Where to see stunning fall colors in the Eastern Sierra right now

Aspens turning gold around a rock outcrop on the road to South Lake in the Eastern Sierra.
A waterfall amid aspen trees on the road to South Lake in the Inyo National Forest on Oct. 10.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

Smoke from wildfires didn’t dull the aspen glow in the Eastern Sierra’s sweet spot for fall colors. The trees around Lake Sabrina and South Lake in Bishop, Calif., were near or at peak last weekend — and may last a bit longer. It’s been a tough season for leaf peepers because many national forests were closed until early October over poor air quality from nearby fires and high fire risk.

Aspen trees turning yellow and gold in the Eastern Sierra.
Fall colors along the road in the South Lake area west of Bishop, Calif.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News )

Times Community News photographer Raul Roa headed up Highway 395 to the Sierra last weekend. During his drive, he encountered smoky skies with low visibility of the mountains. However, things cleared up when he drove to the lakes around 10,000 feet in elevation. “Once I got up into the higher elevations, the smoke dissipated,” Roa said. “Some trees still had some green, especially at higher elevations, but some were already losing their leaves.”


The state capital takes its tree-loving culture seriously, which makes it a good candidate for a fall color getaway.

That means if you want to catch the show, go soon.

Three people take a selfie amid aspens at Lake Sabrina.
Visitors stop for a selfie in the Lake Sabrina area.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News) reports that Bishop Creek Canyon, especially North Lake, put on a “spectacular show” that’s largely past peak right now. “Haze congested the Owens Valley and Bishop Creek Canyon off and on for the past two weeks, though the occasions it lifted, the scenery was as good as we’ve seen,” the website reports.

Man walks on a log in water near Lake Sabrina.
Lake Sabrina sits at an elevation of 9,138 feet in the Eastern Sierra.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News )

Add botanical gardens and vineyards to your list of places to see changing leaves.

The website recommends these “go now” places to see colors in the area:

  • Table Mountain Group Camp (8,900′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW!, You Almost Missed It.
  • Stiny Loop/Mt Glen Camp (8,850′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW!, You Almost Missed It.
  • Mist Falls (8,350′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
  • Groves Above Cardinal Village (8,550′) – Near Peak to Past Peak Go Now!, You Almost Missed It. – Past Peak at the North Lake turnoff; the walk in from Cardinal Village is Near Peak.
  • Aspendell (8,400′) – Near Peak (50-75%) Go Now!
Green, gold, yellow trees near Lake Sabrina.
The range of fall colors — green to yellow to orange to gold — in the Eastern Sierra.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

The Inyo National Forest partly reopened in early October but key trails, including the popular Mt. Whitney Trail to the 14,500-plus-foot peak, remain closed because of fire-fed poor air quality. However, roads are open to many lakes and fall color spots.

A woman takes a photo of her friends with her phone amid the backdrop of fall colors.
Fall colors exploded this year in the Eastern Sierra. Nearby fires, poor air quality and some closed forest trails limited places to go.
(Raul Roa / Times Community News)

If you drive, Roa offers this tip: “Since the area is high in the mountains and the roads leading up there are very steep, it is recommended to go slow coming back down the mountain and use lower gears to avoid riding the vehicle brakes too much. Brakes can overheat and fail.”

Other areas to explore: these neighborhoods in Sacramento, one of the leafiest places in the country; and these places in Southern California, whose gold colors come from gingkos instead of aspens.