Sierra Nevada Fall Color

This page is the starting point for my coverage of fall color photography in California’s Sierra Nevada. Read/scroll down to find annual fall season updates to current conditions, links for fall color articles at this website, field reportslinks to basic resources (including my book, California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra), links to outside resources maintained by other fall color lovers, and more. Check back for updates as the season evolves.

Aspen Grove, Bishop Canyon
Aspen Grove, Bishop Canyon

Almost as soon as summer begins in the Sierra Nevada high country many of us begin anticipating autumn. I have backpacked, skied, hiked, climbed, and photographed throughout California’s Sierra Nevada for decades — and fall is still my favorite season! The weather moderates, the light becomes more beautiful, occasional early storms begin to arrive, the crowds dissipate, mosquitos die off (!), and the annual fall color show arrives.

Fallen Aspen Branch, Snow - A small aspen tree branch blown down by an early fall storm rests on snow, North Lake, California.
Fallen Aspen Branch, Snow – A small aspen tree branch blown down by an early fall storm rests on snow, North Lake, California.

As the explosive Sierra summer growth cycle runs its course, streams and meadows dry out, and the days begin to shorten in late summer the first hints of autumn begin to appear. By September the signs become more obvious and near the end of the month aspen trees start to show color, heralding the widespread appearance of intense color during the first half of October all up and down the Sierra. The color works its way down to lower elevations on both sides of the range, continuing on into early November.

Autumn Leaves, Reflection of a Monolith
Autumn Leaves, Reflection of a Monolith

My Sierra Nevada Fall Color Resources

Other Sierra Nevada Fall Color Resources

Fall Color Book Update

California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the SierraI often present book talks as the fall color season approaches, and this year I have one scheduled in Mammoth Lakes at 7:00PM on Saturday, October 5 at the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center, under the sponsorship of the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA).

Fall Color Information and Reports

Each fall I share information and observations as the color season gets underway… and as I hear reports and visit the trees myself.

(I leave older reports posted lower on the page —  they include some useful information for folks making plans for the current year.)

2020 Fall Color Information and Reports

November 1 — It’s a wrap! I spent less time on the East Side photographing aspens this year than I would in a typical fall. Getting over there was a real challenge given closures due to historically unprecedented California wildfires, the sometimes extreme levels of smoke, and the difficulties of traveling during the pandemic. Ironically, if you did manage to get over there and if you did manage to dodge the worst of the smoke, the colors were exceptionally good this year.

As I write this at the beginning of November, the aspen color season is essentially over In the Sierra. Aspen color there is mostly an October thing, with the best color typically occurring during the first three weeks of the month. (You can find color outside that time frame, but it isn’t as easy or as obvious.) You might still find some lowland non-aspen color, and there’s more non-aspen color on the west side of the ranged.

Autumn Lake, Dawn, Eastern Sierra
Dawn light comes to an Eastern Sierra Nevada lake surrounded by autumn aspen trees and reflecting distant peaks.

October 9 — I just returned from what will likely be my only visit to Eastern Sierra aspen color this season. (Though don’t hold me to that claim if things change in the next week or so.)

On a brief visit I managed to spend time in Bishop Canyon where I camped for a couple of nights. On the way there and back I visited Sonora Pass, Luther Pass, Carson Pass, and other areas along US 395 on the east side.

First the positive news: During my visit around the start of the second week of the month, there was a lot of excellent color, especially at higher elevations which tend to turn first. And by comparison to some recent years, I saw a lot more of the desirable orange and red colorations and very little evidence of trees with brown leaves or prematurely dropped leaves. There was good color on all three of the passes I crossed, though by the time you read this it is likely that the highest elevation trees are past prime and the color show is moving toward lower elevations.

But not all of the news is good: During my visit wildfire smoke was ubiquitous and very thick, to the point that it interfered with photography and was almost certainly a risk to one’s health. On the day of my arrival on the east side of the range I came over Sonora Pass (where the air was smoky but not terrible) and then turned south on US 395. It soon got much more smoky and between about Bridgeport and south of Mammoth Lakes the pall was quite awful and distinctly unhealthy. In places there sun was blotted out by the cloud, and as I came to Lee Vining it was almost impossible to see Mono Lake — which is remarkable since in places it is almost adjacent to the roadway. I kept going south to find air that wasn’t completely awful and finally ended up camping not far from Bishop. On the following morning the smoke was what you might see on a more typical autumn day, though it interfered with grand landscape photographs, and by evening a dense cloud of smoke rolled in once again, making things very unpleasant. The next morning was less awful, but still bad, and the Sierra crest peaks were alternately nearly invisible or completely invisible.

I finally decided to leave early, partly for my health and partly because the air and light were so compromised.

If you go right now be forewarned — you may encounter levels of wildfire smoke that are unhealthy and which interfere with photography of those beautiful fall colors. A lot will depend on the vagaries of wind direction, and relatively clear conditions may quickly degrade and become quite bad.

With all of that in mind and despite the potential for some very nice colors, it is hard for me to recommend a trip over there at the current time, especially when the pandemic is interfering with many of our usual patterns of life.

September 14 — As I post this first “report” in mid-September it is too early still for the main fall aspen color show in the Sierra. It has been about ten days since my last visit — just before the Creek Fire blew up — and at that time the trees were, with very rare exceptions, entirely green still.

Speculating a bit here, this is likely to be one of the strangest fall color season in the Sierra Nevada that most of us have experienced — and hopefully we won’t experience another like it again soon. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is affecting our ability to travel — and putting a terrible strain on businesses that rely on our visits. Even camping requires some extra care, particularly when relying on shared restroom facilities and similar.

And now, on top of that, California is experiencing historically bad wildfires. As of this writing some sources are saying that about 3.5% of the total state area has been burned, one Northern California just broke the 2018 all-time record for the largest fire ever… by doubling the size of the previous fire, and the state is about to see its first million-acre fire. The Sierra most certainly has not been immune, with large, dangerous, a and very smoky fires burning up and down the range, forcing out visitors and residents and cause terrible damage to forests and property and, in some cases, human life.

Against that backdrop, the fact that a dry year and warmer-than-usual temperatures may affect the upcoming aspen season seems almost unimportant. There are bigger issues right now.

If you do go, I urge you to consider the following:

  • Before you go, check the fire conditions in the areas you’ll visit and pass through en route. Don’t be “that person” who goes up there and blithely gets in the way.
  • Consider camping somewhat remotely and being entirely self-contained. This might mean carrying sufficient water and food that you won’t have to interact with anyone, and possibly bringing along supplies to handle sanitation (e.g. — toilet) needs in a safe and sensitive way. (Hint: leaving piles of poop and wads of toilet paper lying around, even in out-of-the-way areas, is unacceptable.)
  • To the extent possible, consider avoiding some of the more popular and sometimes crowded areas. Also consider going midweek when there will be even fewer people.
  • Finally, it may simply be the case that this isn’t the ideal year to visit the aspens. Consider photographing closer to home. The aspens will still be there next year.

If and as more information becomes available I will update this page later on.

2019 Fall Color Information and Reports

Updates added in reverse chronological order — most recent first.

October 7: I have returned from a five-day foray in the Eastern Sierra, where I managed to visit quite a few locations between Highway88/Carson Pass in the north and Bishop Creek Canyon in the south.

I’ll start with a general observation: Overall, the timing of the fall color change this year seems rather… normal. After last year’s seemingly early start, I went up a bit earlier this year than I would have in the past, only to find that there really wasn’t yet a whole lot of fall color. On that basis I’m [i]leaning toward expecting the color to change on the schedule we used to think of as normal[/i], with the best widespread color starting about one week into October, the second week seeing good color all over the range, and lower elevation aspen color continuing into week three of the month.

The first day of this visit was October 2. Driving along the range I could easily see [i]some[/i] high elevation color, often from the smaller “scrub aspen” trees that live on high and rocky slopes. But in most place the trees were still largely to completely green. On October 3 I visited the three forks of Bishop Creek Canyon, where I found the beginning of good color in the highest areas near the road-ends. Here and there a few anomalous colorful trees appeared elsewhere. For example, there were a few almost fully golden aspens in the lowest section of Rock Creek, which was a surprise given been trees at higher elevations.

By October 4 and October 5 it felt like the change was staring to pick up, and I saw some nicely developing color in a number of places. Without going into specific location details, this leads me to believe that my now (October 7 as I write this) there should be pretty good color in many of the usual core-seasons locations, and that the next week or so should be quite good in many places… even as the highest elevation trees start to lose their leaves. And, as always, the color should continue on into the third week of the month in sheltered lower elevation areas.

In most places the contain of the trees seems pretty good. In every season you’ll find some seemingly distressed trees — leaves turning black, trees that appear to have lost leaves early, and so forth. But generally speaking the aspens seem to have a good crop of leaves and there hasn’t been much damage from storms (there have barely been any, though there was some wind last week) and so forth.

I’ll note one unfortunate surprise. Folks visiting the Hope Valley area often look forward to the large and very colorful trees near Sorenson’s Resort… but they had already lost a lot of their leaves when I passed by on October 2! Something must have stressed those trees, even though others in the area seem to be doing OK.

October 1: I am about to make my first serious Eastern Sierra fall color visit later this week. While I’m up there I’ll be presented a talk on fall color (and my book on the subject) at the Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center at 7:00PM on October 5.

In the meantime, a few bits of information and speculation. My most recent visit to the Sierra as of this writing was at the very beginning of September. That’s too soon for serious aspen color in the Sierra, but not too early for a few hints. The first interesting development this season relates to the previous rain/snow season — it was much wetter than usual, and that has kept things green in the high country relatively late this year. I saw green meadows and new wildflowers (!) on the first few days of September!

What might that mean for aspens? Most importantly, this is not going to be like the conditions during the five-year drought that ended a few years back — the odds are that it will be an aspen season that is more “normal” by comparison. In a typical season, there is some decent early-season color by the end of September, with peak color coming during the first three weeks or so of October — starting way up high (often in smaller trees) and working its way down to lower elevations and larger trees.

At the moment the longer term weather forecasts are not predicting much in the way of storms, and so far even the typical early-October hot/dry north wind events seem a bit less likely. That may bode well for color remaining on trees a bit longer, as the windy/stormy conditions can take down lots of leaves very quickly.

Going way out on a limb, the measured long-term warming in the Sierra might have an effect on the start time of the color and possibly on how long it lasts. My hunch is that there may be a tendency toward slightly later color. Having said that, however, I’m still targeting the usual period as mentioned above.

As I visit the Sierra I’ll post occasional updates here.

2018 Fall Color Information and Reports

(I leave old reports online as they often include information that will be useful in other years.)

Autumn Color, Sierra Nevada Crest
Mountainsides of autumn aspen color rise toward the Sierra Nevada crest

(October 14, 2018) This turned out — so far, at least — to be an odd autumn Sierra color season for me… and so far I managed only a single trip to the “east side” in the heart of the season during the second week of October. That said, it was productive! Here’s a brief summary of what I saw, and some ideas about what is left of this year’s season.

I covered areas from Carson Pass and Hope Valley, through Markleeville and over Monitor Pass, down US 395 to the Bishop area, all of the forks of Bishop Creek, and visits to a number of side canyons along the way.

Overall, the color transition appeared to broadly be on a relatively typical schedule, despite the very early color that I saw back in September. (See previous entry below.) If anything, there were/are a few more still-green groves than I would have expected — suggesting that late-arrivers should still find some excellent color in those places through the third week of October… and perhaps a bit later in a few spots.

If the 2018 season has a “personality” of its own, it might be characterized by local incongruities rather than a general shift of any sort toward early/late color. I visited places that I have been to before at this time of the season and found both trees that might have dropped leaves a bit early and places where trees that have typically transitioned by now were still green!

(September 23, 2018) Even though it is late September as I begin this year’s updates, it is still too early to know for sure how the 2018 Sierra Nevada fall color season will play out. In the meantime I’ll share some basic information that may help with your planning.

The typical timing of the onset of Eastern Sierra has a few early Sierra color indicators appear by mid-September,  with the aspen color typically coming into form starting around the beginning of October. It is often often at its peak for the first couple of weeks of the month, and can still be good through the third week in some places.

Yesterday (September 22, 2018) I returned from nine days of backcountry photography in the John Muir Wilderness. This would typically be too early for most aspen photography, but we did see a good amount of early color at the highest elevations in the Rock Creek area.

At this point, my best guess is that this could be a relatively typical color season, despite the early color I described above. I have a hunch that we might see color come just a bit early, but then continue into the middle of the month (and beyond in a few places) as it usually does.

One thing to watch is the onset of possible early “autumn” storms. As I write this there are some mid-term (a week out or so) indications that there could be some early weather fronts. If so, with can sometimes bring down leaves… though still-green leaves may turn a few days later.

Watch for more specific updates here as I get back into the Eastern Sierra over the next few week, giving me a better sense of how things might evolve this year.

2016 Color Reports

I’m writing this in mid-September 2016, and it is too soon to know for sure what this coming autumn will bring when it comes to fall color. Since the four-year drought moderated but was not reversed by the 2015-16 winter, I think there is a good chance that we’ll see some similarities between the 2015 season (see old reports below) and the upcoming 2016 season. That means that we might see some anomalous early color, some trees going straight from green to no leaves, more very stressed and dead trees. But we may also see some groves, especially farther north where the precipitation was better, looking a bit better. Last fall, while the season started early and was a bit uneven, there were enough healthy trees that started on a more normal schedule that we ended up with a longer the usual aspen color season. (Reports in reverse chronological order.)

  • September 30-October 2, 2016  — I’ve just returned from a full three days of autumn photography in the Eastern Sierra, plus a travel day that took me across highway 120 through Yosemite. I’ll being with a summary: In general, as compare last year’s reports to this year, I think things are playing out on a similar schedule. Again, there was early color up high, quite a bit of color by October 1, and enough fully green trees remaining to keep the color going through the first half of October.
    I spent a day and a half in the Bishop Canyon area, where color was excellent at higher elevations, especially along the South Fork of Bishop Creek, where a lot of places were, in my view, at peak in the upper canyon. (The groves of large trees just above Four Jeffrey Campground are still completely green, and there is something of a transition zone from green to color above the fake waterfall area.)
    There was a lot of great color at North Lake, though I don’t think this will be the most remarkable year ever for the iconic “river of trees.” (And, as always,  the crowds continue to grow at this spot. It was super crowded when I stopped by on a Friday morning — who knows how busy it was on Saturday and Sunday.)
    Eventually I headed north from Bishop Canyon. I did not go up the many other east side canyons until I reached the Lee Vining area, but it was easy to see that there is a lot of color all along the east side.
    I camped in Lee Vining Canyon, where the color was still somewhat so-so, but that is not unusual for this point in the season. There was a lot of color in the Virginia Lakes and Dunderberg area, especially up high. Conway Summit has not reached prime at this point, though some trees have lost a lot of leaves.
    Speaking of lost leaves… it was extremely windy between late Saturday and Sunday, and this blew down quite a few of the most colorful leaves. In addition, Tioga Pass closed (likely for a short time) on Sunday.
  • September 20, 2016 — I am just back from four days in the Sierra: The Tuolumne/Tioga Pass area of Yosemite, Mono Lake and points south and east, US 395 between Conway Summit (north of Mono Lake) and Bishop, and two days in Bishop Canyon. All it is clearly way too early for the peak seasonal aspen color, I was actually surprised by how much color I could find. There was enough color to make photography worthwhile already, mostly in very high, rocky, and dry areas where smaller “scrub” trees are prominent, but also in some places in the bottoms of valleys. For example, I found some quite striking color in Bishop Canyon already.
    So, is it time to drop everything and dash to the Sierra to catch the color before it is gone? Not by a long shot. While there is some good color now if you know where to look (though it is easy to find in the Bishop Creek drainage), there are lots of very green trees that won’t change for a while yet. My sense is that anyone who is balancing between a visit earlier in October or a bit later might do well to select the earlier date… but we’ll see about that in the next couple of weeks.

    Early Fall Color
    Early fall color from aspens on rocky slopes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada
  • September 16, 2016 — Up this morning, packed and ready to begin four days in the Sierra, likely including some fall color reconnaissance on the east side. I was checking social media a few minutes ago and I’ve now seen several shares that include photographs of some early aspen color. What does this mean? First, I’ll be able to say more early next week after my personal visit to the area. Second, you may be able to find a little bit of color this early if you are in the right places and are willing to look around a bit. Third, does this mean it will be an “early season?” Hard to say, but my guess that it might be somewhat like last fall is still in play — there was early color last year, but the season continued about as long as it typically does, so the end result was a longer color season.
  • September 15, 2016 — Consider this a very early pre-season report. A week ago I was in the Yosemite high country and I made a brief foray over to the east side near Lee Vining and the June Lake Loop area. As would be expected at that point in the season, there was really no aspen fall color to speak of, aside from a very small number of trees here and there that had a few yellow leaves. Other signs of impending autumn were visible as expected at this time of year: golden meadows, dry and decreasing flow creeks, low lakes, some scattered yellow leaves on willows, red bilberry, dead and dying corn lilies, and more. Check back again for more updates as the actual start of the season gets closer — that will come about the first of October.

2015 Color Reports

Leading up to the 2015 season, my prediction at this point is that some color will appear a bit early due to drought stress, but that the rest of the aspen color change will come largely on the usual cycle, though perhaps a few days earlier overall. Some areas and groves will be adversely affected by the long drought, and in this we might see some leaves go straight from green to brown. As always, I expect that roughly the first two weeks of October will bring the best color opportunities in the eastern Sierra, but with color around for those who look for it during the week before and after this time frame. (However, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that the best fall color predictions can easily end up being wrong!)

  • October 19, 2015 — For the first time in a month or so , I was not in the Sierra during the past week. (I returned from my last visit back on October 12.) I missed being there… but I probably needed the break! From what I hear and see from various reports, it was a fine weekend, with the color becoming quite good at a number of the lower elevation areas, and there were still good opportunities up higher. Some are speculating that the relative warmth this fall has allowed some trees to delay their transition, even while others stressed by drought changed early. There was some weather over the past few days, including low elevation rain and snow at and above 8000′, all of which is typical for this time of year. Current forecasts are for relatively warm and dry weather for the rest of this week, but with a hint of a possible change next weekend. There’s still time to see eastern Sierra fall color though — and it won’t be too much longer until the lower elevation west side color takes off in places like Yosemite Valley and the foothills in another week or two.
  • October 12, 2015 — I’m back from another few days photographing eastern Sierra fall color and a few other things, so it is time for another brief update on current conditions. This time  we visited areas between Bishop Canyon and the Virginia Creek and Conway Summit areas.  There was still excellent color in Bishop Canyon, at least in the portions we visited. The color had made it down to approximately the elevation of Aspendell, though the trees in that hamlet were still mostly green. Cardinal Resort, just above Aspendell, was very colorful as were slopes along South Fork past the village above Four Jeffrey Campground. Good aspen and cottonwood color was developing in McGee Canyon, and large and vividly colored aspen groves were seen above the trailhead. Good color is visible in many places from US 395 — near Hilton Creek, just south of Mammoth Lakes, and more. We also found good color in the Lake Mary area above Mammoth and even near Devils Postpile National Monument. Color on Parker Bench was good at dawn, but many trees have lost their leaves. Lee Vining Canyon is most certainly turning at this point, and its peak is perhaps not too far away. There is color in the Conway Summit and Virginia Lakes Road area, too. We did not personally visit Lundy Canyon, but several people I trust tell me that it was still largely green.
    Overall, I think that I’ve finally figured out the underlying pattern of this season’s color change and why it is so unusual. I believe that it is the result of two related climate-based causes that have opposite effects. The ongoing four-year drought has severely stressed trees (and other living things) in the Sierra. Drought stress probably explains the early color from some trees, the green-to-gone effect on others (where there is little or no colorful stage between green leaves and the leaves falling), and the unusual number of completely leafless groves seen very early in the season. On the other hand steadily increasing  Sierra temperatures (which most of agree are obviously linked to human-caused global climate change) have the effect of delaying the onset of fall color, thus explaining why there are still many trees that are completely green in areas where the colors might have changed in the past. The end result seems to be that things are “out of whack,” with color change not happening in the familiar sequences or at the familiar times.

    Basalt Columns, Lichen, Autumn Plants
    Autumn plants and lichen lend color to basalt columns, Devils Postpile National Monument
  • October 9, 2015 — From what I’m seeing, things are progressing much as I expected, though perhaps the higher elevation color is being sustained a bit longer than I expected. We were briefly in upper Bishop Canyon yesterday and the color is arriving around Aspendell — though someone the grove that the town is within is still very green. There is good color both above and below this. South Fork color is likewise progressing down the canyon. The large groves near the fake waterfall at South Fork are picking up a lot of intense color, though there are also still very green trees. We saw good color up near Lake Mary above Mammoth Lakes, and McGee Canyon aspens (and cottonwoods) are producing a lot of color right now. We’ll visit a few other spots today and I’ll likely post another report tomorrow. We haven’t been there yet, but I’m hearing rumors that June Lake Loop is still not peaking.
  • October 7, 2015 — This isn’t going to be as much a report as it will be a set of predictions and guesses about what’s going to happen with Sierra Nevada aspen color over the next few days. There is an element of the report it what follows, as my guesses and predictions are based on what I’ve seen on location during the past month or so, and as recently as just a few days ago. No guarantees, but you might find this interesting…
    What is finished? — Last week some of the very early colors at high elevation in places such as upper Bishop Canyon were somewhere between final peak and already done. I would not expect too much at these highest locations over the coming week. As always, there will be exceptions — a few small groves here and there that may be spectacular — but I think the best color is likely to be lower now. For example, North Lake was spectacular last Saturday and Sunday, so I expect it to be attractive but with less color this week. My visits to Monitor and Carson Passes (including Hope Valley) last week revealed many trees that had passed their autumn prime — so I probably wouldn’t expect to find a lot of color there.
    What is likely coming into prime condition? Last week I drove the June Lakes Loop once and visited parts of it a second time. While there were some very colorful trees, overall the area had not yet reached its peak. I think that this holds quite a bit of promise for the upcoming week and it wouldn’t surprise me to see peak color in the next few days. Conway Summit also still had a lot of green trees, so I’m expecting better this week — though I also think that this may not end up being a banner year for that location due to the drought. Deep, lower elevation east-side canyons hold a lot of promise, since they held a lot of green trees last week! I’m thinking of places like Lee Vining and Lundy Canyons and similar. Lower Bishop Canyon locations should also start to become colorful, and groves along US 395 will also provide some color. (Don’t overlook the beautiful cottonwood trees there!)
    Will this be the end of the show? — While a lot of the most obvious color will probably diminish after this week, if you look around you’ll still be able to find beautiful aspens in the eastern Sierra for a bit longer. Obviously the best bets will be at lower locations, and you may focus on a few beautiful groves and trees rather than looking for entire colorful hillsides.
  • October 4, 2015 — After investigating a few somewhat less traveled high locations yesterday, I headed south and again ended up in the Bishop Creek drainage, where I photographed yesterday (10/3) afternoon and evening and again this morning. There is a lot of good color in this general area of South, North, and Sabrina Lakes. Some of the groves that turned early this year have now lost many leaves, but there is still a lot of good color at elevations above Aspendell or so — saw good color appearing at Cardinal Resort on Saturday. Woke up this morning at my 8000′ camp to snow pellets and cloudy skies. Made it back up to North Lake, where I would say colors are at peak right now, with some slightly past. Photographed there in more light snow pellets at about 37 degrees. Took one last trip up the south fork and started photographing before the weather (heavier snow pellets plus wind) drove me off the mountain. On the south fork, color begins above the fake waterfall (unfortunately, a well known icon) and soon becomes quite good. I think this area is at peak now and will likely not be as good, at least up high, next week. However, lower trees in this area should be in good shape soon.
    Aspens and Rocky Cliff
    Aspens in full autumn color against a granite cliff in the eastern Sierra Nevada

    After lunch in Bishop I started home. It rained quite hard at times on the drive, and I could see that it was snowing above perhaps 9000′ or so. I arrived at Lee Vining to find Tioga Pass closed, so continued north on 395 to find that Sonora Pass was also closed. Eventually I was able to cross the range via Monitor and Carson Passes. Monitor has huge groves of aspens, especially near the top, but they have mostly passed their peak and many are bare or nearly so. Descending the far side of Monitor Pass the road passes though the devastation of this summer’s fire. I took a few aspen groves along the descent, though it spared others, and the bottom of the lower canyon was largely spared. The ascent to Carson Pass passes through Hope Valley, another location with many aspens. Again, though, most of the trees were past prime and some were completely bare. Even the trees around Sorenson’s, usually a good spot of color at this time of year, have already lost their leaves. On the west side of the pass there were some still-green trees just over the top, but soon I encountered more trees that were past prime.
    To generalize, the high areas that have color are pretty much peaking now, though there are still a lot of completely green trees at middle and lower elevations, and I believe that they are likely to produce good color over the next week or more.

  • October 2, 2015 — I got a late start today, but once again I’m back on the east side of the Sierra and looking for fall color. I came over Tioga Pass in the early afternoon and saw a dusting of snow on the highest peaks near the pass. There isn’t a lot of color along Tioga Road (that’s normal) but I began to see a bit more after crossing the pass, near and below the Ellery Lake area. The bottom of Lee Vining Canyon is still almost completely green. I made a quick run up toward Conway Summit and then up the road toward Virginia Lakes. There isn’t much going on at Conway yet, though up higher toward Virginia Lakes there some good examples of aspen color. From here I headed back through Lee Vining on 395 and then drove the June Lakes Loop from north to south. There is a bit more color, especially on the higher hillsides, but there is also still a lot of green — this area’s peak is perhaps at least a week away. More to come soon…
  • October 1, 2015 — I’m not in the Sierra at the moment, though I’ll be back there very soon. With that in mind I’ve been watching various sources to see what’s going on. The weather is worth watching this coming weekend. There is, according to a number of  sources, a reasonable probability of some precipitation on Sunday, perhaps later in the day and into the evening. It would be rain at lower elevations but possible snow at higher elevations close to and above 10,000′. Rain is a bit tougher to shoot in, but it can saturate the colors and create some lovely effects. Snow is more fun with aspens, and I love to photograph them when we are lucky enough to get autumn snow! One concern — some storms bring wind, and wind can blow down aspen leaves. If this happens, the green leaves usually remain on the trees and once they turn the color will be back. (One fun weather source for the Sierra is the Dweeb Report:
    Watching posts and shared photographs from various folks on social media, it looks like good color development continues. I just saw some nice photographs showing good color in the popular and beautiful Hope Valley area. (I might pass that way in the next few days.) I’m anticipating that much of the very highest elevation color may be at or past prime this weekend, with slightly lower areas coming into good form.

    Aspens, First Autumn Snow
    Aspens, First Autumn Snow
  • September 30, 2015 — There are some interesting developments in the weather forecasts that bear watching over the next few days. Today a slightly surprising little weather system dropped light rain on many Central/Northern California areas — not enough to make things very wet, but enough to lower temperatures and bring clouds to the area. In addition, there is now a pretty decent indication that there may be another weather system over the weekend that may bring colder temperatures and possibly some higher elevation snow to some parts of the Sierra. If this happens, and it isn’t quite certain yet, the most recent forecast that I saw suggests that there could be some possibility of snow below 10,000′ with rain elsewhere. It is possible that higher elevations could see a half foot of snow or more, and if some of this gets down below 10,000′ there could be some affects on trans-Sierra passes between late Saturday and Sunday. Aspen photographers will want to check this out before heading to the mountains!
  • September 27, 2015 — I just published an extensive summary of what I saw on my first eastern Sierra visit of the fall color season: Sierra Fall Color — Late September 2015. One photo from this visit, from the North Lake area…

    Autumn Aspens, Eastern Sierra Gully
    A “river” of aspen trees in autumn colors snakes its way up an eastern Sierra Nevada gully
  • September 26, 2015 — Today (and yesterday evening) I photographed in the Bishop Canyon area, mostly around North Lake. Anyone going up there right now will find plenty of color to photograph, especially at the higher elevations. (Above North Lake, Sabrina Lake, and South Lake there is a lot of color from small aspen trees growing at high elevations in rocky areas.) There was some very good color on the slopes above and just before Parcher’s Resort. Having said that, note that there are still a lot of green trees — for example there is almost no color at Aspendell yet — so the potential for good color in another week or more is still excellent.
    UPDATE: I’ll have more to say tomorrow, with a summary of what I saw on this quick visit and what I think it might mean for the rest of the Sierra fall color season. But for now… after leaving the Bishop area I decided to make a few reconnaissance detours on the way home, taking a look at places like McGee Creek (too early still), Lundy Canyon (a bit of color but a long ways to go before reaching its peak), Conway Summit (a bit of a complicated story — watch for my update), and Sonora Pass (some fine color at the higher elevations). A photograph from today near Sonora Pass…

    A row of autumn aspens in front of receding conifer forest and rising slopes near Sonora Pass on a Sierra Nevada fall evening
    A row of autumn aspens in front of receding conifer forest and rising slopes near Sonora Pass on a Sierra Nevada fall evening
  • September 25, 2015 — Today I drove across Tioga Pass and down the east side of the Sierra as far as Bishop. (So far… my day is not over yet!) Peak fall color is most definitely not here just yet, but I was surprised by how much color I did see. In quite a few places the very small aspens that grow at higher elevations like 9000′ or so have substantially turned. At lower elevations (for example, Lee Vining Canyon) virtually all the trees are still quite green, though with a few spots of early color here and there. Driving south on US 395 I saw quite a bit of high elevation color above the June Lake area. A photograph from today in Sabrina Basin…

    Autumn Haze, Sabrina Basin
    Aspen colors scattered across the rugged granite landscape of Sabrina Basin
  • September 24, 2015 — I was very briefly (2 hours!) in Yosemite Valley late today. This is typically not  the season for fall color there just yet — the usual peak in The Valley is roughly around Halloween at the very end of October and the beginning of November. However, somewhat to my surprise, there is some color there. I wouldn’t say it is close to enough to warrant a special trip to The Valley at this point, but if you are up there take look around. I saw a few dogwood trees with enough color that they could make interesting subjects in the right light. Some maples are starting to change, too, though many remain quite green. Cottonwoods aren’t changing color, though it seems that some have simply lost their leaves. My overall feeling is that we are seeing effects of the drought here more than an early fall color change and that those trees that are in better shape may well still change at the usual time.
  • September 21, 2015Michael Frye posted a report on early fall color today. He has been in the Bishop area and took advantage of this to visit several of the well known aspen locations. I’ll let you follow the link to his report for the details, but the short story is that while there is (as always!) some early color, the overall timing looks like it may be more or less the usual. If so — and Michael knows his aspens! — there may be a little more color this weekend, but the best color is perhaps another week or two ahead of us.  (For my part, I expect to make it to the east side again in a few days, and I’ll share a report after the visit.)
  • September 20, 2015 — If you are on Facebook… take a look at the Sierra Nevada: Photographs from the Range of Light group that I moderate. Members have started sharing fall2015 photographs there, and these can give you an idea of the progression of the color. (Note that group memberships have to be individually approved, and that this might take a few days.)
  • September 19, 2015 — I was in the Yosemite backcountry for a week in mid-September, and during that time I was keeping an eye out for aspen conditions. The usual signs of the autumn change were there: lots of red bilberry color in meadows, plenty of corn lily plants turning yellow/brown and falling over, colorful meadow grasses and more. Around September 9 I was in the Lee Vining Canyon to Tuolumne area, where almost all trees were still completely green, with the exception of a grove of very small trees near the top of the climb to Ellery Lake and Tioga Pass, where a few trees showed a bit of yellow.Around September 16 I came out of the backcountry and drove out over Tioga Pass Road. I checked out an “indicator” grove that I often watch, where a few aspens grow at the crossing of Yosemite Creek. Generally these trees were still completely green, though there were a very few yellow leaves on one or two trees. Dry meadow grasses from the area where we worked…

    Fallen Tree, Lake Shore Autumn Grasses
    An old fallen tree and lakeshore autumn grasses at a Sierra Nevada lake.
  • September 17, 2015 — This is a second hand report, since I have not inspected this area myself yet this season. Recently I saw a photograph of the Sabrina Lake area that was reportedly made on this rather early date, and I was surprised to see that it included some vivid aspen color. Before this I had only seen photographs of very small and very early patches of color, but this one looked more significant. (This would mark a very early date for such color in this location!)
  • Links to 2015 fall color articles. (Links to still-useful older articles are found lower on this page.)

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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G Dan Mitchell, photographer and visual opportunist. Posting daily photographs since 2005, along with articles, reviews, news, and ideas.

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