Where to find the prettiest fall foliage in Northern California and Bay Area
With the arrival of fall, many Northern California residents are looking for safe, healthy, socially distanced activities to do with loved ones due to the virus that causes COVID-19. Heading to the Sierra to see the fall leaves turn color seems like the perfect day or weekend trip for many to get away from it all.
“I think a lot of people are going to be turning to fall colors and seeing the trees for relief from being inside and from the pressures that we are all undergoing with the election and everything happening,” said John Poimirro of californiafallcolor.com. “Nature just has this soothing effect on people and definitely fall color does.”
Poimiroo’s website is the leading resource for leaf-peepers in California. It provides frequent updates of the fall foliage conditions throughout the state and, over the years, has developed a network of contributors reporting on and photographing the leaves changing colors.
Although the pull of nature is strong for leaf peepers, the pandemic and the early wildfire season have created several unusual challenges this fall.
“What’s upsetting the fall color viewing right now is the effect of fires on viewing the color. Also, the effect of the pandemic on going outdoors and socializing,” noted Poimiroo.
Many of the most spectacular viewing locations for early season fall colors in Inyo County, including Bishop Creek Canyon, are closed to the public until at least October 1 because of the wildfires. June Lake and the Mammoth region in Mono County are also dealing with continued poor air quality due to the fires. Currently, the rule of thumb is any national park south of Tioga Pass in Yosemite is now closed. However, the conditions remain fluid and could change in a moment’s notice.
For your safety, it’s essential to plan and research any potential destinations, explained Poimiroo. First, check with the US Forest Serviceto see which national parks and forests are open and closed. Next, check CaliforniaFallColor.com to see if the location is experiencing peak color. “We post pictures that are taken by people on the scene and date them,” he said, so travelers will have a reliable idea of what the current conditions are at a particular location. He would usually also recommend checking with a region’s visitors bureau, chamber of commerce and tourist information, but this year many of the offices are not open.
“The reason they are closed is the counties have been discouraged from bringing more people in while they have a medical emergency going on,” he said. “My point to them is you need to communicate. Because you aren’t communicating, people are still going to come, but they are going to do it in the wrong way.”
To fill the information gap, his website will not only provide frequent updates but offer weekly suggestions on where it is safe to travel.
For example, if you want to head up to the Sierra this weekend, his top recommendation is the Virginia Lakes region just south of Bridgeport on Highway 395. “The tour begins on the Virginia Lakes Road and follows the Green Creek Loop along Dunderberg Meadow Road,” he notes, with aspen groves varying from just turning color to near peak.