Pointers by Paul's Photo
Fall Color in California
Every year California glows in autumn gold, and the photos can be magical! The changing colors of the aspens and cottonwoods often rival the beauty of Colorado, Michigan or even Vermont; especially when you add spectacular scenery behind the glowing trees. Late September through the end of October are the prime times for Fall Color in California.
When is the best time to go?
Fall color starts at the higher elevations in late September and moves to the lower elevations in October. The peak color in mid-elevations is mid-month with foothills and valleys peaking near Halloween.
Where do you go?
Where the aspen and cottonwood trees grow, the color will glow! The Sierra Nevada mountain towns and foothills from Kernville in the south to Truckee in the north to Bridgeport in the East to Merced in the West.
The western Sierra Nevada has many great fall color locations. Some of my favorites are: Sonora Pass, Hwy 108 offers fall color from late-September to mid-October. Winding through low foothills to near alpine there are many great stops and pull-outs. Beware Sonora pass closes with the first snowfall of the season. Three Rivers on Hwy 198 from Visalia peaks early to mid-October. Shaver Lake on Hwy 168 offers great color and reflections at a lower elevation that peaks late October.
My absolute favorite on the west side is Yosemite! The meadows turn a wonderful auburn while the cottonwoods and dogwoods furnish a stunning amber to the scene. Couple the gorgeous foliage with the splendor of El Capitan and Half Done to produce some truly memorable photographs.
The eastern Sierra Nevada offers marvelous fall photo opportunities. Lundy Lake (Lundy Lake Rd off US 395 near Mono Lake) offers classic lake views and a winding path thru aspen groves. Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes is a year-round photo stop. Another favorite is Big Pine Creek out of Big Pine. Here your car takes you high into the mountains with superb vistas and riparian details. Don’t forget to stop at Copper Top BBQ in Big Pine as well!
If you truly want to experience the best of the east side join Creative Photo Academy for our annual Eastern Sierra Fall Color Adventure. Every year since 1991 we have made the pilgrimage to capture fall colors. Headquartered in Lee Vining we’ll capture the beauty of Mono Lake and Bodie Ghost Town and stunning fall foliage locations.
What does it take to make amazing Fall Color photos?
On our fall Color Adventures we recommend an interchangeable lens camera with wide angle, normal and telephotos lenses (14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm). A tripod makes framing & composition simpler plus allows us to easily blur moving water. A circular-polarizing filter is a necessity to reduce reflection on the foliage and capture the brilliant colors of nature. Neutral Density filters allow you to blur moving water and capture that wispy effect that is so beautiful. Finally you have to be adventuresome and get out into the wild… follow the trails and explore to find the hidden gems. Enjoy the California Gold and make a great picture!