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Fall colors in Eastern Sierra


Small scene of floating leaves on the water showing in fall colors

Are you looking for the most vibrant hues of autumn in the Eastern Sierra? You've come to the right place. Within this article, I share with you the highlights of my week-long chase for fall colors along Highway 395. Here you will find information about locations and sample images to help you plan your upcoming fall foliage adventure.


I should begin by noting that the lakes and creeks are situated at diverse altitudes, which naturally means that the peak of foliage color will vary, commencing from mid-September and continuing through the end of October. Another element influencing the vibrancy of these colors is the annual amount of rainfall, and it's worth mentioning that this year, the region received an abundant supply.


Note: Images are low resolution to optimize the browsing experience. Click to enlarge image.


Yosemite

Small scene of fall colors on a rocky wall in Yosemite National Park

My journey started on October 11th, I drove through Yosemite to get to the highway 395. Peak in Yosemite valley usually arrives late October into early November so there were no noteworthy pops of color yet although I saw many bare trees and brownish ferns. Moreover, a controlled burn was underway in the valley filling the air with smoke.

However, as I continued my drive on Tioga rd towards 395, I stumbled upon pockets of colors coming from the granite walls along the roadside (for more images of this park, visit my National Parks Gallery.)


Lee Vining Creek

Vibrant Fall colors at Lee Vining Creek

Around mid-morning, still on Tioga rd, my right eye caught sight of the brilliant yellows and oranges adorning the creek—hurray for the arrival of fall colors! There were scenic viewpoints conveniently located along the roadside, allowing you to indulge in the breathtaking view. For those seeking a closer encounter, there's a dirt road running parallel to Highway 120. Along this path, you can park and take a leisure walk among the colorful aspen trees.

A couple of miles before the intersection with 395, the Ranger Station also had so many amazing colors including some reds.


I had read somewhere that there was an area of fall interest along Highway 120 heading east, past Mono Lake. I drove approximately 15 miles into the Inyo National Forest without catching sight of any signs of yellows or oranges. Did I misread? Did I miss it? anyways I decided to turn back and overnight near Mono Lake.


On a related note, if you haven't yet had the chance to visit Mono Lake, I strongly recommend you seize the opportunity, particularly at sunrise. The image you see here was captured on an early summer morning.

Mono Lake with snowed caps of the Eastern Sierra in the background during blue hour early summer

June Lake Loop


Starting early morning, I took the June Lake Loop from the northern entrance. This scenic drive, which includes three stunning lakes, offers a panoramic view of Grant Lake nestled against the backdrop of the mountains, punctuated by sporadic bursts of vibrant colors.


Next is Silver Lake. The sun was beginning to cast its golden glow, gently warming the surroundings, while ethereal vapors covered the little boats in mist, creating a truly enchanting scene. Along the lake's edges, clusters of aspen trees provided a contrast with the evergreen backdrop.


Situated amidst a residential area, June Lake's most appealing view can be found at the Marina from where you can appreciate the vibrancy of the fall colors against the impressive mountain covered with green pines.


Mammoth Lakes


Although there were still traces of autumn colors, they had already peaked. Some were relishing the fishing opportunities by the lakes, and the weather was ideal for hiking and biking. However, the vibrant hues were not quite there anymore.


The drive along Highway 395 continued to offer stunning scenery, with the creeks showcasing their own array of colors. Particularly noteworthy was the McGee Creek, which was beginning to exhibit splendid autumn shades. I couldn't resist the urge to stop for a few shots of the trees and horses in this picturesque setting.

McGee Creek autumn scene with horses gazing

Bishop Area


The entire town appeared to burst with a vibrant kaleidoscope of colors. As I drove by parks and residential areas, I was treated to an unending procession of golden yellows, fiery reds, and rich oranges. It came as no surprise that this area attracted the most traffic and crowds.


With dusk approaching, I veered onto Route 168 and, within a few short miles of the town, I found a secluded disperse camping area with great reception, perfect to check email and indulge in a delicious dinner under the stars. It turned out to be a great choice. When I woke up the next morning, I was greeted by a breathtaking view of mountains.

Autumn sunrise in Bishop, looking at the mountains of the Eastern Sierra

Intake Two Lake
Intake Two Lake with reflections of the trees and the mountains during foliage season

While traveling north on Route 168, I noticed a small lake on my left—a delightful surprise. The array of colors was a compelling reason to stop. Yet, what truly struck me was the stunning vista of the contrasting colors and the mountains mirrored in the quiet waters.


On the opposite shore of the lake, a line of aspen trees still displayed their vibrant autumn hues, attracting a group of enthusiastic photographers who were busy capturing the essence of the season. There were also those aiming to capture their evening meal, adding to the lively scene.


North Lake


This segment of the journey was an absolute highlight for me. The lake was nothing short of breathtaking, and the entire route leading to it was exceptionally picturesque. These images give you just a glimpse.

Off 168, the dirt road leading to the lake is well-maintained, albeit somewhat narrow. On the return journey, you'll be treated to incredible vistas of the creek winding its way towards the mountains. There are limited opportunities to pull over, but you can take a short walk to enjoy a panoramic view.

Sabrina Lake


A few miles further along Route 168 going north lies Sabrina Lake. The road was adorned with a profusion of colors! I captured these scenes in the early morning both easily available within a few steps of the parking area.

South Lake


This particular road was bustling with color ... and traffic. It runs alongside the creek, which was displaying its peak colors. From the road you can see Misty Falls framed by colorful aspens.


The lake itself was undeniably stunning, but the vibrancy of the fall foliage had begun to wane. The hiking trail encircling the lake proved quite popular, with the parking lot nearly at capacity around midday. However, what I found even more captivating was the nearby marsh. Several individuals waded into the water for fly fishing, adding an extra layer of interest and entertainment to the scene.

Big Pine Creek


I had heard numerous praises about this destination, and it didn't take me long to grasp why it's held in such high regard. This is a place not to be rushed through; the journey commences in Big Pine town and ends at the Glacier Point Campground.


The creek running with the road still bore a multitude of vibrant yellow hues. However, upon reaching the road's end, all I encountered were brown leaves and bare branches. A lodge guest mentioned that the landscape had been lush and green in late September, suggesting that the peak of fall had arrived rapidly, catching me a bit late in mid-October. This location is undeniably a must-visit when planned earlier in the season.


The trail from here offers a spectacular view of the Palisade Glacier, the southernmost permanent glacier in North America.

Rock Creek Lake


Here too, the road ran alongside the creek, adorned with abundant but fading patches of yellow. With every gain in elevation, the colors manifested sporadically amid the pines. The drive to the lake was pleasant and not a lot of traffic. The trail encircling the lake was well-maintained, essentially serving as a road to the now-closed campground. As reflected in these images, this area was predominantly populated by pine trees.

Convict Lake


Convict Lake boasts year-round beauty and is conveniently accessible within a few miles of Highway 395. A trail meanders around the lake's perimeter though most people stay closer to the parking area.

I observed that the vibrant colors predominantly encircled the lake, offering several opportunities for capturing portraits with the lake and mountains as a backdrop. However, during my visit, I noticed the colors were beginning to diminish, with more browns dominating the scenery.

View of Convict Lake framed by bushes in yellow and orange

 

And that is a wrap, a whirlwind journey from one stunning lake to another, all in search of the captivating fall colors that grace the Eastern Sierra. On my way back I drove through Yosemite again though the controlled burning was still going on.


I'd like to point out that, after completing my first draft, I used ChatGPT (and artificial intelligence tool) to refine the narrative with improved grammar and vocabulary. I'm curious to know, as you read through, how you found the experience? I'd also like to know if this blog has inspired you to plan a visit to this beautiful area, and/or which is your favorite lakes. Use the comments section below.


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