Fall Color in Northern California & Southern Oregon

Crater Lake AU11-72

It’s that time of year again: end of summer, beginning of autumn, when the leaves begin to turn. Not all the leaves, mind you. Here on the northcoast of California, where evergreen trees dominate, we’ll see much less color than will be viewed elsewhere in the country, particularly in New England. But then again, we have nicer weather, bigger mountains, and a more rugged coastline, so it all evens out in the end.

The last few years I have been gone on my major trip of the year in late summer or early fall; so it has been difficult for me to pay much attention to potential fall color within striking distance of where I live: that is to say, northern California and southern Oregon. Is there any fall color in this section of the country? Well, yes, there is. Much less, as I noted above, than elsewhere in the country, but it is here nonetheless. I’ve been doing some research on the internet, and this is what I’ve been able to find:

California State Parks

  • Humboldt Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods: while there are deciduous trees in these parks, I’ve never found much fall color. The leaves on these trees merely turn an ugly brown, curl up, and fall.
  • Castle Crags State Park: can’t recall seeing much fall color in this park; in any case, there’s some question as to whether this park will be open after September 16, so it may not matter.
  • MacArthur-Burney Falls State Park: Now this park is the real deal when it comes to fall color. The issue is timing. Websites claim that the best fall color is mid-October. I believe that’s true for the fall color around the falls, but not true for fall color in the rest of the park. I was there last year on Veterans Day; and while the leaves had already fallen around the waterfall, in other parts of the park the foliage was near peak. The reason for this? The water that feeds the falls comes directly from deep underground and is very cold. The colder temperature of the water affects the trees around the waterfall, leading to an earlier peak foliage. Note the following two photographs, taken on November 11, 2011, of the waterfall itself near the water, the other taken above the waterfall, where it is warmer:

MacArthur-Burney Falls AU11-70

National Parks

  • Lassen Volcanic National Park: There’s not a huge amount of fall color in the park, but such that exists is pretty good. Peak foliage is generally mid- to late October
  • Redwood National Park: Just like the Redwood state parks, not great for peak foliage. The best I’ve ever seen in the park was this tree:

Other Areas of Note

  • Scott Valley:
  • River Canyons: There are a number of deciduous trees scattered throughout the major river canyons in Northern California, particularly the Trinity, Klamath, and McCloud Rivers. Finding large groups of trees featuring spectacular color can however be challenging. The river canyons tend to turn in late October, early November. Below are more examples:

McCloud River (11-11-11):

McCloud Falls-55

Union Creek, Oregon (10-29-11):

Shackleford Creek, Marble Mountains Wilderness (11-3-07):

Scott Valley, CA (11-3-07):

Lake Breton (11-11-11):

Siskiyou Lake (11-11-11):


Best least appreciated place for fall color in northern California? How about Castle Lake, just north of Castle Crags? Not much trees, but plenty of brush that turns color (10-8-06):