Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras

Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras
Fall in California is often an exercise in frustration: the summer temperatures take too long to disappear, and the delights associated with the season don’t generally show up until around Thanksgiving. Those interested in leaf-peeping do have some choices, however: a trip to the Mammoth Lakes region during the autumn can be a time of visual delight.

The Mammoth Lakes area is just a five hour drive from the Los Angeles area. Highway 395 routes itself on the back side of the mountains, so there is less of a chance of encountering elevation weather problems. The route from San Francisco includes a drive over Tioga Pass, which gets very snowy very quickly; consider flying into Reno, renting a car, and driving down 395.

Once in town, stop at the Welcome Center in the hamlet of Mammoth Lakes and pick up the Fall Colors Pocket Guide, which lists six different spots around the area where fall color can be seen. The pamphlet is very simple, giving a brief listing of each spot and suggesting possibilities for hiking and fishing once the car is parked. If one is willing to get out of the car and move around, the hiking provides amazing, sometimes vertiginous views; clean, fresh air, and connection with the wilderness – a wonderful change from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Mammoth Mountain Gondola, one of Mammoth's most popular attractions, is open year-round. The ride showcases the beautiful mountain scenery and fall colors, and allows a visitor to experience the high country without hiking uphill (or hiking at all, if one wants to ride both ways.) At the top, there is a cafe and an interpretive center.

Mountain bikers will not be left out of the experience. The Mammoth Rock, Lower Rock Creek, and Yost Meadow trails all offer variations of aspen, cottonwood, and alder tree leaves; the Mammoth Rock trail is also surrounded with deciduous shrubs that also change colors when the temperatures drop. Bikers can also ride at the Mammoth Bike Park, which requires purchasing a pass that will grant access to shuttles and chairlifts. For any of these areas, the trails are less crowded than in the summer, and the weather ranges from invigorating mornings and evenings to warm afternoons.

Perhaps it’s time to try something different? Red's Meadow Pack Station and Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit both offer guided horseback trips on trails throughout the area. In September, it’s possible to participate in a multi-day trip taking the horses from the high country to their winter quarters, thus offering the experience of both the fall colors and horseback adventure. These special trips are only available until the first snowfall or the end of September, so calling ahead to ensure availability is essential.

Adventurous souls might also want to take to the skies to “leaf peep.” SkyTime Helicopter Tours offers year-round flights over the area, ranging from ten minutes to an hour. The company uses special helicopters that are optimized for high altitude flying, and has a variety of specific itineraries from which to choose.

Whether one views the changing fall colors from the air, from the back of a horse, on foot, or in the comfort of one’s own car, the show in the Eastern Sierras is worth the trip. Take lots of pictures to impress the folks back home!

Disclaimer: When visiting Mammoth Lakes, I have sight seen on foot and by car only. I paid for my gondola ride with my own money. I am not affiliated with any of the companies listed in this article.

California Welcome Center, 2510 Main Street, Mammoth Lakes, California
(888)466-2666

Mammoth Mountain Gondola, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, 10001 Minaret Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA (800) 626-6684

Red’s Meadow Pack Station, P.P. Box 395, Mammoth Lakes, Ca (760)-934-2345

Mammoth Lakes Pack Outfit, 3244 Lake Mary Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA (888) 475-8747

SkyTime Helicopter Tours, 1200 Airport Road, Mammoth Lakes, (321) 247-8687




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Content copyright © 2019 by Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. . All rights reserved.
This content was written by Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. . If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. for details.