Aspen trees from Conway Summit Highway 395. Photo by Terry Halvorson

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Garden Guru: Trees begin annual fall color show

By From page A3 | October 11, 2017

Fall has always been one of my favorite times of the year. One reason is the season change signaled by the color displays our trees put on before they drop their leaves.

There are some notable local locations worth a mention. The area around Murray Homestead Park in the Highland View neighborhood has a large number of Trident maples that turn a glorious red at this time of the year. The Chinese pistache trees around El Dorado Hills and all along the Highway 50 corridor to Placerville also put on quite a show of orange and red hues. The Apple Hill area is ablaze with color now and has the added bonus of frequent opportunities to indulge in local delicacies. The foothill vineyards are also a good place to search out fall color and imbibe in a favorite local vintage.

These are all fine destinations but when I think of fall color in California my mind immediately goes to the aspen trees of the Sierra. The way their leaves flutter in the wind, the contrast of the brilliant golden leaves with their white bark against a backdrop of an autumn blue sky. Perhaps it is the grandiose settings where they grow with Sierra peaks looming all around them. Here are few of my favorite areas to see our aspens in all their glory.

Taylor Creek Visitor Center in South Lake Tahoe
There are plenty of aspen trees here with a backdrop of Lake Tahoe on one side and Mt. Tallac on the other. There is great parking and user-friendly trails accessible to all. There is the added bonus of seeing the Kokanee salmon run in Taylor Creek, which also attracts the local osprey and an occasional bald eagle. Nearby Fallen Leaf Lake has some fine groves as well.

Hope Valley
The drive over Luther Pass from Lake Tahoe to Hope Valley offers perhaps the best chance to see great aspen color close to home. The area between Sorenson’s Resort all the way to Carson Pass along Highway 88 offers great aspen color displays. A great driving loop can be made by returning to El Dorado Hills via the Mormon Emigrant Trail reconnecting with Highway 50 in Pollock Pines.

Monitor and Ebbetts passes
These remote mountain outposts have fine aspen groves and are nearly deserted at this time of year. The narrow winding roads force everyone to slow down and many turnouts invite you to pull over and enjoy the views. To get to this area you will drive through Markleeville, which offers dining opportunities. A perfect way to end the day would be a visit to the nearby Grover Hot Springs state park to take a dip in the mineral hot springs there.

Spooner Lake at Lake Tahoe
This area is known for its mountain biking trails but in the fall the aspens are the main attraction. There is trailhead parking and a 5-mile round trip hike to Marlette Lake for the more adventurous.

The Highway 395 corridor
The very best aspen groves grow in the upper canyons along the eastern Sierra. Between Tahoe and Bishop, virtually every road heading west off 395 will have aspens. Some of the finest groves going north to south are: Conway Summit located along a turnout right on Highway 395, Lundy Lake, Highway 120 to Tioga Pass, June Lake Loop, Mammoth Lakes and Convict Lake. Possibly the finest aspen viewing area of all is the area above Bishop. North Lake, South Lake and Lake Sabrina are amazing at this time of the year.

If you want to see Sierra fall color the time to go is now. Don’t be discouraged if at first it appears you are too early or too late. Sometimes all it takes is to go to a higher or lower elevation and there is never a bad day when you are in the Sierra. Pack a lunch and hit the road or trail.

Terry Halvorson is a certified arborist and nature enthusiast.

Terry Halvorson

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