If you’re planning the perfect fall foliage getaway, in California, then Eastern Sierra is where you want to be! Yes California is not all about warm summer days, it has the best of fall season. Mammoth lakes and June lakes are some of the great spots to enjoy some bright orange and yellow fall foliage.
The time period when the leaves start to change color is hard to predict, it typically lasts between September through mid November in California. I urge you to check the yearly autumn colors reports before planning the exact timing of your trip. But no matter what weekend you have set aside to go leaf peeping, you should be able to find Eastern Sierra Fall Colors somewhere!
So here is a 3 day trip itinerary to help plan your fall trip to see some of the best colors of California!!
Day 1 – Yosemite Valley and June Lake Loop
10am- Drive through Yosemite Valley and small pitstops
To reach Mammoth lakes, you have to drive through Yosemite along Tioga Road and it’s the most mesmerizing drive in Fall. The roads take you through pretty yellow fall colors and abundant views of the half dome and valley. We stopped at the Olmsted Point for a whopping dose of scenic breath-taking views of the Valley.
A little further down the road, we made another pitstop at Tenaya Lake. The bluest waters set with a panoramic views of Sierra Nevada peaks from the shores deserved some photos. Tenaya Lake may be the most beautiful of all Yosemite’s lakes. It’s a mile (1.6 km) long and bordered on three sides by granite peaks and domes, it is about as sure a postcard shot as you’ll ever find. We stretched out a blanket and made it a small picnic with some left-over car snacks + beach baking.
2.30pm- Late Lunch + Bloody Mary’s at June Lake
We were exhausted of driving and food, so we decided to stop for a late lunch at June Lake. We ate at the Tiger Bar and Cafe – a wood cabin retro vibe eatery with down home dining experience. I got the buffalo burger and Naveen got the tacos; both of them were perfectly cooked and delicious. But the highlight was the $5 Bloody Mary- You don’t wanna miss this!
It’s a cute little spot with delicious food and a great stop on the way.
4pm- Sunset Stroll and Exploring June Lake
During the last weeks of October, the sun sets pretty early; about 5pm so we didn’t wanna miss the golden hour and headed to one of the best lakes in the area – Silver lake.
We drove through the June lake loop …..It is a 16 mile scenic road that loops around June Lake and takes you among fall foliage running through mountains and three other lakes. As you enter the road, you will be greeted with an amazing view of the road heading off into the distance with trees along the sides with a mountain backdrop. We stopped at multiple spots to capture some of the bright orange colored trees.
As we reached the Silver Lake, the foliage quickly turned all yellow. The area is filled with lots of aspen trees that turn bright yellow during the fall. The lake has fantastic views of Carson Peak reflecting off the water, and is a stunning spot for photography, fishing, and boating.
This is a popular spot to pull over for a photo because it’s too dang cute! Check out this Reel on Instagram to see. Truly a sight to the sore eyes!
Other Interesting things to do in June Lake:
- Hike + Kayak in June Lake
- Go fishing in Gull lake
- Fall leaf peeping at Grant Lake.
We enjoyed a quite sunset crouched on the log and then drove to our resort-Juniper Springs Resort. After quickly unpacking, we decided to grab dinner.
8pm- Dinner at Mogul Restaurant
Looking for a fine Dine restaurant in the area? You have to try The Mogul at Mammoth Lakes. The cabin-style restaurant serves top quality steaks, cooked four ways and served with steamed veggies (plus, either baked potato, rice, mash or spaghetti squash). You get to even watch as the chef grills and preps your meal right in front of you.
We got the Prime rib and Alaskan Halibut; their specials and completely devoured over every spoon we ate. Their Cinnamon Charlotte (House specialty since 1971) with scoops of white cupcake and vanilla ice cream topped with hot cinnamon sauce was one of the best desserts I’ve tasted in a while. I highly recomment you try it!
Note: We literally froze as we walked to the restaurant with 2 layer of clothing. It gets pretty cold during this season at Mammoth lakes so I recommend you pack all your cozies, warmers and winter jackets. You will need them.
Day 2- Mammoth Lakes
6am – Hike the Convict lake trail
We drove about 15 minutes to the Convict Lake trailhead + grabbed breakfast on the go.
This is one of the most picturesque lakes, massive, and an excellent spot for fishing since there are generally fewer people there. Best time to visit this lake is at sunrise, seriously I mean it; Some of the best views at sunrise. The oblong-shaped lake is filled with water as clear as glass, and as the sun casts its rays on the mountains, you can see a super clear reflection of the mountains in the lake. Great photo op right there!
It is encircled by a three-mile long access trail filled with warm yellow trees and boxed in by the steep backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, highlighted by the 12,241’ Mount Morrison. Convict Lake was originally carved out by glaciers, and at up to 140’ deep in some places, it’s one of the deepest lakes in the region. It is great lake to canoe, kayak or float tube.
We took lots of photos along the trail! A lake so picturesque filled with beautiful fall colors; trust me you don’t want to give up any photo opportunity here. So carry along your gear and tripod.
Brunch at Good Life Cafe
An Old-fashioned, strip-mall restaurant offering traditional American dishes in a laid-back atmosphere. It is a great spot for some eggs benedict, omlets and Mimosaaaaaa!!!
3pm- A hike to a Hidden Lake
Emerald blue waters, white sand beach, beautiful spruce pine forests and towering dark granite walls of Mammoth crest illuminated by rays of sunshine… Lake McLead is truly a hidden gem of the Mammoth lakes basin. The hike to this lake is about 2.2 miles round trip and is entirely through a forest with lots of elevation along the trail. But once on top, you are greeted with one of the most breathtaking views. A hidden lake amidst the trees with water so clear, you can see the reflection of both Mammoth mountains and Mammoth Crest in it. It is a perfect picnic spot!
Travel tip :
Hike this trail after noon to witness the beauty of this place in its breathtaking blue colors. And if you are lucky like us, you might have the entire place pretty much to yourselves.
Other hikes to do around the area:
- Lake Mary
- Crystal lake trail
- Devils Postpile National Monument
- Twin falls Overlook
5.30 pm – Sunset at the Minaret Vista
We took a quick nap and refreshed ourselves after the hike and drove up to Minaret Vista (15 minutes from downtown area) for some of the best golden hour views. This spot had 360 degree view of cotton candy skies as the sun set between the mountains. While we there, we also saw a couple set up a foldable table and chairs and enjoying some wine, watching the sunset; It was such a cool idea. You can try it too!
But while we were mesmerized watching the sunset, we just turned our heads to one of the most beautiful moonrise; Halloween’s blue moon. (It was 31st October when we visited). It was such a rare treat to the skies (occurs once every 2.5 years) which no photo can do justice.
We spent a romantic night watching the sunset and moonrise, cuddled up in each others arms.
8pm – Tiki themed dinner at Lakanuki
I can’t stop ranting at how amazing this restaurant was!! This lively, tropical-themed haunt offering Hawaiian fare & drinks is located at the Village at Mammoth. They have an starlit outdoor patio with a DJ spinning some nice tracks to entertain the crowd. Tired from all the hiking and exploring, we sipped on Lakanuki Mai Tai and Pina Colada and unwinded for the night. You should totally try their Huli Huli wings + Lipo Rice. I can undoubtedly say, I slept with a super yummy tummy that night!
Other Resturants to try:
Day 3- Mono Lake and Yosemite Valley
6am- Hike to Mono Lake
The drive to Mono lake is about half hour from the Mammoth Lake area; So we drove down there early in the morning to do a quick hike. Mono Lake is a majestic body of water covering about 65 square miles and one of the oldest lake in the United States. The Mono Lake tufa state natural reserve was established to preserve the spectacular “tufa towers,” calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. The tufa formations are notable for their unusual shapes and are visible from pretty far off as you drive to the the trail parking lot.
The hike itself is a paved trail through vast expansive fields warmed by the sunrays. With Sweeping views of the lake and the tufa towers lit against a darker sky, this lake viewpoint was really perfect to enjoy a romantic winter sunrise.
9am- Breakfast at The Stove
After a quick hike, we dropped by the The Stove to grab breakfast. The place was pretty crowded due to limited indoor seating, but the food was completely worth the wait. We feasted on some stove specialty skillets and pork chops with gravy. The service and food was really great! Its a good spot if you like some home style American plates.
12pm- Hidden meadow along Tioga Road
After breakfast, we checked out and drove towards Yosemite Valley for a hike. We stumbled upon a hidden meadow by a pond filled with beautiful fall colors. I don’t have an exact location for this point but I did drop a pin here– which can help you to find the place if you drive by.
With gorgeous yellow, red and green foliage this spot was literally like a little piece of heaven. We took a ton of photos here and headed to our next hike.
2pm- Explore Yosemite Valley + Hiking
From quaking aspen trees to dogwoods and black cottonwoods, Yosemite’s trees and shrubs offer an explosion of color along meandering brooks. While peak leaf season is dependent on temperatures, rain and other factors, the end of October can be a great time to experience the foliage in the valley.
We did a quick hike along the Lower Falls and Sentinel/Cook’s Meadow Loop. The color-turning deciduous trees in the valley against the mountain backdrop are photo-worthy, especially the dogwood trees and the maple trees near the Yosemite Chapel. A few other spots to get some of the best of fall colors are – Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass. I’m certainly planning my next fall trip to Yosemite; definately wanna go back there!
I hope this has helped you plan your next trip to Eastern Sierra to see some beautiful Fall Colors! If you want to know other places where you can find fall colors in California, you can read my blog post Top 5 spots for fall foliage in California.
Got tips to add? Leave a comment below. Got questions? Comment or DM me on Instagram @preksharaj and I’ll be happy to help.