Ah, autumn, arguably the best season on the Eastside. The tourist crowds have diminished, the air has a bite to it, and the sky is an indescribable cool blue, set off by fiery swaths of golden quaking aspens. The aspens on the Eastside alone are worth a trip in late September-early October. It’s hard to always know when to catch them—one very cold spell combined with a wind event can knock the delicate leaves from their trees basically overnight.
Your best bet is to plan your trip for the very end of September, when nights should be cold enough to trigger the change in colors, but the leaves haven’t been weakened by frost to the point of detaching. If you can fly by the seat of your pants, check the temps and book your trip once you start seeing Instagram photos of the fall colors—it’s not too difficult to get last-minute lodging once the “shoulder season” (after the end of the major tourist season) has begun, and restaurants and hotels are happy to have the business. That’s another bonus to visiting the Eastside in the fall—the service, attitudes, and roads are all very much improved from the dog days of August.
Spectacular places to see fall color include:
Convict Lake, where the aspens and cottonwoods on the west side of the lake explode in gold along a beautiful boardwalk. This is also a gorgeous, relatively short hike and great for younger children.
All of the June Lake Loop, but particularly Silver Lake, where you can view swaths of golden trees below the striking Carson Peak.
Lundy Canyon, located north of Lee Vining, is a bit of a drive in, but a trail winds through the trees and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a beaver.
Many of the Eastside campgrounds are nestled in aspen groves, particularly June Lake Campground. Just remember that the nights are a lot colder (hence the color change), so pack accordingly.
Check out https://www.monocounty.org/things-to-do/fall-colors/ for some more tips on leaf peeping.
Sarah Rea is a freelance dirtbag-turned-journalist who has been living in the Sierra on and off for twenty years, with eight spent in Yosemite National Park and five in Mammoth Lakes. She likes dogs, rocks, good food and jumping into cold water.