Highest Sierra Color Blown Out, Now 7,000′ to 8,500′

Above 8,500′ there’s little color to be seen in the High Sierra, after last week’s storm.  The combination of winds (clearing colored leaves from branches) and snow mixed with icy temperatures (spotting yellow aspen leaves brown like week-old bananas) has blown away the dazzling color seen at the highest elevations of Bishop Creek Canyon in the Eastern Sierra.

The Good news is that trees that hadn’t yet turned color seemed not as affected by the cold snap and storm, so there are still a lot of trees yet to turn color in the high country.  Also, as reported in the blog immediately below this one, several areas of Mono County between 7,000′ and 8,500′ in elevation were not hit as hard and are showing nice color.  Still to emerge are elevations above 6,000′.  Look for the next two weeks for fall color to extend across the Sierra and to lower elevations.


Past Peak – South Lake (9768′). There’s not much color left at South Lake as the brilliant colors have largely been replaced by bare trees or brown leaves.

Weir Pond (10/7/09)

Weir Pond (10/7/09)

Past Peak – Weir Pond (9592′). Only a few trees on the east side of the pond are holding their color with most falling victim to the cold and wind. There are a few good photo ops possible still but the classic shots now have to wait until next fall.

Past Peak –Parchers Camp (9260′). Jared Smith reports that the view from his porch at the Parchers Resort “is not what it was a week ago as most of the color on the hills has turned to brown. There are some nice pockets of color just below the resort as well as some late turning aspens, so there are some prospects for the next few weeks – especially the granite face in between here and Willow Camp that has a few aspen and some snowberry bushes (the ones that turn bright red in the fall).”

North Lake Road (10/6/09)

North Lake Road (10/6/09)

Past Peak – North Lake (9255′) –North Lake was hit hard cold and very little color remains around the lake or on the road.

Past Peak – Lake Sabrina (9,150′). Jared reports the same conditions as South Lake with the cold snap being too much for the majority of peaking aspen.  Nevertheless, a picture of the skyline above the lake is “as epic as it always is, but there just isn’t much color left.”

Past Peak – Sabrina Camp Groves (9000′) – To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary, “Where has all the color gone, long time passing?”

Sabrina Approach (10/6/09)

Sabrina Approach (10/6/09)

Past Peak – Lake Sabrina Approach (9100′). And, to quote Jared Smith, Lots of brown with a little bit of green – ouch.”

Past Peak – Willow Camp (9065′).  Although many of the trees got slammed by the storm and cold, Jared reports, “there are quite a few trees which managed to withstand the weather. It’s not nearly as good as it was a week ago but there are still some good opportunities for fall color shots in the area just above or below Willow Camp.”

Past Peak – Table Mountain Group Campground (8845′).  You shoulda been there a week ago.  Areas above and below Table Mountain campground that were glowing with color have only a few pockets of yellow and orange remaining.

Mist Falls (10/6/09)

Famous Mist Falls (10/6/09)

15-30% – The Famous Mist Falls on South Fork Bishop Creek. There’s still a lot of green at Mist Falls, with a few spots of yellow.  The aspen here seem not to have been affected by the cold snap. Jared predicts,If the weather holds out there will still be some epic photographic opportunities at this location in the coming weeks.”

0-15% – Cardinal Mine Area. What happened here is that almost all of the color that had peaked is now gone.  What is left is a whole bunch of green that is just now starting to lighten up. Look for this area to pop in another week or two if the weather holds,” says Jared.

0-15% – Apsendell. None of the many aspen in the neighborhood at Aspendell have started to turn.  There’s a bit of the bright lime green which is typically the color seen just before yellows start to appear,  but that’s all.

0-15% – Intake II. There’s a lot of green at the small lake called Intake II. Jared says he’s ve seen some breathtaking photos from this location, “So, I’m excited to see how it looks in another week or two when the color starts to develop around the shore. Pocket of trees near the south shore can are usually the best but they’re still a dark shade of green.”

0-15% – Big Trees Campground. A very large grouping of aspen right above Big Trees campground along Bishop Creek is mostly lime green, which means it should color up in the next two weeks.

0-15% – Four Jeffrey Camp Groves.  Jared reports that the area of the canyon around Four Jeffrey Campground which is thick with aspens, has a few trees just below the camp which turned early and were affected by the cold weather.  However, the majority of the trees, especially those above the camp, are still a bright green and look to be fine.  This is one of those areas, Jared reports, that is worth watching as “it can be awesome.”

15-30% – Mountain Glen Campground. Give the hills above Mountain Glen campground a week or so and the color should be “epic” so predicts Jared Smith. Presently, the majority of the trees are a bright green with a bit of yellow mixed in. This weekend’s warmer daytime temperatures combined with cold nighttime temps should help turn them.  If the weather predicted next week is mild, the future for this particular spot is bright.

South Fork Loop Road (10/6/09)

South Fork Loop Road (10/6/09)

15-30% – Loop on South Fork. For those who missed seeing or photographing the color on the North Lake Rd or the approach to Sabrina (see pictures below), there is a loop off South Lake Rd between Mt. Glen camp and Table Mountain Camp which should offer comparable color in a week.


0-15% – Yosemite National Park. Kenny Karst reports that very little color is showing in Yosemite Valley.  At 5,000′ in elevation, Yosemite is one of the last spectacular locations in the Sierra to show color.  The first to change color will be a non-native eastern sugar maple which was planted by early park settlers near the Yosemite Chapel.  When this tree turns, it happens quickly and lasts for only a few days.  As this is an eastern tree, its color is a bright, bright red – unusual for California.  The classic photograph of this tree shows it in its ruby glory with Half Dome above and the chapel to the right… gorgeous.  As for Yosemite’s native trees, California big leaf maple turn yellow. cottonwoods gold, dogwood pink to red, and black oaks orange.  Contrasted against the park’s giant sequoia, Merced River and granite monoliths, the show is literally breathtaking.  It could begin at any moment, though we figure there’s another week to two before it breaks, depending on weather.  So, stay tuned to California Fall Color.

15-30% – Sonora Pass. Sandy Gordon reports that color is beginning to show on CA-108, though “the best is yet to come.”  At the top of the pass (9000′) it was 40 degrees at 11 a.m. today. Warm temps like that and cold nights are ideal conditions for developing the color, which Sandy expects will develop over the next two to three weeks.

Photography copyright 2009 Jared Smith


15-30% – Lake Tahoe. Jennifer Boyd reports that when this past week’s dusting of snow melted at Lake Tahoe, it seemed as if the aspen emerged with orange, red and yellow leaves.  Still a lot of green, though the best viewing locations are: Emerald Bay, Fallen Leaf Lake, Camp Richardson Resort, Hope Valley and Borne meadow (on the Nevada side on the way to Zephyr Cove).

15-30% – Hope Valley. The Carson Pass (CA-88) is often best once you reach the Hope Valley (east of Kirkwood).  We have not gotten a report from this area since the beginning of October, though chat on other sites by spotters indicates it should be in its own this weekend.  To get a better indicator, we called Sorenson’s Resort at the lower end of the Hope Valley (near Markleville).  The desk manager said there’s a touch of yellow near the resort and guests have commented about the beauty of the color up valley.  Given that, it should be sufficient color to head that direction this weekend and will likely peak in a week to two, given predicted storms next week don’t do to the Hope Valley what happened to upper Bishop Creek.

15-30% – Monitor Pass (CA-89). Travel writer Barbara Steinberg called to say she’d just traveled through the Hope Valley (CA-88) through Markleeville and over Monitor Pass (el. 8,314 ft. / 2,534 m) and was disappointed that it just wasn’t happening anywhere along the route in a big way.  “No big bursts of color, except in spots at higher elevations.”  Lots of green still with touches of yellow.  Barbara predicts that if the coming week’s storm doesn’t damage the color too greatly, it should pop on the weekend of Oct. 17 and 18 which would be the weekend to travel 88 to 89 to 395 and south.


Sweet Gum, Plumas County Courthouse, Quincy (10/7/09)

Sweet Gum, Plumas County Courthouse, Quincy (10/7/09)

15-30% – Plumas County. Joe Willis reports that big leaf maples are beginning to turn in Quincy, but aren’t expected to peak for another two weeks.  At this stage, the trees will show occasional bright red leaves or individual branches, which contrast with the remaining green.  Undergrowth is where the action remains, as reported two weeks previously, particularly in drainages where some indian rhubarb are coloring red, dogbane and bracken fern are showing deep yellow against brown beds of pine needles at 3,000′ to 4,000′.  For the moment, the color is limited to specific trees, often exotics, in the county seat of Quincy.  Joe says there’s “the prettiest little maple” in front of Moon’s restaurant, a sweet gum in front of the courthouse and lovely detail to be found in the veins of changing leaves.    He reported that on his drive today “from Quincy to Greenville, especially on Hwy 89 from the Greenville Y to Crescent Mills, there’s lots more bigleaf maple, black oak, and service berry that turned color than last week, but peak time is still at least a week away.  I figure by the weekend of the 17th we should be seeing solid masses of yellow and orange among the aforementioned as well as the black cottonwoods along the creeks and rivers in the 3000-4000′ range.”  As if you needed another reason to see fall color, there’s a Mountain Harvest Festival in Quincy on Saturday at the Plumas Sierra Fairgrounds with music, microbrew tasting and two forms of belly dancing (Now, that has nothing to do with fall color, but heck… belly dancing!? I’ve got to report it!).

Photography copyright 2009 Joe Willis

Indian Rhubarb (10/9/09)

Indian Rhubarb (10/9/09)

15-30% – Buck’s Lake. Mike Nellor of Ada’s Place Cottages in Quincy says that west of Quincy on the way to Buck’s Lake, the Indian Rhubarb is starting to show red, and the alders are coloring up nicely.  Big Leaf Maple and Mountain Dogwoods are also turning around Deer, Slate and Rock Creek,” he said.  Watershed resource expert, Jim Wilcox, of Genesee Valley, reports that aspen on the east side of Plumas County are best seen and brightest along lakes and creeks.  He says, the aspens are starting to turn along the road 2 miles west of Antelope Lake.

Mountain Dogwood (10/9/09)

Mountain Dogwood (10/9/09)

Photography copyright 2009 Mike Nellor


0-15% – San Francisco. Cindy Hu reports that San Francisco is still basking in its “real summer”.  SF insiders know that October in San Francisco is when The City warms to the best weather of the year… clement days, clear air and little fog (although it’s emotional to experience the fog enter the Golden Gate).  Once color starts breaking (probably early November), head to Golden Gate Park with your camera for brilliant color at the Japanese Tea Garden and in secluded glades throughout the park (one of America’s great urban parks).


0-15% – Humboldt County. Richard Stenger reports that poison oak are coloring pink to red, though big leaf maple and cottonwoods have not yet begun to show yellow and gold.  The California Coastal Range doesn’t have the mass color displays seen in the Sierra, though it has lovely color which is less susceptible to cold snaps, as the weather is more temperate.  Dave Stockton says about 25% of the trees will show color and that a couple of the best places to view fall color in this region are from the Founder’s Grove and Weott Overlook in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.


15-30% – Shasta Cascade Region. Karen Whitaker says that her spotters are not reporting much change as yet, although as throughout the state, color can always be found in grasses and sedges near drainage areas.  Earlier this week we reported that the aspen groves in Lassen Volcanic National Park are beginning to transition from green to lime-green.  That color change should continue to yellow this coming week as color appears in the 7,000′ to 8,000′ elevations.

Color Touched by Snow – “Spectacular”

The Town of Mammoth Lakes’ visitors bureau reports that the light dusting of snow at higher elevations provided a spectacular show this past weekend.  Here’s the latest…


0-15% — Bishop.  Light green to yellow is visible among the aspen and gold among the cottonwood near Bishop, CA.

Colorful aspen leaves in Rock Creek

Colorful aspen leaves in Rock Creek (10/5/09)

Past Peak – Rock Creek.  Yellow, orange and red are coloring about 60% of the trees along the road leading to Rock Creek Lake.  Only 20% of the trees around the lake are still showing yellow, orange and some red.  Lower Rock Creek has not yet changed, with 0-15% and mostly lime green.

15-30% — Crowley Lake.  This popular fishing lake and nearby vicinity are showing light green to yellow.

30-50% — Convict Lake.  Yellow aspen are seen around the Convict Lake Resort and in the campgrounds.  There’s a grove at the back of the lake that is glowing orange, yellow and green, reflected in the lake’s dark waters.  Still lots of green.

Rock Creek Lake

Rock Creek Lake (10/5/09)

0-15% — Mammoth Lakes.  The Lakes basin is coming into its own with lime-green to yellow aspen around the lakes, though the best action this weekend is predicted to be Sherwin Creek.

50-75% — McGee Canyon.  The upper canyon is nearing peak with lots of yellow, red and orange.  The lower canyon is still 30-50% turned with green and yellow.

30-50% — June Lake. Carson Peak is flickering with yellow.  The June Lake Loop is 15-30% yellow, while the Parker Bench above June Lake is flaming with yellow, some red and orange at 50-75% change.

Rock Creek Boat Dock

Rock Creek Boat Dock (10/5/09)

75-100% — Virginia Lakes.  At peak, the Virginia Lakes are showing yellow, orange and with some red.

75-100% — Lundy Canyon.  Yellow aspen are everywhere, with 20% orange and red in the upper canyon.

15-30% — Conway Summit.  This pass along US 395 south of Bridgeport is still dragging its feet, showing mostly green with yellow.

50-60% — Twin Lakes.  Look for lots of yellow southwest of Bridgeport at Twin Lakes.

0-15% — Walker Canyon.  Most of the aspen and cottonwoods along the Walker River are still green to lime green.  Same for the town of Walker.

Photographs: copyright 2009, Nick Souza

Early Storm Knocks Color Down the Canyons


75% -Past Peak — Bishop Creek. Snow fell at higher elevations in the Sierra past Friday evening, dusting the peaks and continuing through Saturday into the Buttermilks and White Mountains.  Color in the upper Bishop Creek drainage is now past peak.  At North Lake, most aspen at higher elevations are now bare of leaves and much of the yellow has become spotted with brown and black from freezing temperatures.  Those photographers and leaf peepers who ventured out into the storm still got a beautiful show of brightly yellow leaves covered with fresh snow, though winds were knocking off the turned leaves.

A lot of the aspen up the Bishop Creek drainage remain green, “particularly along the road to South Lake” reports Kahlee Brighton on, “Some are getting lighter, possibly preparing to change, however, it appears a number of these green trees are losing leaves and may not ever turn color before falling off. Everything looks very dry, so it will largely depend on the weather, especially winds. At mid-level in the canyon, there are a few groves with a rainbow of colorful leaves (green, yellow, orange and red), but also a lot of brown and black-spotted foliage.

15-30% — Aspendell and Intake II. Color is beginning to appear at Aspendell.  Kahlee reports that aspen below the village are “much lighter green and a few are tinged with yellow and orange. Same thing with Intake II.”

Kahlee said she spent Sunday afternoon at Rock Creek, “where it was snowing steadily, with light flurries just above Tom’s Place. It’s still primarily green up to the Sno-Park. After that, it’s a mixed color situation. There are some aspen groves with a combo of green, yellow and orange, but also a LOT of bare trees.

“I drove all the way up to the Mosquito Flat trailhead parking area. It was snowing heavily (thankfully, no wind or ice on the roads). Looked like white-out conditions in the distance. Color at the top was 95% gone. Lots of bare trees. What was left was brown, black and a touch of copper here and there. Looked like winter more than Fall!

“Around Rock Creek Lake, it was virtually deserted, snowing frequently and quite cold. The usually colorful aspens around the perimeter of the lake were losing color and leaves rapidly. Definitely past peak.”

Kahlee predicts that Rock Creek for the rest of autumn probably won’t deliver “the same kind of brilliant color seen in past years. The snow and harsher weather have painted a different kind of Fall landscape, rendering the beauty of this season’s offerings in much more subtle ways.

“This has been an interesting Fall season. Areas that were prime a week ago are done; lower elevations are still predominantly green. Anyone’s guess as to how the color will unfold in the days to come.”  To see Kahlee’s recent images visit


75-100% — CA-190. “krazkim” reports on CalPhoto that a lot of the aspen trees along California highway 190 in the Sequoia National Forest, east of Porterville have brown spots.  At the end of the meadow by Quaking Aspen campground (Sequoia National Forest) many of the trees have lost most of their leaves. Krazkim reported some color in ferns and aspen at Upper Peppermint campground, but a small amount of snow and ice pellets were falling yesterday, which could reduce color.


San Gabriel Mountains – Raphael reports on Modern Hiker that he found beautiful displays of big leaf maple along riparian areas of Cooper Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains.  Some of these areas remain closed to fight lingering wildfires.

Mono County: Upper Rock Creek, June Mountain, Virginia Lakes Peaking

Eastern Sierra Fall Color Guide

FREE online at

CLICK HERE for the Eastern Sierra Fall Color Guide (seen at left).

Sarah McCahill recommends a hike into the high country to see the best fall color.  There’s lots of it to be seen if you’re willing to take a beautiful hike.  She reports the latest from Mono County:

30-50% — Crowley Lake.  Lots of bright yellow.  Should be close to peaking in a week to two.  Plenty of color to see and photograph.

0-15% — Lower Rock Creek Canyon.  Still green, though showing some signs of yellow.  Exit US 395 at Tom’s Place.

75-100% — Upper Rock Creek Canyon.  Upper Rock Creek Canyon is speckled with yellow, orange and red leading up to and around Rock Creek Lake.  Some stands are better than others.

50-75% — McGee Creek Upper Canyon.  Bring your hiking boots and a camera to see lots of yellow, orange and some red.  10 miles south of Mammoth Lakes off US 395.

30-50% — McGee Creek Lower Canyon.  Still mostly green with yellow and orange starting to show.  Wind hit some of the trees, but still good.

30-50% — Convict Lake.  This inkwell of a lake is lined with trees whose color reflects beautifully in the lake.

50 – 75% — Sherwin Mountains.  Lots of orange and yellow at higher elevations, descending to yellow-green at 7,000′.

10-15% — Mammoth Lakes Basin.  The jewel-like lakes in the town of Mammoth Lakes are just starting to turn yellow.

75-100% — June Mountain Ski Area.  Patches of orange decorate the upper slopes of June Mountain Ski Area.

50-75% — Parker Bench.  Full of bright orange color.

15-30% — Carson Peak.  Light green to yellow.

0-15% — June Lake Loop.  This drive offers one of the best places to see fall color from your car in the Eastern Sierra.  You pass a necklace of lakes that reflect the trees beautifully.  Right now, it’s still lime-green, with a little yellow starting to show.

15-30% — Lundy Canyon.  Light green to yellow aspens flickering.

75-100% — Virginia Lakes.  Lots of yellow, orange and red aspen and gold cottonwood are coloring the canyon.  Wind has knocked leaves from some trees.  Bring along your fishing rod.

15-30% — Conway Summit (Bridgeport) — Some yellow and hints of orange, though still mostly limey green.  Give it a week.

0-15% — Walker River Valley — Mostly green with hints of yellow.

Full Peak Above 9,000′

Fall color at higher elevations in the Eastern Sierra is peaking right now, with the overall display being exceptional.

Jared Smith of The Parchers Resort at South Lake in Inyo County reports that the majority of aspen below 8500’ still have a lot of green going on, but those above that elevation are glowing yellow, orange, red and auburn.

A big wind came through this past Tuesday night, but did not knock many of the leaves from the trees. Jared opined that “if the leaves can withstand Tuesday night’s wind and cold snap (17 degrees at Parchers – brrrrr!) there’s still a lot of great color.” So far, this has been an awesome year for fall color viewing. Here are the most recent reports:


75-100% – South Lake (9,768’). Jared continues that the aspen at South Lake are ablaze, especially the groves at Boiler Cove, the Rock Slide on the west shore, and the patch in the back of the lake near the Long Lake inlet. The area did not experience the 80mph winds that had been forecast so a lot of the aspens were spared.

75-100% – Weir Pond (9,592’). This lovely pond is absolute at its best right now, according to Jared who reports the aspen surrounding the pond are showing brilliant color. We have lost a good number of aspen in the grove climbing up the hill to the west but the view at Weir is still breathtaking!

North Lake (9/29/09)

North Lake (9/29/09)

75-100% – Parchers Camp (9,260’). Who better to report about Parcher’s than Jared Smith who says the view from his porch at Parchers “is nothing short of spectacular right now. There is still a mix of green to go along with the yellows, oranges and reds, but it really doesn’t get much better than it is right now. We had some seriously cold weather at the camp last night but only time will tell if it was cold enough to kill off the color. As I write this report it is 18 degrees but the color is hanging tough at present.”

North Lake Road (9/29/09)

North Lake Road (9/29/09)

75-100% – North Lake (9,255’). Again, Jared reports (what are we going to do when his elevation is past peak?!) “The hillside above North Lake is brilliant right now. In some places the aspens have turned to a bright orange/red and it almost looks like the mountain is on fire, awesome stuff! I was also excited to find that arguably my favorite place in the canyon to take pictures, the North Lake Road, went from mostly green to bright yellow and orange in just a week. This is one of those places where even novice photographers can capture an image worth hanging on the wall. I would rate both the lake and road at nearly 100% if its fall scenic glory.”

North Lake Road (9/16/09)

North Lake Road (9/16/09)

Check out the before and after comparison shots of the North Lake poplar road to see how the color has changed from in the past two weeks.

75-100% – Lake Sabrina (9,150’). Typical of Lake Sabrina, it is delivering some of the best views in the canyon. Just like with South Lake, according to Jared, the forecasted winds could have stripped the glowing aspens bare and ended the photographic party here in no time. Thankfully Rick Apted, operator of the cafe and marina at the lake, only saw gusts to 41 mph and the majority of the aspens were spared. We are starting to see some of the trees past their peak but there are plenty that are still increasing in color.

Sabrina Camp (9/29/09)

Sabrina Camp (9/29/09)

75-100% – Sabrina Camp Groves (9,000). Jared comments that the aspens below Sabrina Camp that had offered such brilliant colors over the last few weeks are “now past peak and rapidly losing their leaves. Thankfully, the majority of trees at the campground and just above it are making up for that loss in a big way.”

75 – 100% – Lake Sabrina Approach (9,100’). Jared says the approach to Lake Sabrina just before the dam is another of his favorite shots in the canyon. It is now peaking later than occurred last year but with some exquisite color. There is still quite a bit of green mixed in with the red, yellow and orange so Jared says he’s hopeful the Lake Sabrina Approach will “stay good for a bit longer – mother nature is the boss, though, so who knows. I rated this in the 75-100% range but it is probably on the lower end of that scale with all the green that is left.”

75 – 100% – Willow Camp (9,065’). Jared writes, “Willow Camp is lit up presently, with most of the trees displaying brilliant color. There is still some green mixed in so if the weather cooperates we’ve got another week of good viewing here. The row of trees that lines the creek from the camp down to the Tyee bridge is looking fantastic right now, as is the approach coming up canyon towards Willow. Gorgeous!” Check out the comparison shots to see how it has changed in the past three weeks.

75 – 100% – Table Mountain Group Campground (8,845’). Aspen above and below Table Mountain Campground are as beautiful as Jared has ever seen them. He writes, “It seems to me that there is a bit more red and orange this year, a very good thing in my opinion. I would consider these areas to be very close to 100% of their peak. Surprisingly these groves are moving a bit slower than some of the other areas so hopefully the best of the color will stick around for another week or so.”

15-30% – Famous Mist Falls on South Fork Bishop Creek. Mist Falls remains very green, though Jared remarks, “a bit of yellow, and even a little orange, are starting to join the party. We’re still a ways off from the best of this areas color but it could start coming on fast in the next week, at least I hope so.”

Cardinal Mine South (9/29/09)

Cardinal Mine South (9/29/09)

50-75% – Cardinal Mine Area. Aspen by Cardinal Lodge are still “green as green can be but above the lodge and all the way up the hillside to the east of the Cardinal Mine towards Cardinal Pinnacle the aspens are looking fantastic. There are some really great shots available both looking up and down the canyon,” Jared reports.

Cardinal Pinnacle (9/29/09)

Cardinal Pinnacle (9/29/09)

0-15% Miscellaneous. Jared Smith reports that these areas have “tremendous concentrations of aspen which have almost no color yet: Aspendell, Big Trees Camgpround, the grove above Four Jeffrey, Intake 2, Intake 4 and the groves above Forks Camgpround are all in the 0-15% range present. Look for these areas to start to pop in the next few weeks if the weather holds up.”

30-50% — McGee Creek Canyon. Sarah McCahill in Mono County reports that she hiked up McGee Creek near Mammoth Lakes this week and “Wow, was it beautiful!” Photos she took show the transitional character of mixed aspen and cottonwoods in the canyon with lots of green evolving to yellow and gold. She says that at this elevation there’s still a lot of green. Some aspen groves are colored from 75 – 100% gold while others seem not to changing at all (0-25%).


0-15% — CA-49 (El Dorado and Amador Counties). Just like panning for gold, it takes a bit of effort to find gold leaves in the Gold Country, right now. At 800′, sumac trees along CA-49, between El Dorado and Plymouth (El Dorado and Amador Counties), are beginning to flare bright yellow. A few black oak are flickering yellow-orange and flashes of red can be seen among the poison oak near the Cosumnes River. Although individual examples of fall splendor can be seen in the Gold Country, the Mother Lode region will not be fully colored until mid to late October.


Sacramento Bee columnist Rick Kushman describing Bishop Creek in the Eastern Sierra as, “a thousand-foot, Day-Glo waterfall of orange, yellow, gold and bright green.”

Photography copyright 2009 Jared Smith

A Thousand-foot Day-Glow Waterfall

Columnist Rick Kushman wrote today in The Sacramento Bee, “Then you see it. Boom. An explosion of color. Vivid, almost radiant, a thousand-foot, Day-Glo waterfall of orange, yellow, gold and bright green. A creek flows between cliffs, and aspens grow along the water. Surely, someone spilled enormous paint cans on those trees, dyeing the mountainside in kinetic, luminescent color.”   What was he writing about?  Bishop Creek in the Eastern Sierra.  To read the entire story, CLICK HERE.

California Nature Photographers – Bishop Creek


75-100% – Bishop Creek — Bishop Creek is peaking now.  CLICK HERE to see what happened this weekend.

Eastern Sierra Colors Up

15-30% — Crowley Lake.  Sarah McCahill reports that aspens lining the canyons near Crowley Lake in southern Mono County are just turning yellow.

30-50% — McGee Creek.   Leslie Dawson reports (Sarah confirms) the Fremont cottonwoods and quaking aspen are colored 40% yellow/ 10% orange.  A few wildflowers are still to be seen, providing rare contrast.  Leslie spotted a small rubber boa and noted that up the creek from the trailhead is a series of three beaver ponds, the lowest of which has a huge beaver lodge easily visible from the trail.  Good log crossings are found over the creek all the way up to Steelhead Lake turnoff with excellent views of fall color up the canyon.  This weekend should be ideal for McGee Creek.

Sherwin Mountains (Mammoth Lakes) 9/23/09

Sherwin Mountains (Mammoth Lakes) 9/23/09

15-30% — Mammoth Lakes.  Sarah took this photo on 9/23 of aspen in the Sherwin Mountains.  As seen, they are just beginning to turn yellow, a show that’s seen easily from the fourth tee at Snowcreek Golf Course.  Weather holding, give it a week to two to fully color up.

Trail to Davis Lake (9/26/09)

Trail to Davis Lake (9/26/09)

15-30% — Davis Lake is showing intense orange color on the trail, though there’s little color as yet on trees around the lake.  Instead, look to the shoreline for colorful grasses and brush.

Davis Lake (9/26/09)

Davis Lake (9/26/09)

Fall Arrives Officially

The first day of autumn finally arrived officially yesterday, although color has been showing in California for the past couple of weeks.  In the past week, there’s been a big change in color at high elevations.  Here’s what’s showing, right now:


0-15% – CA-32.  The drive from Chico east to Chester along CA-32 has several nice locations to spot fall color once you near Deer Creek, though it’s still a couple of weeks away from breaking.  Big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum) and alder (alnus oregona) are just beginning to show yellow at about the 4,400′ elevation.  Between Deer Creek and the intersection with CA-36, a few of the big, fan-shaped leaves of Indian Rhubarb (darmera peltata) are beginning to blaze in red along Deer Creek.  While CA-32 is still two to three weeks away from full color, though some pockets of bright colors can be found if you’re attentive and willing to walk from a turnout.

0-15% – Lake Almanor.  Among the deciduous trees, deep green is coloring to a yellow green, as chlorophyll production appears to be declining.  Fall color is still two weeks away.

0-15% – CA-89.  Between Lake Almanor and Greenville on CA-89, look to the ground and along streams for the best color.  Alder and some western dogwood (cornus nuttallii) are beginning to show yellow and pink-orange, while the poison oak is transitioning from pink to orange to brilliant red.  Again, this show is still re two weeks from full color.  Amateur botanist Joe Willis of Quincy reports that bitter cherry “is turning red along 89 from Keddie to Greenville.  Good examples are found overlooking Spanish Creek near the end of the Quarry Road and at the Taylorsville “T”. Scarlet honeysuckle provides a nice splash of late blooming color near the Plumas Charter School.

0-15% – Quincy.  There are several showy red displays of Virginia creeper around Quincy.  Several nice maples are turning red across from Moon’s in town, while some of the best color to be seen in Quincy now are the berries of the mountain ash and blue elderberry.  Most of the big leaf maple in Quincy is turning brown, though Willis predicts some will turn yellow.  The black oak are still a ways from showing color.  These tall trees with outstretched black branches become decorated in orange to red color, providing the classic Halloween coloration.  A service berry along the railroad tracks near Crescent Mills has begun to turn and in a week or two should be bright red.  The lower canyon by Cherokee Saturday has impressive displays of bright red poison oak, set against, still-green broadleaf trees.

0-15% – CA-70.  The Feather River Canyon (CA-70) is showing very little color.  The best is just west of Twain, though that’s just a hint of what’s to come.


Jared Smith of the Parcher’s Resort at South Lake remarks he’s amazed at how fast the colors are turning in the canyon, “as in just a week some areas that were completely green are now nearing their peak. Of course, there is still a lot of green out there so if the weather cooperates we’ve got at least another week or two of exceptional fall color.”

50-75% – South Lake (9,768’) –  Jared says the aspen at South Lake are turning very quickly but there is still a ways to go for some of the larger groves around the lake. The view is stunning but it should get better over the course of the next week if the wind stays down.

Weir Pond (9/21/09)

Weir Pond (9/21/09)

75 – 100% – Weir Pond (9,592’) – Color is “really beginning to pop at Weir Pond, possibly the most popular spot on the South Fork Bishop Creek to take photos. Last week the yellow had started up the mountain to the west but this week just about the entire grove is bright yellow and the lower aspens among the pines right by the water are lit up as well. The aspens on the east shore aren’t going yet so we still have some more color to look forward to here but it sure is looking great right now.”

North Lake (9/22/09)

North Lake (9/22/09)

50-75% – North Lake (9,255’)  – Jared Smith remarks, “Wow – what a difference a week makes! When I went up to North Lake today I was absolutely shocked by the transformation at North Lake. Red and orange are really making a showing above the lake. The aspens around the shoreline are a bit behind which makes for a great contrast in color between the lower and higher aspens. It’s anyone’s guess how long the color will stay here but it certainly is moving quickly. The road at North Lake is still very green so I would have to guess that we’ve got some time left before shooting the road will be at its best. Although I estimate this area at 50-75% of full color, it’s definitely on the higher end of that range.”

Lake Sabrina (9/22/09)

Lake Sabrina (9/22/09)

50-75% – Lake Sabrina (9,150’) – Again, Jared describes Lake Sabrina as “simply breathtaking right now as the yellows, oranges and even some reds are starting to show in a big way. The lake water level is also such that in the mid morning sunshine the water glows a brilliant shade of blue. The lake surface is often glass in the early mornings which, according to Rick Apted of Lake Sabrina Boat Landing, gives photographers a great chance of catching reflections of the aspens off the water. Weather permitting; it’s going to get even better in the coming week or so.”

Lake Sabrina Camp (9/22/09)

Lake Sabrina Camp (9/22/09)

30-50% – Sabrina Camp Groves (9,000’) – “There are a few separate groupings of aspen around Sabrina Campground,” says Jared, “The grove just before the campground is now near peaking on both sides of the road….beautiful stuff! The majority of the trees at the campground itself however are still green so this location will be good for a while if the weather holds out.”

15-30% – Lake Sabrina Approach (9,100’)

30- 50% – Willow Camp (9,065’) – “Willow Camp is starting to look like it’s on the verge of exploding into color,” Jared reports.  The aspens along the road and around the camp itself are showing yellow but none of those trees are really popping yet. Just past the campground on the right however it’s looking awesome. The trees just below the beaver dam by the Tyee Lakes Trailhead are looking pretty bright as well. The hillsides in between Willow and Parchers are looking pretty impressive right now but the best is yet to come.

Comparison photos of Willow Camp show how color has changed in this area in just one week.  The first, taken on Sept. 16 shows very little color change, while the second shows the sudden appearance of yellow leading right up into the High Sierra.”

75-100% – Table Mountain Group Campground (8,845’) – Areas above and below the campground “are starting to really light up with yellow and some orange.. There is still a fair amount of green but it is disappearing fast. This area is turning as fast any anywhere in the canyon so look for it to peak very soon,” Jared reports.

0-15% – Mist Falls on South Fork Bishop Creek – “Mist Falls is still very green with only a few trees showing yellow.  Cross your fingers for continued dry and calm weather to allow the color to develop, here,” says Jared.

Photo Credit: Jared Smith, copyright 2009

Eastern Sierra reporting early Yellow, Orange and Red

South Lake with view of Hurd Peak

South Lake with view of Hurd Peak

0 – 15% — South Lake in Inyo County at 9,768 ft. is one of the first areas of California to show fall color.  Jared Smith of Parchers Resort and South Lake Landing is one of our most reliable and consistent color spotters.  He provides the first report of the season that while South Lake is still a few weeks from peak, it is beginning to show yellow.  Most of the color is accessible by boat towards the back end of the lake, still there is come excellent color there, right now.

0 – 15% — One of the most popular spots for photographers in the canyon is Weir Pond at 9,592 ft. in elevation.  A large grove of quaking aspen on the west wall of the canyon is beginning to turn yellow.  There is still plenty of green, but this spot is a bit ahead of the rest of the canyon.

Poplars - North Lake Road

Poplars - North Lake Road

0 – 15% — North Lake at 9,255 ft. has little showing as yet.  The dark greens, Jared Smith reports, have turned to light green, but there isn’t much yellow to be found near the poplar road, or in the large groves that line the west shore.  The best color to be found is on the drive approaching North Lake above Cardinal Mine.  However, color changes fast in the Eastern Sierra so it could break big in the next ten days, depending on conditions.

0 – 15% — Lake Sabrina at 9,150 ft is looking the best of all these reports, with quite a bit of yellow showing.  The back of the lake is still nearly all green with the exception of a little patch in the back right corner of the lake that is bright red.  Jared says, “things are moving along nicely, but we’re still a ways from the best stuff.”

Sabrina Campground - CA-168

Sabrina Campground - CA-168

0 – 15% — At Sabrina Camp (9,000 ft), a few separate groupings of aspen in the campground are already showing.  Yellows, oranges and reds are visible in the grove.  The majority of aspen along the creek and campground are still very green and a ways from peak.  Aside from the one grove, the show is still very low at present.

0 – 15% — Willow Camp (9,065 ft) is beginning to look very nice in some places, but it still has a way to go before peak.  The hillside above Willow Campground, but below Parchers Resort, is the furthest along and is showing quite a bit of yellow.  This area seems to be progressing faster than other areas.

Table Mountain Group Campground

Table Mountain Group Campground

15 – 30% Table Mountain Group Campground (8,845 ft) is really begin to light up with color, according to Jared Smith.  There is a lot of green, so overall the color is low, but it’s already photo worthy in quite a few areas.  This area is turning so fast, it could peak as early as next week (weather dependent).

0 – 15% — Mist Falls (South Fork Bishop Creek) is always a late bloomer and presently is “as green as green can be.”  Won’t peak for at least two more weeks.

0-15% — The Sherwin Mountains overlooking the Snowcreek Golf Course in Mammoth Lakes are flickering with spots of yellow according to color spotter Sarah McCahill of the Mono County Tourism Commission.  Give it a week or two and you’ll have added reason to explain why you missed the putt.

California Fall Color also recommends visiting Carol Leigh’s superb blog for photographers (see links).  On Carol’s Fall Color in California page, Kahlee Brighton wrote about the Eastern Sierra, “…more color is appearing at higher elevations. Willows and smaller aspens are turning gold around Mosquito Flat above Rock Creek Lake. Aspens north of Lee Vining are also lightening in color. Rabbit Brush is in peak bloom in various locations, adding its golden beauty to the overall sense of impending Autumn. Things are still pretty green overall, but no question, Fall is in the air throughout the Eastern Sierra. With respect to Southern California, I’m so surprised to see more trees turning yellow. This morning, I noticed liquidambar with touches of gold — even orange and red — in several areas. Ivy and a few other noted autumnal delights were also changing. This is VERY early for Southern California.”

Kahlee Brighton brings together beautiful pictures of fall color in the Eastern Sierra at and Greg Boyer waxes poetic about shooting great photographs in California at

Photo Credit: Jared Smith