Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors

Courtesy of Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, above, boasts a beautiful setting for viewing fall’s colors – and sampling the vineyard’s wines.

Yes, Virginia, there is fall in California.

The colors pop out in pockets all across the state – not as intensely as in New England, perhaps, but enough to warrant hikes and photography.

There’s even a website, California Fall Color (, edited by John Poimiroo, with the slogan “Dude, autumn happens here, too.” The site uses colored leaves to rate different areas – yellow equals “Patchy,” orange equals “Near Peak,” red equals “Peak” and brown equals “Past Peak.” The reports depend on spotters who use expressive language like “Go Now!” and “You Missed It!”

Leaf-peepers can still see some color and enjoy trekking the trails in the following areas.


• Yosemite National Park, and particularly Tenaya Lodge, offers fall specials to welcome the short color season.

Book the Fall Cozy Cottage mid-week special – from $289 a night in October, $245 in November and December.

The 490-square-foot cottage suite, nestled among the aromatic incense cedars and tall sugar pines, boasts two rooms – with a queen bed in the bedroom and a king in the living room – a balcony, a microwave and a refrigerator. The minimum two-night stay includes breakfast for two, chocolate-covered strawberries and a seven-day park pass.

Best of all, the deal includes 10 percent off any Ascent Spa service. The spa offers several amenities, including three $175 signature treatments. The Firefall Body Renewal removes dead skin cells and moisturizes the skin, which may be dry from the cool air and high elevation. The Anti-Aging Facial uses European methods to soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The Relaxing Massage pampers the hands, feet and scalp – couples can book this one together.

Yosemite also offers moonlight tours through the end of October. If you’re up for a scare, guides are scheduled to lead tours of the historical Yosemite Cemetery 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 31.

Meet at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center for a free 90-minute tour of the gravesites of pioneers like Galen Clark, George Anderson and Gabriel Sovulewski.

For up-to-date listings, check the Yosemite Guide at

For more information on Yosemite’s night programs, call (209) 372-8243.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

South of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to the General Grant Tree, the largest (by volume) living tree in the world, and a giant sequoia grove.

Specials include a Fall Photography Package led by wildlands photographer and author Jeff Jones Nov. 14-15. Jones will lead an afternoon photography workshop and evening discussion.

The package includes two nights lodging and breakfast at the new stone-and-cedar Wuksachi Lodge, starting at $215 per night for two adults.

The parks’ Autumn Weekend Getaway for two continues through Nov. 22. Guests can stay in the Wuksachi Lodge in an alpine setting for $225 per night in October and $185 in November. Another option is a suite at the John Muir Lodge, which runs $185 per night in October and November.

The package includes breakfast, dinner at Peaks Restaurant, a Sequoia logo backpack, two water bottles, box lunches, trail mix and a trail map.

The Fall Foliage package, available through Nov. 22, includes overnight accommodations, box lunches for two, a Sequoia throw blanket, a field guide and a souvenir ornament.

Rates at the Wuksachi Lodge start from $229 in October and $189 in November. John Muir Lodge rates start at $109 in October and November.

For more information, visit

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe offers magnificent opportunities for viewing the fall foliage. Just drive along the lake on Highway 89 to appreciate the contrast between the foliage and the blue waters.

Two hikes feature good foliage views, too:

• Spooner Lake, at the intersection of highways 50 and 28 on Tahoe’s East Shore, offers a flat, 2-mile loop with scenic views. Ambitious – and fit – hikers can take the Tahoe Rim Trail for great vistas.

• On the West Shore, hike Ward Canyon to Paige Meadows, just south of Tahoe City. This hike features lots of aspens, and the foliage still hasn’t peaked. It’s an easy 1.4-mile round-trip walk.

For more information, visit

Napa Valley

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, off Highway 29 in Calistoga, makes for good hiking for fall-color watchers.

Start at the Ritchey Canyon trailhead. Walk along the Ritchey Canyon Trail, where you’ll find colorful maple and oak trees.

Then stop at Calistoga’s Castello di Amorosa, 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, a medieval-style Tuscan castle with a church, drawbridge, courtyard, watchtower, torture chamber, deep well, loggia and secret passageways. It’s also a winery operated by founder Dario Sattui. Leave yourself a couple of hours to walk around and taste the wines. There’s a farm next door.

In the spirit of the season, the winery offers three-hour Ghost Tours and a tasting with Napa City Ghosts & Legends, which leads visitors through towers, caves and cellars.

Tickets are $75 per adult (over 21 only), by reservation only. Tours are available seasonally 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Admission includes a flight of six premium wines.

For more information, visit

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