Growing up in Texas and spending most of my adult life in places that do not experience fall, I had had enough and wanted to find some cooler air and pretty fall foliage in Southern California! My nature loving sidekick was game as he has been searching for fallen leaves representing all the colors of fall. So off we went.
You may not think of Southern California as a place to see fall colors, and you are right! To really experience it, we had to drive several hours away. After doing our diligent research, the closest place to Los Angeles to see the true turning of the seasons from hot summer days to brisk cool mornings is in the Eastern Sierras, specifically around Bishop, California.
Where to Find Fall Foliage in Southern California
Heading out on a Highway 395 road trip is one of our favorite things to do in California. This route is filled with amazing, unique and beautiful places to explore. One of the best destinations along this route is of course Bishop California, especially during fall when the leaves are changing colors and the scenery is even more spectacular as it moves from greens to reds to yellows.
Fall Colors in Bishop California
Apparently finding fall colors in California is totally a thing. Months in advance rooms book up for the few weeks between mid-September and mid-October. During that short period of time, roads are filled with visitors from all over the state and even some from as far away as Asia, camera’s in hand, ready to see the shift from green to red to orange to yellow on those tiny aspen leaves.
The entire area of the Eastern Sierra starting in Bishop all the way up to the Sonora Pass provides great escapes into wilderness to experience and see the changing of colors for yourself. There are Fall Color Guides available in the Eastern Sierras and Instagram is awash with fall foliage, users sharing their latest finds, providing information on where the best colors are each day.
For those of us in Southern California, it’s a long drive to many of these places. This is why finding fall colors in Bishop is the perfect destination. Bishop is the most southern point where you can get a good view of the colors without having to drive for an eternity! It makes a good place to start your explorations from or to use as a base.
Where to See Fall Colors in Bishop
Outside of Bishop there are plenty of places within an easy drive, depending on where you base yourself. From Bishop, you can head out to Buttermilk Country which is along the way to the higher canyons off Highway 168. There are plenty of unpaved roads zigzagging through the countryside with clusters of aspens around the streams.
Continuing on into the higher elevations takes you to Bishop Creek. This is where we spent most of our time seeking out the beautiful colors. And we didn’t have to look very hard to find what we were looking for! I would say head all the way up to Lake Sabrina where the road dead ends at the boat landing area and dam, but I know you will be just like me and not be able to pass by Intake 2 camp ground and lake without stopping. From here, you can spend some time walking around the small lake taking gorgeous photos of the reflections, you can take a small hike by the stream behind the camp ground and just relax watching the fisherman on the lake.
Once you have had your fill here, continue on the road heading to Lake Sabrina. Find a parking spot to base yourself here for a while. You can explore up and down the main road, taking detours along the creek and even doing a short hike up into the mountains behind the dam. It’s a beautiful area. Go early to avoid the crowds and for the best morning light.
On your way back down the main road, take the turn off to North Lake up a tiny partial dirt road up into the mountains for phenomenal views over the mountains below. There are several areas to explore here at North Lake, or just head back down the way you came.
Following the main road back down, our next detour took us to South Lake. This area was beautiful, with the white rocky mountains looking like snowy peaks above. This is also the place to ride horses and have a huge breakfast brunch on Sunday.
If you have missed the fall leaves changing in Bishop, don’t fret. Bishop, Inyo County and southern Mono County turn first with Mammoth Lakes, June Lake and the northern Mono County turning by mid-October, which means just a little further drive up into the mountains!
Where to Stay for Fall Colors in Bishop
Visitors can stay in the cute little town of Bishop, working their way into the mountains beyond each day to hike among the falling leaves at Bishop Creek or for those wishing to truly immerse themselves, numerous campgrounds exist in the wilds of nature right alongside several beautiful lakes surrounded by colorful trees as well as in a couple of resorts.
The one I would choose for pure beauty is Intake Lake, however it is right off the main road. For a little more solitude, there is an amazing campground near North Lake that will offer complete solitude from the world (i.e absolutely no phone service!). But that is not all of them, campgrounds are littered throughout the mountains, so you will be sure to find something to your liking.
If your main goal is to seek solace in nature, but with some creature comforts, head into the mountains for a stay at Bishop Creek Lodge, Parchers Resort & Lodge or Cardinal Village Resort. If you were slow to reserve like we were, there are plenty of motels and hotels in Bishop that are within easy reach of the best viewings of fall colors.
While passing through Bishop, make sure to stop at the famous Dutch bakery, Erick Shats Bakery, for delicious chili cheese bread that is literally out of this world! Lines are long, but the food is great and you will not regret getting some of their famous bread.
Since nature is in charge, you never know what you will see while searching for fall colors in Bishop, but you can be assured you will have your breath taken away by the alluring colors of nature, no matter where they are in the transition. If you need to drive further up into the mountains, head to Tom’s Place, down by Rock Creek Road, Lake Crowley, McGee Creek and Convict Lake or even further to Mammoth, June Lake and Lee Vining for stunning shows of color.
Do you have a favorite area for checking out the fall colors? Share it with us in the comments below!
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