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The 7 Best Spots for Fall Color in California

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Gull Lake in Mono County on October 14, 2011 | Photo by Alicia Vennos

If you think California doesn't have seasons, then you haven't seen enough of California. Don't believe me? Then you should meet John Poimiroo -- or at least keep tabs on his blog, aptly named California Fall Color. There he passionately tracks the changes in leaves from around the state, from their summer green shades to their peak, when intense reds, yellows and oranges become brag-worthy of California's unspoken fall beauty (the blog's tagline, after all, is, "Dude, autumn happens here too").

"I'm blown away that people say there's no fall color in California," explained Poimiroo to me over the phone. But he understands why. With so much of the state's population living near the coast, where Mediterranean plants dominate, those who don't happen to travel to a leaf peeping area at the right time of year may never know what they're missing.

Yosemite Falls, Autumn | Photo by John Poimiroo

In 2005 when Poimiroo, a travel writer and communications consultant, was doing public relations for Mono County (one of the great spots for fall color) he realized no one was reporting on the state of color change in California. Only photographers were filing reports online, and those were tailored to fellow shooters anyway. Meanwhile on the east coast, It's practically a major part of the tourism industry. So with some funds from Mono and neighboring Inyo counties, he launched his blog with the promise of covering the whole state.

Poimiroo believes the east coast has nothing on California. "We literally have three month of fall color!" he said. "If you miss it on the east coast, it's gone."

You can thank the state's wide range of elevation for that. Poimiroo says fall color starts in August at about 10,000 feet and drops elevation by elevation at a rate of 500 to 1,000 feet a week.

Below are what he says are his favorite leaf peeping spots, which vary in elevation and time of peak, when colors are at their more intense.

Bishop Creek Canyon

Sabrina Camp on September 16th, 2010 | Photo © 2010, Jared Smith

Orange, reds and yellows reflect in the high elevation waters of Lake Sabrina and North and South Lakes in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains of Inyo County. With sawtooth peaks rising above 10,000 feet, aspens in tow, flanking the gray rock mass, the area is rife with dramatic poses of nature. When the upper areas peak, Poimiroo says there's still lots of color to be seen over several weeks as the creek drainage descends to 6,000 feet.

June Lake Loop

June Lake Loop, Hwy 158 on October 18th, 2001| Photo © Alicia Vennos

This 16-mile loop off US 395 in Mono County offers lots of opportunity to see colorful aspen at 7,000 feet elevation.

Shasta Cascade

Rubber rabbitbush, Lassen Peak on September 24th, 2011 | Photo: Amanda Sweeny, National Park Service

Poimiroo says fall color is not always about looking up; sometimes looking down has its rewards. This is very true for the Shasta Cascade region of state, which includes Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Plumas County

Indian Creek, Plumas National Forest on November 11th, 2010 | Photo by Richard McCutcheon

Of particular note in the Shasta Cascade region is Plumas County. Like the rest of the region, no big splashes of color like in the Eastern Sierra; instead the beauty is found below, often along washes.

Lake County

Gum and Mulberry trees in Lakeport on September 24th, 2009 | Photo by John Poimiroo

Poimiroo says don't forget about this county, which is pear country and home to "wonderful color."

Urban Settings

Fall color in Los Angeles taken on December 12th, 2010 | Photo by Ryan Basilio (thetalesend on Flickr) via a Creative Commons License

The urban forest gets fall color, too, because people have planted plenty of non-natives like the Chinese Pistache -- "these are trees that simply look like they are on fire," says Poimiroo. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and the Arboretum in Los Angeles County are good spots. Unfortunately for L.A., much of the fall color goes unnoticed because the annual Santa Ana winds knock leaves down before peak. Due to low winds, 2010 was a notable year for color in the city.


Photos taken in Napa Valley | Photos by John Poimiroo

One thing California has that most states don't are vineyards. As Poimiroo said in one blog post headline, "Napa County Color Is Aging Like A Fine Wine." Whether you're in Napa, Santa Barbara or Temecula, make sure to check the vines for some intense colors, especially ruby reds.

Poimiroo's blog can be found at californiafallcolor.com

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