A new feature this autumn is driving tours of prime fall color destinations across California. First up: Southern Inyo County. These driving tours predict when and where color will be peaking. As with any prediction, it is subject to be off, depending on conditions.
Whitney Portal – Peak Color: mid September. From Lone Pine, drive west along the Whitney Portal Road to trail’s end, then hike (strenuous) up the trail to Big Horn Sheep Meadow (10,300’) to be dazzled by bright yellow willows.
Onion Valley – Peak color: Early to mid October. From Independence, drive west on Onion Valley Rd., along Independence Creek to the Onion Valley Campground. Stands of aspen and meadows full of willows provide displays of autumn color. For hikers (strenuous), the Bubbs Creek trail leads to Pothole, Gilbert and Flower lakes.
Big Pine Creek –Peak color: Early to mid October. From Big Pine, take the Glacier Lodge Road west along Big Pine Creek to Glacier Lodge. Aspen, cottonwood and willow grow along the creek and in meadows. For hikers, the North Fork hike gains 3,000’ in 9.2 mi. and is listed as strenuous, though beautiful stands of color are seen the higher you hike.
Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery – Peak color: mid to late October. Although the fish hatchery has been closed since 2008, due to storm damage, its majestic structures and surrounding cottonwoods provide dramatic color and visual interest. The site is reached easily from Independence.
Alabama Hills – Peak Color: late November to early December. Take US 395 west from Lone Pine to the Alabama Hills, a rugged location often used as the backdrop for television and motion picture “westerns.” In December, weathered cottonwoods provide a colorful contrast to the snowcapped Sierra.
Next up: driving tours of the Bishop area of Inyo County.