Discover 8 Incredible Places to See Fall Foliage in California

Written by Emilio Brown
Published: October 21, 2022
© Ole Schoener/
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Autumn in the Golden State can be full of amazing colors and incredible scenery. From north to south, California has a diverse landscape. Multiple areas have dense foliage perfect for enjoying the fall color changes. The best types of areas to view colorful fall foliage are habitats with a variety of deciduous tree species. In this article, you will discover eight incredible places to see fall foliage in California.  

Fall is like the second spring of the year. The trees begin to glow with beautiful shades of red, orange, yellow, brown, and even some purple. It’s a great time to go for walks and view nature one last time before the leaves fall and the cold of winter comes. The best time to witness the beauty of autumn depends on the type of foliage in the area and when they are expected to start shedding leaves.  

When Is the Best Time to See Fall Foliage?

Autumn color changes come at slightly different times for the regions in California. Almost all peak fall foliage can be viewed in the least two weeks of October from the 17th to the 31st. Areas in southern California including death valley and the Mojave desert tend to peak from the 17th to the 24th. Dense foliage near cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco will see its peak from the 24th to the 31st. Areas from the northern border to Fresno will be at their peak for a bit longer from October 31st to November 14th. 

One of the main reasons leaves begin to change colors is because of the loss of chlorophyll, making them turn shades of red, yellow, gold, and brown. Deciduous trees like maples and oaks are the type that loses their leaves in the winter. Trees lose their leaves to preserve resources and prepare for the harsh climates that winter brings. Fall is only known for its vibrant colors because of the variety of species that shed their leaves yearly. 

1. Golden Gate Park

Do you want to see the beauty of nature while staying near the comforts of the city? Golden Gate Park is the perfect place for visitors and city dwellers to see autumn colors. While most of the foliage in San Francisco doesn’t get very many fall colors, the trees in Golden Gate Park turn incredible shades of red, yellow, and orange. Leaves on the maple trees in the Japanese tea garden turn shades of red and various species of sycamore add shades of yellow-gold when fall comes. 

Japanese tea garden pagoda Golden Gate Park
The Japanese maples and sycamores at the Japanese tea garden pagoda in Golden Gate Park turn red and gold in the fall.

©Jrozwado, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

2. Lake Arrowhead

In southern California, Lake Arrowhead sits in the San Bernardino National Forest. With a variety of tree species like cedar, oak, fir, and pine surrounding the lake, autumn adds breathtaking color to the scenery. Shades of golden-yellow, orange, and bright red are found just along the edges of the Lake during the final week of October. Lake Arrowhead is a resort offering cabins and activities. It is most active during the tourist seasons in the winter and summer months. The fall season in this area is a great time to hike the surrounding trails due to its cooler temperatures and less tourism. You can also watch the abundance of nature and animals like deer, fish, ducks, and other small birds. 

Lake Arrowhead, California
Lake Arrowhead is surrounded by forests where you can view fall foliage, birds, and other wildlife.


3. Lake Cuyamaca  

Within the forest of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is Lake Cuyamaca. In this area, there is a wide range of deciduous tree species that create a beautiful array of colors in the fall. Species like pine, fir, oak, and cedar, make up the forests surrounding the lake. Colors like deep reds and lots of oranges are seen during fall and with the evergreen trees mixed in the scenery is gorgeous. 

Autumn provides the perfect weather and scenery for a visit with nature at Lake Cuyamaca. Camping, hiking, boating, and fishing are just some of the activities in the area. Wildlife is also abundant here with animals like ducks, geese, frogs, snakes, owls, and various species of small birds.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
In addition to leaf peeping, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a prime location for boating, fishing, and hiking.


4. Mount Shasta

Located in northern California is the city of Mount Shasta, sitting only nine miles from the Mount Shasta Volcano. In the surrounding nature found in the Mount Shasta area, brilliant fall colors can be seen from mid-October to early November. The beautiful array of fall colors contrasts the high snowy peak of Mount Shasta making the scenery a must-see in autumn. Tree species like Engelmann spruce, giant sequoia, mountain mahogany, mountain ash, and Fremont cottonwood add color and beauty in the last months before the leaves fall from the trees and snow covers the ground.  

Not only is Mount Shasta a beautiful place, but it’s also a fast-growing tourist destination in California. The area has campgrounds, lots of hiking trails, a lake perfect for boating and fishing, and charming small towns. With the thick foliage and beautiful surrounding lakes and mountains, Mount Shasta is one of the best places in California to visit during autumn.   

Mt. Shasta California
Mount Shasta is one of the most stunning locations for viewing autumn leaves.

©Zach Zheng/

5. Mammoth Lakes

The end of October provides the best view of fall colors at Mammoth Lakes. Tucked in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, Mammoth Lakes is abundant with aspen, and willow trees, adding color to the pines and red firs that do not change in fall. There are 5 different lakes inside the town of mammoth lakes. The area is popular for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Mammoth Lakes California is surrounded by dense woodlands which turn bright amber-red, and orange. The best spots for viewing the fall foliage include Rock Creek, June Lake Loop, and Mammoth Lakes Basin.

In the fall, Horseshoe Lake, Mammoth Lakes, California, is a riot of color thanks to the aspen and willow trees tucked among the pines and fir trees.


6. Napa Valley

Wine is what Napa Valley California is known for, but in the Autumn the area is a great place to see the changing fall foliage. Starting around the 24th of October Napa valley begins to peak in fall colors. Gold and reddish coloring begin to spread across the Napa vineyards and rolling hills. The colors continue to change until late November. Trees like black oaks, Ginkgo Biloba, and big-leaf maples are found throughout Napa, changing to their burning colors in fall. 

The hillsides and vineyards in Napa Valley give a unique fall experience in California. Some of the best places to visit include the wineries like the Rutherford Hill Winery, and Chateau Montelena Winery. Hot air balloon rides can also be booked in Napa, providing an aerial view of the elegant fall foliage.

Autumn vineyard in Napa Valley
In Napa Valley, even the grape vines change color in the fall.

©Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

7. Lake Tahoe

Fall is considered one of the best times to visit Lake Tahoe. Late October around the 24th is the last chance to see the peak fall colors in this area. Aspens and cottonwoods are the main trees at Lake Tahoe that transform when the temperature in Lake Tahoe begins to cool in the fall. There are over 100 hiking trails nearby that allow you to see the beautiful fall foliage. Some of the best places in Lake Tahoe to leaf peep include Zephyr Cove, Hope Valley, Luther Pass, and Taylor Creek.

Lake Tahoe Sierra Nevada, California, USA
In the fall, aspens and cottonwoods create a riot of color at Lake Tahoe.


8. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in the US and is a great spot for sighting fall foliage. The area of Yosemite reaches its peak colors near the 31st of October. While the national park contains mostly evergreens that do not change in the fall, trees like dogwood, quaking aspen, white fir, and California black oak are spread around the area, and dramatically change colors.

Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are the best places to visit in Yosemite to appreciate the vibrant fall colors. Through the mountainous forest of the area, you can find multiple trees changing, and shedding their leaves for the winter.

ribbon falls
Ribbon Falls is among the myriad of scenic locations where you can view Yosemite National Park in autumn’s sartorial splendor.

©McDow Photo Inc/

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About the Author

Spiders, snakes, and lizards are my favorite types of animals, and I enjoy keeping some species as pets. I love learning about the various wonders nature has to offer and have been a writer for 5 years. In my spare time, you can find me getting out into nature.

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