Autumn in the Mountains Series
Want some quality time outdoors before winter arrives? Then now’s the time to go enjoy autumn in the Sierra Nevada, as fall colors peak gloriously in the next few weeks.
Yosemite’s maples, oaks, and dogwoods glow red, orange, and yellow in fall, starting in high country destinations like Tioga Pass and descending to Tuolumne Meadows. Eventually, the color reaches Yosemite Valley and contrasts beautifully with the green pines and granite walls. If you’ve only experienced Yosemite in summer, you’ll find autumn days cool and pleasantly less crowded. Easy hikes include Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, Cook’s Meadow Loop, and Mirror Lake Loop.
East of the Sierra crest stands Inyo National Forest which boasts multiple meccas for viewing fall color. Check out Lee Vining Canyon, between Yosemite and the town of Lee Vining below. The canyon offers waterfalls, trails, forest roads, picnic tables, and camping areas, in addition to legions of colorful cottonwoods and willows beside Lee Vining Creek. Just driving through the canyon will afford good viewing, but take at least one short hike like the easy half-mile Nunatak Tioga Tarns Trail, just east of Tioga Lake.
Heading south, Mono County’s June Lake features aspens with leaves that turn golden in October. Driving the June Lake Loop will show you plenty, but you should really get out of the car and walk around to appreciate them fully. Silver Lake, Agnew Lake, and Fern Lake offer short and medium-length outings beneath the rugged Carson Peak. For the best moderate day trip, trek atop Reversed Peak, a six-mile journey that will show not only fall color but peaks and valleys of adjacent Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Further south, Convict Lake offers not just fall colors but the impressive Mount Morrison as a backdrop, a wild west shootout as a historic backstory, and a gateway to John Muir Wilderness. An easy two-mile loop circles the lake.
Aspens line Rock Creek Lake just within Inyo County, and an easy walk around it totals less than two miles. From Toms Place on Highway 395, drive southwest on Rock Creek Road for about 10 miles to a parking area and trailhead. Multiple other scenic hikes begin at Mosquito Flat trailhead in Little Lakes Valley. Many Eastern Sierra visitors speed up and down Highway 395 without ever turning onto side roads like this one. If you’re one of them, come take a look, you won’t regret it.
Turning north, Highway 395 takes us to Conway Summit at the border of Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest. This vista shows not just shimmering fall color but a breathtaking view of Mono Lake to the south. From here it’s just a short drive to Virginia Lakes with more sights and hiking opportunities.
Yosemite has restricted visitation much of the year but lifted its day-use reservation requirement on Sept. 30. Inyo and Humboldt Toiyabe national forests remain open without restrictions.
Fall colors peak in October and fade in November, so act fast to catch it this season.
Matt Johanson enjoys exploring and writing about the outdoors. Climbing Mount Shasta, hiking the John Muir Trail, and skiing through Yosemite’s high country rank among his favorite outings. Matt’s books include California Summits, Sierra Summits, Yosemite Adventures, and Yosemite Epics. He’s taught and advised an award-winning high school journalism program for more than 20 years.
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