Photos: Fall Color Moving Fast in Bishop Creek Canyon

Peaking color across from Sabrina Campground. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

Boy, things are moving fast. Based on various reports last Friday, I wrote about a section of the Eastern Sierra nearing peak color. By Saturday, I was in Bishop Creek Canyon to check things out myself and the color was already expanding. Some notes:

Verifying the Reports

Fall color seen from near the Tyee Lakes trailhead. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

The earliest near-peak conditions were reported at Sabrina Campground and Surveyors Meadow near Willow Campground, prompting "Go Now" alerts from John Poimiroo at California Fall Color. Both were spot on, but there's more to come.

Over on South Lake Road, Surveyor's Meadow and the steep trail to Tyee Lakes is a really nice hike among yellow-leafed aspens. Look for the southside pull-off between Table Mountain and Willow campgrounds; you'll see a wood pedestrian bridge.

At Sabrina Campground, reds and oranges were peaking on the south side of Highway 168, but the actual campground across the street had yet to pop. I'd expect that to happen over the next couple of weeks. For those lucky enough to camp there (walk-in, $21/night), how nice would it be to wake up surrounded by color?

Lake Sabrina

Hints of color above Lake Sabrina. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

Although Lake Sabrina is mostly drained by the utilities, there's a nice blend of color above the lake's north side. Along the trail that follows Sabrina's south shore, you're hike will be filled with yellows contrasted against granite boulders. Check out a couple of my vines from my sunrise hike Sunday morning:

To get there, the trailhead is found between the single-lane bridge and the main parking lot at Lake Sabrina. There are only a handful of parking spaces direclty next to the trailhead, so you might have to take the short walk down from the parking lot.

North Lake

Oranges peaking along North Lake Road. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

Head up to North Lake and you'll find sections along the road that are really starting to show some robust oranges, especially in the eponymous day use parking area. There's still, however, lots of aspen yet to turn. To visit, to North Lake Road from Highway 168 near Sabrina Campground.

South Lake

South Lake Road near South Lake. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

In general, color is starting to burst in a variety of spots along all of South Lake Road. I found myself stopping to take photos each mile. At the end, where you find South Lake -- also drained -- there's plenty of parking, some good color waiting to peak, and a trailhead that gives you two choices: a short trail down the hill to Parcher's Resort or the western route into the high country where it's too high for fall color, but not for plenty of beauty views at a variety of alpine lakes as you head to Bishop Peak, Dusy Basin, and eventually the John Muir and Pacific Crest trails.


Granite boulders and aspens turning lime green and yellow near Willow Campground. | Photo: Zach Behrens/KCET

It's my best guess that color throughout Bishop Creek Canyon will keep up over at least the next two weeks. While some areas may peak and die, others will be just starting to change color.

That's the nature of fall color. Elevation and sunlight, which becomes more scarce as the season shifts toward winter, are big factors. In a place like Bishop Creek Canyon, where you're sometimes surrounded by steep walls of granite, there's no promise of all-day sun. For example, I did a sunrise hike, but its rays did not hit my skin until 9:25 a.m.

Getting There

Touring fall color in this area doesn't require much more than driving (or cycling if you can handle the elevation gain of some 5,000 feet), but I would encourage some hiking (all of it is dog friendly, too). From U.S. 395 in Bishop, go west on State Route 168 for about 15 miles until you hit South Lake Road.

  • For Lake Sabrina, continue on the Highway 168 for another three or so miles until you reach the dead end.
  • For North Lake, continue on Highway 168. At about three miles, there will be a turnoff for North Lake Road.
  • For South Lake, turn left onto South Lake Road and go for about seven miles.

There are 12 campgrounds in Bishop Creek Canyon, most which are first come, first serve for $21. And for RVs, there's Creekside RV Park. Additionally, there are two resorts: Parchers (managed by color spotter Jared Smith) and Bishop Creek Lodge.

Don't Miss: The 7 Best Spots for Fall Color in California

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About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCET's Director of News, Region and State, working on digital and on-air news products that relate to Southern California and beyond.
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