Best Fall Foliage Spots: Discovering Southern California's Autumnal Beauty
Southern California may not have the traditional fall foliage of regions further north, but there are several destinations-within a two-hour drive-where you can witness the beauty of autumn
October 18, 2023
As the warm embrace of summer transforms into the crisp chill of fall, nature unveils its vibrant masterpiece: the spectacular display of autumn foliage. The transition from green to fiery reds, oranges, and yellows paints landscapes in an exquisite palette, enticing travelers to embark on a leaf-peeping adventure. If you're based in Southern California or seeking a nearby autumn escape, fret not, for the West Coast, too, boasts breathtaking spots for witnessing fall foliage. We'll also traverse the country to discover other enchanting destinations that just might be on your bucket list. Get your cameras ready for the Best Fall Foliage Spots!
Southern California may not have the traditional fall foliage of regions further north, but there are several destinations-within a two-hour drive-where you can witness the beauty of autumn:=
Big Bear Lake, California
Big Bear Lake is a popular fall destination in the San Bernardino Mountains. The area is surrounded by pine, oak, and maple trees that come alive with vibrant hues during autumn. Take a scenic drive along Highway 38 to witness the stunning fall colors or explore hiking trails like the Pine Knot Trail for a more immersive experience.
Oak Glen, California
Oak Glen, situated about an hour from Claremont, is renowned for its apple orchards and fall festivities. The orchards are surrounded by trees that showcase beautiful autumn colors. Visit Riley's Farm or Los Rios Rancho for apple picking and delightful fall-themed activities.
In Los Angeles County, Claremont offers a taste of autumn with its tree-lined streets and parks. The city is known for its beautiful tree varieties, including liquidambars and sycamores, which transition to warm tones of red and gold during the fall season. Stroll through the Claremont Colleges campuses or visit Memorial Park to witness the changing colors of fall.
Angeles National Forest, California
The Angeles National Forest provides a variety of hiking trails where you can witness the changing colors of fall. Trails like the Bridge to Nowhere hike, and the Mount Baden-Powell Trail offer stunning vistas of the forest adorned in fall foliage.
Idyllwild, nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains, offers a picturesque fall setting. The mountain town is adorned with trees like black oak and bigleaf maple, transforming into a vibrant display of reds, yellows, and oranges. Explore the hiking trails in San Jacinto State Park for breathtaking views of the fall foliage.
Lake Arrowhead, California
Lake Arrowhead, surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, is a scenic spot to experience the changing colors of fall. The area boasts a mix of pine, cedar, and oak trees, adding a beautiful touch of autumn. Hike the Heart Rock Trail for glimpses of the vibrant fall foliage.
Lake Gregory, California
Lake Gregory, located in the San Bernardino Mountains, is surrounded by a mix of pine, cedar, and oak trees, creating a beautiful fall scene. Take a scenic hike around the lake or rent a kayak to enjoy the autumnal hues reflected in the tranquil waters.
Here are some prime fall foliage spots to witness nature's seasonal transformation-with a bit of a further drive, under three hours-that offer a blend of nature's autumnal hues and a chance to witness the changing seasons:
Julian, known for its delicious apple pies, also offers a splendid fall experience. The town is surrounded by oak and pine trees that burst into vibrant colors during fall. Enjoy the Julian Apple Harvest, go apple picking, and explore the nearby Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve for stunning fall views.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, California
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains, is a haven for fall foliage. The park is home to giant oak and maple trees that transform into a breathtaking display of colors. Explore the numerous hiking trails for an up-close encounter with the vibrant autumn landscape.
Temecula unveils its splendor during the fall season. The region boasts a diverse array of trees, including oak and sycamore, which undergo a stunning transformation, painting the landscape with vivid hues of red, gold, and orange. Temecula is a true delight, offering many hiking trails that provide an up-close and personal encounter with the breathtaking autumnal landscape. For a truly magical experience, take to the skies on a hot air balloon ride, allowing you to witness the fall foliage from an awe-inspiring and unique perspective.
Santa Ynez Valley, California
The Santa Ynez Valley, known for its wineries and vineyards, also offers glimpses of fall colors. While grapevines don't change colors like deciduous trees, the valley is dotted with trees like sycamores and cottonwoods that turn vibrant shades during the fall. Combine wine tasting with a scenic drive to fully appreciate the autumn scenery.
While Southern California offers a unique autumn experience, there's an unmatched allure in the traditional fall foliage of the Eastern United States. Here are three extraordinary destinations that paint an idyllic autumn picture:
The Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an autumn paradise known for its vibrant foliage. From mid-September to early November, the park is transformed into a breathtaking red, orange, and gold canvas. Capture the fall spectacle from Clingmans Dome-it's FREE-the highest point in the park, with views of seven states and a panoramic view of the fall foliage.
Stowe, Vermont, is a postcard-perfect fall destination. The town exudes a quaint charm, with its streets lined by trees ablaze with autumnal hues. Take the Stowe Mountain Road for a scenic drive amidst a sea of fiery colors. Balloon rides are also popular to capture the region's beauty from above.
As the seasons transition and the days shorten, the city transforms into a vibrant canvas of warm, autumnal colors. Montreal's diverse tree population bursts into vibrant fall hues from late September to mid-October. If you're planning a visit soon, you're in luck because the city is just beginning to experience the fall foliage season-we were just there this week, and there is still time to see the colors change.
Plan to see the iconic sugar maples showcasing brilliant reds and other trees contributing shades of gold and copper. Mount Royal Park offers splendid panoramic views of the colorful city, while the Botanical Gardens, Lachine Canal, and Parc Jean-Drapeau provide picturesque settings to admire the seasonal transformation. Beyond the city, the Laurentian Mountains and Mont Tremblant offer even more extensive displays of fall foliage, making Montreal and its surroundings a haven for leaf-peeping and outdoor adventures during the autumn months. You can view my stories on my Instagram @chaninvictor in real-time, so give me a Follow if you want to stay up-to-date on Travel Trends.
Tips for Capturing the Beauty of Autumn Through Photography
While exploring these fall foliage spots, make sure to capture the beauty of autumn through your lens. Here are some photography tips to enhance your fall photography experience:
Golden Hour Magic:
Capture the autumn foliage during the golden hour-shortly after sunrise or before sunset-for warm, soft lighting that enhances the colors and textures of the leaves.
Play with Perspectives:
Experiment with different angles and compositions. Get up close to capture intricate details or step back for sweeping shots of the landscape.
Incorporate reflections from lakes, rivers, or even puddles to add depth and dimension to your photographs.
Frame Your Shot:
Use natural elements like branches or archways to frame your subject, drawing attention to the beauty of fall.
Adjust White Balance:
Customize your camera's white balance settings to complement the warm hues of autumn, enhancing the overall mood of your photos.
With these tips, you'll be able to capture the magic of fall in Southern California and beyond. Grab your camera, hit the road, and let the autumn adventures unfold through your lens. Happy leaf-peeping!
Chanin Victor, the Travel and Lifestyle Editor at the Santa Monica Observer, presents her column "Travel Trends" bi-weekly in the print edition, offering readers a glimpse into the ever-evolving world of travel. Become a Subscriber Today! Beyond her role at the Observer, Chanin is a versatile freelance travel journalist, crafting engaging narratives that transport readers to intriguing destinations. In her 9-5 role, she serves as a creative director, dedicating her expertise to promoting tourism destinations across Southern California, blending her passion for storytelling with her professional pursuits. Based in Los Angeles with her family, Chanin seizes every opportunity to embark on new adventures. Discover her travels and insights at chaninvictor.com - PLUS - if you're interested in Chanin's family-friendly travel stories, inspiration and travel tips, look HERE: https://chaninvictor.com/travel-trends/ at the Santa Monica Observer!