I have been guilty of chasing the Fall colors of this great country of ours. I have driven through New England, including New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. But I have also seen some fantastic Fall colors closer to home. With Yosemite falling off the grid temporarily (due to the hantavirus), the drive to Lake Tahoe looks like the obvious choice for a colorful drive. California is a very underrated place for viewing the Fall colors. And I am not big on those gigantic bus tours though.
Can you believe there are people out there calling themselves leaf-peeping experts? This guy actually has his own website, called californiafallcolor.com. He has been doing this since the 1980s. Much of the credit for our great colors comes from the great variety of geography, rather curiously, peaks and valleys.
The main (not that Maine) difference is that color descends by elevation here in California. New England colors descend by latitude. Sounds all rather too scientific to me. So, if you are in the wrong place when the colors peak, you may miss it entirely. Here in California, if you miss the colors at one elevation, just drive down to a slightly lower elevation. Higher elevations mean earlier color. The rule of thumb is that color descends by 500 to 1000 feet every week. The weather here also creates a longer season of color than New England.
My personal favorite has always been the aspen trees to and from the drive to Lake Tahoe. And I generally try to visit Tahoe in the late Fall, just for the color, and to avoid the big summer crowds. Another good way to find color is the see where your friends have gone, and check the color of the trees in their photos.
So, where might you go? Most unspoiled are the Eastern Sierra lakes, located in places like Mono County. The passes and valleys near Lake Tahoe are great for color, including the Hope Valley, Carson Pass, Donner Pass, and Plumas County. A longer drive would get you to the Lake Shasta and Cascade regions.
Closer to home, the Gold Country offers great color, including Sonora, Calaveras, Jackson, Folsom, and even Auburn. Better yet, look for the Fall colors in Napa and Sonoma, and combine it with wine tasting and a great meal! But don’t look for the grapevines to provide great color. The period of time between green to brown happens quickly once the colder weather hits the Valleys. It does not last very long!