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Fall foliage makes northern California roadtrip spectacular

by Staff

New England may get the rave reviews, but California has the ecology, topography and the landscapes, according to California Fall Color editor Lara Kaylor. She notes that California is unique among our states, with such diverse eco-zones and elevations ranging from sea level to well over 10,000 feet, making the Golden State the splashy leader in Autumn scenic wonders. Her website ( provides inspiration for fall colors from September through late in the year. In considering the weeks ahead, we will share several recommendations, including the tree canopy in your own city, the Sierra foothills and the Eastern Sierra.

Fall changing colors are a factor of rainfall, seasonal cooling temperatures, slope exposure and other local variables. A highlight of the website is a projection of current and future fall colors, mapped, zeroing in on the most timely places to visit, as well as recent photos submitted by California travelers –useful for planning your future fall road trips. Mix in a second website, Explore Fall ( for projected fall color projections throughout the USA. 

The Sierra foothills are always popular road trip destinations, from Highway 88, 41, 108 and 120. Using the two forecasting sites, as example, take a drive east up Highway 108; 30 miles east of Sonora, stop at Pinecrest Lake, grab a bite at the Steam Donkey Restaurant and admire the always lovely lake. Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is just three miles above the lake, with fall activities and good food, readying for the coming ski season. Continue up 108; you’ll pass through the Donnell Fire area of 2018, which scorched both sides of the highway, leaving only the sign of the historic Dardanelle Resort, and, using the fall color sites, locate areas where aspen, poison oak and other high mountain trees and shrubs are painting the valley sides with yellow, red and fuchsia colors. 

On Highway 4, stop at Murphys for its always quaint and historic gold rush downtown, with plenty of wine tasting options. Just above Murphys, visit Ironstone Vineyards, where you’ll discover the vineyard was formerly Kramer Ranch, a 1500 acre cattle ranch owned by John Kautz’s spouse’s family. Kautz, a second generation Lodian with several thousand acres of vineyards in the valley, aimed to make a showplace vineyard and winery in the foothills. The winery began construction in 1990, opened in 1994, and is one of the grandest of wineries.

With 100 acres devoted to vineyards, and 14 acres maintained as gorgeous gardens (a wedding favorite), a year ago we found Ironstone’s trees surrounding the winery’s small lake awash in fall colors. Visit Ironstone’s museum and find artifacts, pictures and good explanation of early Native American culture in the area and the early prospectors – visitors will also gaze in awe at the 44 pound specimen of crystalline gold.

Higher on Highway 4, find both Bear Valley Resort and Silver Lake, some of the top fall color destinations; Bear Valley offers overnight lodging, fall activities and fine food. 

The Hope Valley along Highway 88 never fails to impress, from its natural, secluded beauty and soon to change colors of the aspen groves lining the Carson River Valley. Desolation Hotel (formerly Sorenson’s Resort) is ever a favorite, offering quaint and modern cabins and good food. Or, stop at the historic Kirkwood Inn (originally a stage-coach stop), just outside Kirkwood Ski Resort for both history and delicious food.

Cross over the Sierra to the Eastern Sierra, from Bishop south to Mammoth Lakes. Take the June Lakes Loop just north of the lovely resort town of Mammoth Lakes, for unending scenery featuring the towering Sierra, and fall colors often second to none. Both June Lake and Mammoth Lakes offer wide options for overnight stays and fine food. 

We just returned from Lake Tahoe, passing through the recent Caldor Fire that burned both sides of Highway 50, from Kyburz east to Twin Bridges, leaving several hundred thousand acres of forest land blackened. From South Lake Tahoe, we turned north on Highway 89,  where aspen groves just north of Camp Richardson, near the Mt. Tallac Trailhead, were just beginning to turn bright shades of yellow. Grab lunch at a lake-side favorite, The Beacon Restaurant, while plotting  your color destinations. For any of these Sierra destinations, you may encounter early snows, so plan accordingly!

Finally, don’t overlook the lovely yellows, reds and oranges coming soon to your own city of trees; from Lodi, south to Stockton, Manteca and Modesto, and the wild landscapes of special places like the Cosumnes River Preserve just north of Thornton, Lodi Lake or Caswell Memorial State Park along the Stanislaus River near Ripon. The vineyards of the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Appellation and the Shenandoah Valley just east of Plymouth are also about to begin their dynamic color bursts; keep your camera handy!

For more insight; California Fall Color,; for USA-wide forecasts, Explore Fall,

Where are you headed? Contact Tim, [email protected]happy travels in California!

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