Fall Colors Destinations near Yosemite National Park
While Summer lingers in Yosemite Valley, the east side of the Sierras prepare for Autumn’s transcendent glow. As the season turns, patches of color and patterns of golden light ripple through the hillsides. The air cools, the crowds thin, and Yosemite awakens from its Summertime slumber. Now’s the time to plan for Fall on the east side of the Sierra Mountain Range and experience Fall Colors like nowhere else. Pack that bag (don’t forget your camera!) and prepare to be mesmerized.
The Eastern Sierra: Where to explore?
Whether you’re returning to the eastside of the Sierra, or experiencing it for your first time, there’s a handful of locations worthy of visiting time and again. Let’s start with North and South Lake, where the first of Fall colors erupt with breathtaking vistas.
North and South Lake
What it’s known for: Typically the first place to freeze and get snow. The window for peak Fall colors can be short, but so worth it when timed correctly.
Why we love it: It’s normally the first place the Fall colors begin to emerge. There’s also several good hotels, breakfast and lunch spots back in Bishop. If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, stop in at Black Sheep or Looney Bean.
Learn more: http://highsierratrails.com/north_lake_south_lake/overview.html
Upper and Lower Rock Creek Canyon
What it’s known for: Rock Creek Canyon is famous for Little Lakes Basin, where a string of high-elevation lakes are linked by leisurely hiking trails surrounded by 13,000 foot peaks.
Why we love it: It’s got some great ‘From the Road’ photography opportunities, gorgeous creekside terrain, and lots of good hiking.
Learn more: https://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/lakes-rivers-creeks/rock-creek/
Mammoth Lakes (Reds Meadow) and Convict Lake
What it’s known for: A great home-base when out exploring. When Reds Meadow is open, it offers a variety of places to stay (mountain cabins, motel rooms, hiker cabins) and supreme location one mile from Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls. Also great access to Ansel Adams Wilderness and the Thousand Island Lake region.
Why we love it: The incredible Fall Colors hiking trails in Mammoth Lakes. Hiking around Mammoth Lakes Basin is a good midday activity for those looking to get some fresh air and high altitude. Here’s a list of 7 hikes to enjoy during a Fall visit to Mammoth Lakes.
Learn more: https://www.visitmammoth.com/fall-colors
June Lake Loop
What it’s known for: A vacationer’s retreat, available all four seasons of the year. A spectacular drive following a horseshoe shaped canyon, and world-class trout fishing. Photographers, enjoy the early-to-late morning and late afternoon-to-early evening, when the light is more even and less contrasty. Hungry? Check out The Double Eagle for late breakfast, and The Lift for dinner.
Why we love it: It’s dramatic mountainous backdrop and aspen-lined hiking trails! At June Lake, there’s lots of opportunity for wide angle and zoom shots. Several groves are accessible from the road and more adventurous photographers can wander up the hillsides to the West of the road. Normally, June Lake is one of the longer-lasting Fall colors destinations. Try photographing with a long lens after autumn’s peak when isolated bits of color still linger.
Learn more: https://junelakeloop.org/
Silver Lake (Part of June Lake Loop)
What it’s known for: Home to the oldest “fishing retreat” in the region, Silver Lake hosts people from all over California and the West who have been visiting the area for generations.
Why we love it: We recommend the Silver Lake Resort, especially for breakfast. Ask for the Garbage Omelet – you’ll be glad you did! There’s also a pack station at Silver Lake and the trails offer a short, but steep climb into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. Once you’ve made it through the initial climb, it starts to level out a bit for an enjoyable hike.
Learn more: https://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/lakes-rivers-creeks/silver-lake/
Lee Vining (Lee Vining Canyon, Mono Lake, High Country Access)
What it’s known for: Called “The Gateway to Yosemite,” Lee Vining offers epic fishing, spectacular hiking, and pristine spots for camping. Usually, the groves up Power Plant Road are the last stands of aspen to turn color.
Why we love it: It’s a short trip from Lee Vining to Mono Lake where one can experience the tufa formations. If you have a 4-wheel-drive, we suggest circumnavigating the lake and stopping at Navy Beach and South Beach. Best to have two vehicles in case one gets stuck in the mud! Or, take a left turn off Highway 395 at the top of Conway Summit, and head to Virginia Lakes – a photographer’s dream at every season.
Learn more: https://www.leevining.com/
What it’s known for: Its enormous beaver ponds, and location in the heart of the High Sierra’s Hoover Wilderness. Along the Lundy Canyon Trail, you’ll pass historic ruins, waterfalls, abundant meadows, wildflowers, and soaring cliffs. Keep climbing and you’ll reach the beautiful granite playground of Twenty Lakes Basin. The climb can be treacherous, leading up a talus-filled chute that is precariously steep and unstable.
Why we love it: The abundant Aspens and cottonwoods are especially striking here during the Fall time of year. It’s also got some great photography from the road.
Learn more: https://www.summitpost.org/lundy-canyon-trail/420084
What it’s known for: Some of the best autumn photography north of Bishop. Bring a wide and long lens! It’s the highest point on U.S. 395, and offers spectacular views of Mono Lake and the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Why we love it: From Conway Summit, there’s a great adventure to embark on. Head to the east slope of Dunderberg Peak, at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Only available by 4-wheel-drive, you’ll find the outlet of a lake that has wildflowers late into the season. You’ll be well above the tree line, with incredible views of Aspen groves below. Be sure to check weather and road conditions before venturing out on any unpaved roads. Check out the Mono Lake Vista on the South side of Conway Summit (big pull out along the road) for some great sunset opportunities.
Learn more: https://www.sierranevadageotourism.org/content/conway-summit/sie4e24bfb6c85522e1e
What it’s known for: It’s a historic California Town sometimes called the gateway to High Sierra canyons, peaks, lakes, streams, and beautiful pastures.
Why we love it: It’s a great home-base for lodging when venturing out on day trips into the Sierras. Enjoy an easy drive to Yosemite National Park, Bodie, and Mono Lake. Photographers, venture to Sonora Pass where jointed and fractured granite lined with Aspen can make for intriguing foreground details. Stay at Mono Inn between Bridgeport and Lee Vining. Mono Inn offers unsurpassed fine dining in the Eastern Sierra. Dinner there is a must, especially around the full moon when it rises in view from the Inn’s veranda above the White Mountains beyond Mono Lake.
Learn more: https://www.monocounty.org/places-to-go/towns/bridgeport/
Bloody Canyon Trail
What it’s known for: Historically, the Bloody Canyon Trail was used to cross the Sierras before wagon roads were built. It is named for the injuries to stock that made this rugged crossing. The trail is still not recommended for stock.
Why we love it: The colors: a dramatic contrast of the cliffs with the Aspen leaves. The trail through Bloody Canyon is lesser known, and therefore offers a quieter excursion. There’s a great climb up to Lower Sardine Lake, along with some beautiful waterfalls on the way up. Keep on going to Upper Sardine and check out the view. The trail dips briefly into Yosemite and eventually gives access to the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail.
Learn more: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/bloody-canyon-trail
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