With a week to go before the first official day of autumn, the Eastern Sierra is just starting to get gilded.
Spots of yellow are brightest at Virginia Lakes (US 395, south of Bridgeport), which is exhibiting patchy color. One can assume that other areas at similarly elevated altitudes (Rock Creek, Little Lakes Valley, Lake Sabrina) are also turning color.
This seems to be about on schedule, compared to past autumns. Though in drought years (this is one), autumn color often appears early and is short lived. So, we recommend heading to must-see areas soon after we report Patchy to Near Peak color, as change is likely to accelerate during a drought.
The big news in the Eastern Sierra is that Inyo National Forest is now fully open. This includes areas in Lee Vining, June Lake, Sagehen Summit, Mammoth Lakes, Convict Lake, McGee Creek, and Rock Creek.
The Humboldt-Toiyabe NF was already open with few restrictions such as no dispersed camping and no overnight backpacking allowed. Areas of this national forest in northern Mono County – that are part of the Bridgeport Ranger District – are open, including areas around Walker, Coleville, Topaz, Bridgeport, Twin Lakes (Bridgeport), Virginia Lakes, Conway Summit, and Summers Meadow. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest will fully open on September 18. To aid trip planning, Mono County Tourism offers a free Eastern Sierra Fall Color Map and other information-rich visitor guides.
In the past week, there’s been little change. Mono County color spotter Jeff Simpson reports Virginia Lakes as being the best bet for fall color this weekend with most of it appearing near the Virginia Lakes Resort.
If you own an AWD or 4-wheel drive vehicle, drive the Dunderberg Meadows dirt road off Virginia Lakes Road to Sinnamon Meadow and Green Creek. Upper Rock Creek and Sagehen Summit are the only other locations that are just starting and worth the drive now.
Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – 10-50% Patchy – Go here if you want to get the first taste of fall color for the 2021 season! Full yellow trees along the road at the summit near Virginia Lakes Resort.
Sagehen Summit (8,139’) – 0-10% Just Starting – Traditionally this is the first location in California to reach peak color. Look for major development changes here starting next week!
Rock Creek Road (9,600’) – 0-10% Just Starting. Small changes happening right now around Rock Creek Lake and all hiking trails that lead to higher elevations.