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The Triple Crown

Virginia Lakes (9/13/21) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

It’s rare when a location wins the triple crown of California Fall Color: Peak of the Week, Drive of the Week and Hike of the Week.

Mono County wins all three this week with:

  • Peak of the Week – Virginia Lakes
  • Drive of the Week – Dunderberg Rd.
  • Hike of the Week – Little Lakes Valley

Here’s why they were chosen:

Peak of the Week – Virginia Lakes is consistently one of the first areas in California to peak. At an elevation of 9,819′ it gets the coldest nights, soonest. This year, overnight temperatures have been in the mid 30s, though the high elevation at Virginia Lakes has allowed for the earliest color change. Although Patchy color was reported just a couple of days ago, there, photographs show it to be Near Peak and it’s likely to move to Near Peak this weekend. So, Virginia Lakes gets a GO NOW!

Dunderberg Meadows Rd (9/17/21) Brinn Little

Drive of the Week – Dunderberg Road is an all-wheel-drive/four-wheel-drive road near Virginia Lakes. You’ll see beautiful Patchy to Near Peak color along it and since you’re heading to Virginia Lakes, include a ride along Dunderberg Rd.

Upper Rock Creek Rd. (9/19/21) Clayton Peoples

Hike of the Week – The Little Lakes Valley is reached by driving to Rock Creek Lake in Southern Mono County, then hiking to a beautiful valley surrounded by rugged sawtooth mountain peaks and emerging fall color. This hike is well worth a trip to Mono County even when the color isn’t at peak.

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Statewide Summary

Courthouse Square, Quincy (10/28/20) Philip Reedy

Now that the skies have cleared of haze almost entirely across the Eastern Sierra, wouldn’t you know it? Fall color is mostly past peak.

There is peak color to be seen along US 395, but it no longer compares with the overwhelming beauty photographed two weeks ago. Now to appreciate autumn’s display, in the Eastern Sierra, you need to be inspired by the contrast of bare limbs beside others laden with deep color.

The best remaining color in Inyo County is found at the bottom of Bishop Creek Canyon, in Pine Creek Canyon where lush stands of black cottonwood are found, in the Round Valley where old cottonwood shade decaying shepherd’s shacks and at the Buckley Ponds near Bishop where soaring trees reflect their golden boughs upon still waters.

North along US 395 in Mono County, Twin Lakes is the last great remaining holdout still to peak fully. The legendary June Lake Loop is now capped with a cerulean sky (wildfire smoke has cleared away), though its long boulevards of aspen are a shattered mix of still-green, peaking gold and brown leaves and, of course, barren branches. Hikers trekking to Lundy Lake still enjoy color at the start of the trail, but as they reach the beaver ponds, it dwindles and a chill breeze alerts them that winter is approaching.

Peak has ended over Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass, Ebbetts Pass, Monitor Pass and Carson Pass. Only Echo Summit, Donner Pass and Yuba Pass have yet to peak fully. The Hope Valley is officially past peak and this is likely the last week of peak at Lake Tahoe. 

Even in Plumas County at the northern end of the Sierra, peak fall color is disappearing. The county’s famous sugar maples are now denuded, their orange leaves spin behind passing cars. Downtown Quincy remains a hold out with big color surrounding the Plumas County Courthouse.

Increasing numbers of Past Peak reports does not mean the show has ended. Peak has just dropped in elevation to between 3,500 and 6,000′, depending on location. Also, different species are now peaking.

Gone are the Pacific aspen. Arriving are the black oak, which display black limbs and deep orange leaves from Halloween into November. Bigleaf maple continue to dazzle with their gigantic gamboge leaves. And soon the vineyards, orchards and foothills will be dressed. While, long, undulating Vs of squawking geese indicate it’s time to head to the rice fields to see crane, heron, egrets, ducks and stilts posturing and preening. 

Throughout Plumas County’s Indian Valley a decided air of final harvest remains as gold and orange dominate. Peak fall color has moved to the northern end of the Sierra and southern Cascades, to embrace Lake Almanor, Susanville and arc through the Shasta Cascade toward the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains and north coast.

We’ve heard little from color spotters in that part of California. They’ve been dealing with wildfires and Covid closures and only now are sending back photos of plants that had no idea the rest of the world had stopped. While we were focused on fighting fires and a virus, they’ve been turning color.

In Southern California, the exotics in the San Bernardino Mountains (notably Big Bear Lake and Lake Almanor) have been peaking for a week. Aspen are now past peak. Near Peak are black oak. Native trees at Oak Glen are between Patchy and Near Peak, with lots of color and activity among the U-pick orchards and farm stands.

Hike of the Week is a walk through downtown Quincy. CLICK HERE for the route.

Bike of the Week is the Lake Almanor Recreation Trail near Chester. An 18.9-mile lightly trafficked, dog-friendly bike/foot path connects Almanor West with Canyon Dam. The trail has a 830′ gain. This is a pine and fir forest with fall color mostly consisting of willows. Though, good color is found around the lake in Chester, along the south east shore and down CA-89 through the Indian Valley.

Indian Valley, CA-89 (10/19/20) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Peak of the Week and Drive of the Week is the Indian Valley (CA-89) between Quincy and Lake Almanor in Plumas County (northern Sierra). Orange black oak are brightening the route. Visit the Plumas County Courthouse in Quincy to look up into towering fully peaking trees at Courthouse Square.

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June Is Busting Out All Over

Conway Summit (10/19/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

It’s time to break out into song, ’cause June Lake is busting out, and peak color is being seen all over Mono County.

Mono County Tourism’s Jeff Simpson calls it “the week we’ve been waiting for,” and it’s easy to see why. For the next week to ten days the best color left in the Eastern Sierra is putting on a show. That’s why the June Lake Loop has been named CaliforniaFallColor.com’s Peak of the Week and Driving Tour of the Week.

As is seen in Jeff’s and Alicia Vennos’ photographs, weather and smoke vary greatly day by day, hour by hour. One moment it’s crystal clear, the next it’s congested.

Knowing when it’s best outside, is a matter of referring to tools like PurpleAir.com. This app provides an immediate color-coded view of what’s happening where you are and where you plan to go.

Despite the intermittent haze, the entire front country of the Eastern Sierra is open to fall color viewing. It is only wilderness areas in the backcountry of Inyo National Forest that remain closed.

All locations pictured here can be visited, and as is evident – they’re beautiful right now.

Unfortunately, not everyone visiting the outdoors this year has done so responsibly. Yesterday, I posted that Taylor Creek at Lake Tahoe had to be closed because people were jumping fences and trampling the forest in order to take selfies of bear feeding on spawning salmon.

The many fall color spotters I’ve met are responsible and careful about protecting the places we visit. So, we can help keep the forests open for fall color and wildlife viewing by packing out any litter that’s been left behind and encourage others to do the same.

It’s all about practicing Mountain Manners, as they say in Mono County.

Monitor Pass, CA-89 (10/16/20) Jeff Simpson

Walker / Coleville / Topaz

  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – We’ve had Monitor Pass at Peak to Past Peak for a week. It won’t last much longer.
  • West Walker River, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – The Antelope Valley should peak within the week. Towering cottonwood rain bright golden leaves on US 395 that swirl as vehicles pass.

Sonora Pass / Lobdell Lake Rd.

  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The top of the pass is past peak, but Leavitt Meadows is still gorgeous.
  • Lobdell Lake Rd (9,274′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – Most of Lobdell Lake Rd. is now past peak, though those groves that were green when the rest of the road was peaking are now lovely. This is the place to go to be at one with nature and feel what it must have been like for Mark Twain to travel similar dirt roads through the aspen.

Bridgeport / Virginia Lakes

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – It’ll just get better each day over the coming week as Peak arrives.
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Rolling layers of color, lush trees and a horizon that rises to alpine splendor. A broad vista hardly gets better that at Conway Summit, right now. Be cautious when stopping along US 395 to view the color. Find a wide area along the turnout and be cautious before exiting your vehicle. The trees can lose leaves, but we don’t want to lose you.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Cascading layers of brilliant color are dressing the rolling hillsides of Summer’s Meadow.

Lee Vining

  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! –  As we reported four days ago, Lee Vining Canyon has powered up. Its forest has red, gold, yellow, lime, orange. Drink it all in.
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – If you didn’t hike Lundy Canyon last week, this is the last week to see it it its best. There’s probably a week to ten days of additional peak color there, but don’t delay.

June Lake Loop

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – “
    June Lake Loop is California Fall Color’s Peak of the Week. As the song goes, “June is busting out all over!” It’s just “spectacular” throughout the the June Lake Loop (CA-158). All its classic viewing spots will be perfect for the next week to ten days. GO NOW!

Mammoth Lakes

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The Mammoth Lakes Basin is past peak, though beautiful color lights up the town of Mammoth Lakes along Snow Creek.

Crowley Lake/ McGee Creek Canyon / Convict Lake

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Everything up McGee Creek is now at peak, including the campground and pack station. A walk along the creek is a delightful fall color experience.
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now. – Every fall color viewing location in Mono County is now peaking. Crowley still has a little green, but now more color than not is showing. It’ll stay good for two solid weeks. So if your travels don’t get you to the Eastern Sierra until November, you’ll still find scattered peak color here.
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Convict Lake has just edged past 75%, so it’s got a solid week to ten days of glorious color ringing it.

Rock Creek Canyon

  • Rock Creek Rd (9,600′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW, You Almost Missed It. – The upper section of Rock Creek Rd. is past peak, though from midway down to Tom’s Cabin is where you’ll find the best color.
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. (7,087′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now.
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Bullseye – Lobdell Lake Road

Lobdell Lake Rd (9/28/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

If you’re seeking to target California’s best fall color this week, focus on Lobdell Road in northern Mono County (US 395) as your bullseye. It is both our Peak of the Week and Driving Tour of the Week.

Lobdell Lake Rd. is a dirt road. As such, a sport-utility vehicle (SUV), an AWD passenger car like a Subaru, or pickup truck is recommended. Only if you attempt to drive up to the summit might a high-clearance 4WD be required. Here’s what Buzzards on the Road experienced in 2018.

Video courtesy of Buzzards on the Road (10/10/18)

The route begins on US 395, a short distance southeast of Sonora Junction. Take Burcham Flat Rd. from US 395 north to Lobdell Lake Rd. From there, it winds, dipping down beside the south fork of Cottonwood Creek and through lush groves of aspen as it climbs into the Sweetwater Mountains of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. At times, the aspen line the road in one of the prettiest fall color boulevards in California.

This weekend and coming week it will be at Peak and fabulous. Considering that there are few alternatives as good and that – therefore – it’s likely to be a busy road, please drive courteously, cautiously and take time to enjoy the scenery.

Good places to fuel up and refresh are Bridgeport from the south and Walker from the north (US 395). A favorite stop is the Walker Burger for one of the best roadside hamburgers in California (not gourmet, but satisfying).

Elsewhere in Mono County, Jeff Simpson reports the colors are looking fantastic at upper elevations of Mono County. Unlike last year, the leaves are bright, vibrant and colorful across all elevations and locations. 

For a Hike of the Week, head out on the Green Creek Trail or Molybdenite Creek Trail for colors you won’t be able to see from a car. This completes the first CaliforniaFallColor.com Triple Crown: Peak of the Week, Driving Tour of the Week and Hike of the Week for Mono County!

Sonora Pass just edged into the Near Peak designation and will be best by the end of the weekend or early next week.


  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Patchy (10-50% – Still around 50% for most areas and especially at the summit. Some good yellows and peaking trees on the east side but still a good week away from peak color. 
  • West Walker River, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Just Starting (0-10%) – Still just getting started with a few yellow and lime-green leaves.
Sonora Pass (9/28/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism


  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now! – Just barely made the list, as some groves are just starting to turn along the road south of the summit and as low as Leavitt Meadows Pack Station. Just approaching peak color and would be best over the weekend or early next week. 
  • Lobdell Lake Rd (9,274′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now! – This drive is both Peak of the Week and Driving Tour of the Week. It should be spectacular this weekend. Some areas are still green while others are past peak but this is the week for the most coverage of peak colors. Go now before slamming your palm against your forehead and muttering, “Why didn’t I listen?” 


  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Just Starting (0-10%) – Just getting started, mostly green trees with some yellow leaves along the Twin Lakes Road. Nice color is seen up the Robinson Creek Trail at the end of Twin Lakes Rd. 
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Peak to Past Peak (75-100%) GO NOW or you’ll have missed it! – Golden yellows, oranges and reds are being seen along the road below Virginia Lakes Resort. Some areas are past peak at the parking lot of Upper Virginia Lakes. 
  • Dunderberg Meadows Road – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Take Dunderberg Meadows Road toward Green Creek for full groves of peak color.
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Just Starting (0-10%) One good patch of yellow trees way up on the hill but mostly green/lime green everywhere else.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) Just Starting (0-10%) – Just starting in the highest of elevations.


  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Patchy (10-50%)


  • Sagehen Summit (8,139’) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Just Starting (0-10%)


  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Patchy (10-50%)


  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Patchy (10-50%)


  • Upper Rock Creek Rd (10,300’) – REOPENING OCT. 3 – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Middle Rock Creek Rd (8,500′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Lower Rock Creek Rd. (7,087′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
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Yes Virginia, There is an Autumn

Virginia Lakes Rd (9/22/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes has received CaliforniaFallColor.com‘s first “Go Now!” with Near Peak fall color appearing along the upper section of the Virginia Lakes Road, at the Virginia Lakes Resort and ringing the shoreline of Virginia Lake.

Presently, northern Mono County is one of the few places in California to see Near Peak fall color, as the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is open. Inyo National Forest, Mono County’s Eastern Sierra neighbor to the south, remains closed, and CaliforniaFallColor.com just received notice that Inyo National Forest plans to extend the closure another week.

That means, the only easily accessible location to see peak fall color in the coming week in the Eastern Sierra will be at Virginia Lakes. Driving, hiking, camping and fishing are not allowed in closed national forests; that includes fall color viewing.

The Yosemite back country will have areas of peak, though that requires hiking at elevation, to see it. A little color should also be visible along the Tioga Road, above 9,000′. However, Yosemite National Park is closed at least through Sept. 25, due to heavy smoke.

Updates are posted on CaliforniaFallColor.com as received and at these sites:

Quaking Aspen, Virginia Lakes (9/22/20) Jeff Simpson | Mono County Tourism

NOW OPEN for fall color viewing in Mono County are: Virginia Lakes, Conway Summit, Green Creek, Summers Meadows, Twin Lakes Bridgeport, Sonora Pass, Lobdell Lake Road, West Walker River, Monitor Pass and the towns of Walker, Coleville and Topaz. 

Most of these locations are Just Starting, especially along US 395. Patchy conditions are found at Monitor Pass, Sonora Pass and Dunderberg Meadows Rd.

Virginia Lakes is Peak of the Week with most of its trees at lake level and along upper sections of the Virginia Lakes Road full of gold.

Fall Color Driving Tour of the Week begins on the Virginia Lakes Road, then diverts to the Green Creek Loop via Dunderberg Meadows Road. 

Here’s a rundown of fall color conditions, from north to south along US 395 in Mono County.


  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Monitor Pass is a late peak among Sierra passes. Right now, it’s closer to 10% than 50%.  
  • West Walker River, Walker, Coleville and Topaz (5,200′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Mostly green with some areas of yellow.


  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now! – Aspen are gilding the lakeshore, upper Virginia Lakes Rd. and Virginia Lakes Resort. It remains green at lower elevations.
  • Dunderberg Meadows Road – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now! – From the Virginia Lakes Rd. drive on Dunderberg Meadows Rd. toward Green Creek. The Virginia Lakes to Green Creek Loop via Dunderberg Meadows Road is Drive of the Week
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Just Starting (0-10%) One good patch of yellow trees way up on the hill but mostly green/lime green everywhere else.
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) Just Starting (0-10%) – Just starting in the highest of elevations.


  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – YOSEMITE NP CLOSED
  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – INYO NF CLOSED


  • Sagehen Summit (8,139’) – INYO NF CLOSED


  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – INYO NF CLOSED


  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – INYO NF CLOSED


  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – INYO NF CLOSED
  • Convict Lake (7850′) – INYO NF CLOSED


  • Rock Creek Road (9,600’) – INYO NF CLOSED

Conditions and closures are as of Sept. 23, 2020.

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Redding Reddens

Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, Shasta View Dr., Redding (10/18/18) Laura Jean

Redding saw a lot more red in late August than its residents wanted to see. The red was from the Carr Fire which burned 229,651 acres to the west and northeast of Redding, before it was contained. The fire devastated neighborhoods in the city’s northest corner and was the sixth-most destructive in California history.

So, it’s reassuring to see that a more welcomed type of red returning to Redding … fall color.

Redding is a central location from which to explore the Shasta Cascade (the northeast corner of UpStateCA). From Redding, roads spoke out to prime fall color viewing at Lassen Volcanic National Park, Plumas County, McArthur-Burney Falls State Park and Hat Creek, Coffee Creek and Scott Valley, Mt Shasta, Chester, Lake Almanor and Susanville, Weaverville, Red Bluff and Chico. Much of these areas are either now peaking or approaching peak.

Within its city limits, Redding is bisected by the Sacramento River which has beautiful riparian forests and wetlands. Across the length of California’s northernmost metropolis, Frémont cottonwood, black oak, Oregon ash California buckeye and blue oak grow beside the Sacramento River.

One of the best places to begin a Redding Fall Color adventure is at Sundial Bridge, Santiago Calatrava’s architectural masterpiece that spans the mighty Sacramento River, connecting Turtle Bay Exploration Park and the McConnell Arboretum and Gardens.

Many of Redding’s neighborhoods are forested with colorful exotic trees and several have breathtaking views of Mt. Shasta and the Sacramento River. Redding color spotter Laura Jean sends these pictures of the welcomed color that has reddened Redding’s boulevards.

More about Redding and its nine fall color driving tours is found at VisitRedding.com 

  • Redding – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Chinese pistache, Shasta View Dr., Redding (10/18/18) Laura Jean

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Poppin’ on the LaPorte Rd.

Bigleaf maple, La Porte Rd. (10/7/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bigleaf maple, La Porte Rd. (10/7/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Dogwood, LaPorte Rd. (10/7/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Sugar Maple, Quincy (10/7/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

The LaPorte Road in Plumas County, leading from Quincy, forms a boulevard of deciduous trees that in Mid-October compares to any in California for its beauty.

Jeff Luke Titcomb drove it on Sunday, finding native bigleaf maple Near Peak. The sugar maple are close to peaking, as well.

Though sugar maples are an exotic specie, so many specimen have been planted in Quincy’s parks and gardens, that they can be confused as being native.

Dogwood are lagging the maples in this part of the Northern Sierra, though evolving through lime, rose, pink and vermillion.

The coming two weeks will be Near Peak in this region.

To the east on the Trinity River near Strawhouse Resort, California wild grape, bigleaf maple and ornamental trees are near peak. 

  • LaPorte Rd – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
  • Trinity River – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!






Sugar Maple, Quincy (10/7/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

Bigleaf maple, La Porte Rd. (10/7/18) Jeff Luke Titcomb

California wild grape, Trinity River (10/6/18) Paul Kim


Red maple, Strawhouse Resort, Trinity River (10/8/18) Julia Ellis



Indian rhubarb, Trinity River (10/6/18) Julia Ellis

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Last Call Above 9,000′

That 395 House (10/2/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

It’s last call above 9,000′ feet in Mono County, and what a way to close out fall color viewing at those elevations!

Snow dusted the mountain tops above 10,000′ today, though this didn’t damage fall color. In fact, it improved it, providing a spectacular backdrop for the color and rainbows.

Virginia Lakes (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes (10/3/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes (10/3/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Conway Summit (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Conway Summit (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Conway Summit (10/3/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Silver Lake, June Lake Loop (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

McGee Creek (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Convict Lake (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Mono County is tracking exactly as it has in past years, so check this site for peak color previously and make your plans to see favorite areas, accordingly.

This is likely the last week to enjoy peak color at the Virginia Lakes, Upper Rock Creek, Lobdell Lake Road, Sagehen Summit, Sonora Pass and Tioga Pass. Jeff Simpson of Mono County Tourism reports. “All of these areas are at full peak and looking spectacular right now but will be rapidly approaching past peak as the week goes on.”

There are too many great trails peaking right now to name one as Hike of the Week. So, we’re suggesting this package of choices for inspirational hiking. Be advised, they climb to high elevations. So, be prepared with plenty of water, hiking sticks, a backpack holding extra layered clothing, sun screen, a hat, sunglasses and your camera or mobile device, of course.

Now that you’re forewarned, be prepared for fair beauty along the Upper Rock Creek, McGee Canyon, Parker Lake, Lundy Canyon and  Molybdenite trails with quaking aspen at higher elevations that will be perfect, this weekend.

For a driving tour, start at Conway Summit (US 395) and drive up Virginia Lakes Road to Dunderberg Meadows Road, then to Green Creek and down through Summers Meadows road exiting back at US 395 on Green Creek Road. This loop has incredible color right now and you’ll be able to see five of Mono County’s premiere fall color destinations at once. AWD recommended.

East Bay color spotter, Darrell Sano was one of the photographers who headed to Mono County this past week in search of color. His route took him over Tioga Pass and through Yosemite National Park, before descending Lee Vining Canyon into Mono County, reporting “incredibly intense” rain during today’s storm and crawling at 30 mph in what appeared to be nightfall at 2 p.m.

Now you know why the National Park Service closes Tioga Pass once it snow accumulates. Fortunately it didn’t and CA-120E remains open to Mono County as peak color spreads across it. 


  • Monitor Pass (8,314′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW! – The pass is gilded with yellow and lime on the way up/down.
  • Lobdell Lake Road (8,600′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Fantastic color is hanging on, though this is likely the last Peak week for this elevation. AWD recommended.
  • Walker Canyon (5,200′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Towns of Walker & Coleville- Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Sonora Pass (9,623′) – Near Peak to Peak (50-100%) GO NOW! – Another week of strong color with Peak color over the pass and lime and yellow in Leavitt Meadow.

Bridgeport/Virginia Lakes

  • Twin Lakes (7,000′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Will be Near Peak next week.
  • Virginia Lakes (9,819’) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Wow. Virginia Lakes has had two solid weeks of peak color, but this is likely its last, as some stands are Past Peak near the lake, but still strong going up the road. AWD recommended.
  • Conway Summit (8,143) – Patchy (10-50%) – We like Conway best when it’s a mix of green, lime, yellow and orange … like, right now. This broad area should hold for another two weeks of Near Peak and Peak color.  Though technically Patchy, GO NOW!
  • Summers Meadow (7,200′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Green along the road, but with emerging color yellow, orange and red higher up. In some years, Summers Meadow is one of the most beautiful areas of the Eastern Sierra. A definite must-see.

Lee Vining

  • Tioga Pass (9,943′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – There’s lovely color near Tenaya Lake and spots of it through Tuolumne Meadows and over the pass. Saddlebag Lake Road is worth a sidetrip.
  • Lee Vining Canyon (6,781′) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Lundy Lake & Canyon (7,858′) – Patchy (10-50%)

Benton & 120 East

  • Sagehen Summit (8,139’) –Peak to Past Peak GO NOW as YOU ALMOST MISSED IT! – Still beautiful and worth the detour, but approaching Past Peak.

June Lake Loop

  • June Lake Loop/Hwy 158 (7,654′) – Patchy (10-50%) – Still early.
  • Parker Lake (8,000′) – – Patchy (10-50%) – Best bet.

Mammoth Lakes

  • Mammoth Lakes Basin (8,996′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – Colors in the Mammoth Lakes Basin are still bright and vibrant. Definitely worth stopping by Lake George, then making your way back through Twin Lakes. 

Crowley Lake/McGee Creek/Convict Lake

  • McGee Creek Canyon (8,600’) – Patchy (10-50) – McGee is dragging its feet, but then it’s always been later than other canyons. Look for it moving to Near Peak next week and Peak the following week.
  • Around Crowley community (6,781′) – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Convict Lake (7850′)- Patchy (10-50) – Color is appearing around the lake, but it’s got another week before it truly gets electric.

Rock Creek Canyon

  • Rock Creek Road (8,500’+) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW! – With snow coating peaks above Rock Creek Lake, this is definitely the Peak of the Week above 8,500′.

Conway Summit (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Rock Creek, Mono County (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Conway Summit (10/3/18) Liz Grans/Mono County Tourism

Carson Iceberg Wilderness (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Virginia Lakes (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism

Sonora Pass (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism










Rock Creek, Mono County (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

McGee Creek (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Rock Creek, Mono County (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Rock Creek, Mono County (10/3/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Carson Iceberg Wilderness (10/2/18) Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism










Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park (10/3/18) Darrell Sano

Warren Fork, Lee Vining Canyon (10/3/18) Darrell Sano

Warren Fork, Lee Vining Canyon (10/3/18) Darrell Sano

Mono Lake Lookout, Lee Vining Canyon (10/3/18) Darrell Sano

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Fall Color Detectives

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

I just love “Who Done Its.” Though, in fall color’s case, it’s more “Where Is It?”

Today, I received reports from Lance Pifer and Darrell Sano who uncovered more evidence that fall is approaching.

1000 Island Lakes, Pacific Crest Trail (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/1/18) Lance Pifer

Lance visited the Eastern Sierra where he found spots of fall color lighting up the Pacific Crest Trail near 1000 Island Lake and at North Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, where aspen remain  green and lake grasses are highlighted lightly with gold.

Darrell was a road warrior, exploring far and wide. On Friday (as previously reported) he drove across Sonora Pass, returning via Tioga Pass. About three to four miles after entering Yosemite National Park’s east entrance, he stopped to investigate “a scene that looks like it was planned, meaning so perfect–layered trees, leaves from pink to golden yellow, colors receding into the background, such depth. And it’s peaceful, quiet.” He continued that this area was severely damaged by fire, with at least half of it changed.

The following day, he drove north from the Bay Area to Cloverdale, then along CA 128 to the coast. As expected, there was no color to be seen other than a little in low shrubs, though reminds us that by driving the route he was reminded about how stunning Mendocino county is.

Poison Oak, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

On Labor Day, he stayed near home, taking “a long hike in Briones Regional Park (one of the great East Bay Regional Parks – some of the best managed and most beautiful in California), hiking nine miles while criss-crossing trails. Along his route, he passed “vile poison oak” in toxic profusion, recalling the many times he’s suffered after having been covered in its sap, but noted, “When you see beds of its brilliant red in filtered light, you know 1) don’t go in there 2) enjoy the color from a distance.”

Darrell’s detective work included observing the afternoon light which due to skies, still tinted with wildfire haze, cast a yellow ochre tint that was accented by the lower angle of sunlight, dramatizing the shadows, and noted the dryness of the landscape, observing that despite their parched appearance, thistles and grasses remained beautiful remnants of summer. 

Dry thistles and grasses, Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Briones Regional Park (9/4/18) Darrell Sano

Just Starting (0-10%) – Tioga Pass

Just Starting (0-10%) – 1000 Islands Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – North Lake
Just Starting (0-10%) – CA 128 (Cloverdale to the Coast)
Just Starting (0-10%) – Briones Regional Park, SF Bay Area
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Inyo County Releases New Visitors Guides

11th Visitors Guide to Inyo County

11th Visitors Guide to Death Valley

If you plan to search for California’s first and finest fall color, you’ll be driving along US 395 through Inyo County.

Two guides that should be uploaded to any fall color spotter’s mobile device are the 11th Edition Visitors Guides to Inyo County and Death Valley.

These just-released travel guides are chock full of great tips, fascinating stories and all sorts of invaluable travel planning info. Follow these links to see them:

Guide to Inyo County

Guide to Death Valley