When and where to go in the Eastern Sierra

By: Jessica Bay
View of mountain lake surrounded by trees with vibrant red, orange and yellow leaves
Fall color in the the Eastern Sierra. Photo by Jennifer Chen.

Summers are glorious for dogs in the Eastern Sierra, while winters are devoted to snow sports. Still, the best time of year, especially if you’re into photography, is late September into mid-October. That’s prime time for what is perhaps California’s top fall foliage color show. Venture down a side road, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by granite peaks, rushing streams and brilliant aspens, willows, cottonwoods and other trees and shrubs in their fall dress.

Leaf-peepers should remember that elevation is key here; trees at lower altitudes change earlier than those high up in the mountains. See Mammoth Lakes Eastern Sierra fall color guide here, and check in with Californiafallcolor.com for an up-to-the-minute low-down on what’s changing, when and where.

Where to start the journey? You need to get over the Sierra crest one way or another, and there are various ways to do so. To enjoy the entire 150 miles of the scenic byway, take Highway 50 over the state line to its intersection with 395 at Topaz, Nevada. Or, take Interstate 80 to Carson City and head south.

Once on 395, you’ll dip back into California and aim for Bridgeport. By now, you must be hungry, no? As you pass through Walker, keep an eye out and pause for lunch at the regionally famous Walker Burger or Mountain View BBQ (both with dog-friendly outdoor seating). Stop, too, at 3 Flags Trading Post, a Native American gift shop carrying Indian baskets, moccasins, rugs, pottery and such.