell Lake. It overlooks the lake and the volcanic ridges of the Dardanelles. In fall, trees along the ridgelines glow in fiery colors. Other great spots along Highway 108 for fall color include Pinecrest Lake, Sardine Meadow, Leavitt Falls Overlook, and Leavitt Meadow Overlook. The leaves begin turning in late September and peak in October.
Where to stay: A charming mountain retreat near Twain Harte, McCaffrey House Bed & Breakfast Inn features cozy fire stoves, beautiful quilts, and enchanting forest views from every room.
North of Lake Tahoe (and far from the fire), the historic town of Truckee is a spectacular fall destination as the aspen and maples change from green to gold to red. One of the easiest hikes for leaf-peeping is the Legacy Trail, which is a paved walking and biking path that follows the Truckee River right from downtown. Another great hike for fall color is Coldstream Canyon, which starts just behind Donner Memorial State Park. More local hikes above Donner Lake provide stunning views of the mountains and the lake ringed in a blaze of fall hues. The leaves around Truckee begin changing colors in mid-September and run through mid-to-late October.
Where to stay: Donner Lake Inn is nestled among over an acre of pine, maple, and aspen trees providing spectacular fall color. There’s also an outdoor hot tub for soaking up the forest views.
In autumn, the college town of Chico is ablaze in a spectrum of deep reds, oranges, gold, and yellow. At Bidwell Park, which is one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., visitors can hike or bike among the 3,600 acres of oaks and sycamore trees. A series of graceful bridges connect the trails running along both sides of Big Chico Creek and provide picturesque views of the rushing waters lined with fall color. Visitors can also stroll along Chico’s many tree-lined streets to take in the changing colors while fallen leaves crunch underfoot. The leaves typically begin turning colors in October and peak in early-to-mid-November.
Where to stay: Within walking distance of downtown and Bidwell Park, the Goodman House Bed & Breakfast is a grand 1906 Colonial Revival on a broad, tree-lined esplanade.
Each autumn, the lower slopes of Mount Shasta are painted in a kaleidoscope of color as the oaks, big leaf maples, aspen, and dogwoods turn yellow, orange, and red. Early snowfall on the mountain’s peak can make for an even more dramatic backdrop. Lake Siskiyou’s shoreline trail provides views of autumn leaves and Mount Shasta reflected in the lake. The scenic trails running alongside the McCloud River between lower, middle, and upper falls are all the more stunning when the leaves turn to a blaze of fall color. Following Highway 89 east to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, visitors will find more fall foliage with fiery splashes of color framing Burney Falls. The best time to see the changing colors in this region is usually mid-October.
Where to stay: McCloud Hotel Bed & Breakfast and McCloud Mercantile Hotel are both beautifully restored historic boutique hotels nestled in the charming town of McCloud.
In Napa Valley’s northern-most town of Calistoga, visitors will find an enchanting fall experience as the grapevines turn orange and copper and the oaks take on a golden hue. Driving the Silverado Trail between Napa and Calistoga is a popular way to savor the changing fall colors and visit wineries along the way. To see more trees in their autumn regalia, visitors can hike the trails at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where black oaks and big-leaf maples form a colorful canopy over the year-round creek. Visitors can also take in the mosaic of fall color from above by booking a hot air balloon ride. The oaks tend to peak in mid-to-late October while the timing of the color-changing grape vines vary by the varietal and can run through late November.
Where to stay: Four boutique hotels are clustered in downtown Calistoga, all within walking distance of restaurants and tasting rooms: Calistoga Wine Way Inn, Craftsman Inn, Embrace Calistoga, and The Francis House.
For more information about these or any other CABBI-member inns, visit www.cabbi.com.