Who Says There's No Fall Color in California - Motorcycle & Car Trips

California: home of beaches, palm trees, sun-bleached mountains... and fall leaves? If you've never ventured further north or east of LA or San Diego, you might not think so. It's true that changing leaves are not a common sight in many parts of California, but the Sierra Nevada foothills are a major exception. We rounded up seven places that you can visit on one epic road trip, whether you're traveling on two wheels or four. Time your trip well and you'll see autumnal scenery that will make you think of the Golden State in a new way.

Fall Foliage California

Shenandoah Valley

It's one of the westernmost places in the foothills, so even in autumn, the weather tends to be warm and sunny. That makes the grapes grown there extra ripe, which in turn gives the local wines fully body and rich flavor. If you're hoping to combine leaf peeping and wine tasting, the Shenandoah Valley is one of the best places in all of California to do it.

Hope Valley

Autumn in Hope Valley looks a lot like autumn in the northeast. Nestled in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, the valley sits at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, just about a 30-minute drive from the southern edge of Lake Tahoe. You can see rolling hills, bubbling rivers and sweeping valley views as you cruise along Highway 88, and those views are spectacular in fall.

One thing that makes Hope Valley distinctive is its lack of development. Much of the area is untouched wilderness, with just a few campgrounds and the picturesque Sorensen's Resort breaking up the expanse.

Apple Hill

Apple Hill lives up to its name. The area is dotted with apple orchards and pumpkin farms, many of which have been owned by the same families for generations and are now Apple Hill institutions. Throughout the fall, visitors can sample apple varieties and baked goods, buy other local produce and sometimes pick their own apples and pumpkins.

Because of its reputation as a harvest haven, Apple Hill is a popular spot to visit during autumn. The changing colors surrounding the apple orchards make the trip worthwhile, though. Apple Hill is about a one-hour drive northeast of Sacramento.


Somerset is just a 20-minute drive south of Apple Hill, but it's decidedly more rural. Like Apple Hill, Somerset is located in El Dorado County, right at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

It's the perfect destination for people who are more interested in seeing fall colors than seeing other people because Somerset is undeniably rural. Most outsiders arriving in Somerset are there to either see the fall colors or visit one of the area's wineries. Ideally, you'll do both because some of the wineries are situated to maximize the incredible views from their tasting rooms.

Georgetown Divide

Georgetown, along with a few other nearby communities, makes up an area of California called The Divide. Georgetown itself is a quaint small town, the kind of place with a wide Main Street and a downtown area that only stretches for a few blocks.

Once a bustling gold mining town, Georgetown is now home to just a few thousand residents. It's nestled right against the slope of the mountains, so it's the perfect place from which to explore the foothills. Driving there from Sacramento takes a little more than an hour.

Grass Valley

If you prefer to see fall foliage by foot, the town of Grass Valley is the place to do it. Both Grass Valley and the nearby city of Nevada City have quaint downtowns and Victorian neighborhoods where you can wander beneath shady, colorful trees. The area is so well-known for its autumn colors that you can download a map showing exactly where in Grass Valley the colors are most vibrant.

The city is also situated near the beginning of the Yuba-Donner Scenic Byway, a 160-mile loop through the mountains that offers (of course) incredible views. Grass Valley also has a variety of wineries and shops. Both Grass Valley and Nevada City are located within a 90-minute drive of Sacramento.

Antelope Lake

It's further north than the other attractions on this list, but Antelope Lake is a sight worth seeing. Located in the Indian Valley area of Plumas County, Antelope Lake is situated near the eastern border of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Getting there from Grass Valley takes more than three hours (three and a half hours from Sacramento), but the drive is beautiful.

The lake is a popular camping spot, the perfect destination if you'd like to fall asleep under a canopy of red and gold leaves and wake up to the same sight. However, the camping season ends in mid-autumn, and the lake is remote -- so it's not the best choice for inexperienced campers. If camping's not an option, plan to pick up lunch in the nearby town of Taylorsville and picnic by the lake instead.

Photo credits: Rudy Meyers, Michael Breshears, Jeri Murphy, Chrysti Tovani, Linda Cord, Smith Vineyard, Jeff Luke Titcomb, Julie Gallaher