Many California state parks offer fine displays of autumn foliage. Don’t expect to share the hiking trails with hordes of leaf-peepers; these state parks seem to be a state secret. Here are a half-dozen of The Trailmaster’s fall classics.
Lake Tahoe Area
Sugar Pine Point State Park Think Tahoe and we tree lovers naturally think conifers: firs, pines, incense cedar. In autumn, however, we turn to deciduous delights. In autumn, the black cottonwood and quaking aspen along the General Creek Trail (4.5 mile loop) are something to behold. Some of the best colors in the Tahoe area can be found on the drive along Highway 89 from South Lake Tahoe to the state park.
Grover Hot Springs State Park Easy family hikes include a nature trail called Transition Walk that loops around the park’s alpine meadow and a 3-mile round trip walk to a waterfall on Hot Springs Creek. The quaking aspen fringing the meadow are particularly showy in autumn when the fluttering leaves turn orange and gold. After your hike in the brisk alpine air, take a soothing soak in the park hot springs (102 to 105 degrees F).
Annadel State Park Black oaks and big-leaf maples along the park’s creeks are the autumnal attractions of this park located in Sonoma County. A favorite hike is the 5-mile round trip to Lake Ilsanjo. Do note that in some areas of the park and elsewhere around California the yellow of the maple leaves may be as much due to drought stress as to seasonal change.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park Sure the black oaks and big-leaf maple can put on quite a color show, but even if they don’t this park, located in Napa/Sonoma counties just north of St. Helena, is worth a stop and short hike. Take a walk along redwood-lined Ritchey Creek or a trek (6.5 miles round trip) up to Coyote Peak for commanding wine country panoramas. If you’re Napa Valley wine touring during the fall grape harvest season, this state park is a perfect place for a picnic.
Point Mugu State Park All monarch butterflies west of the Rockies head for California in the fall; one place in Southern California to observe the arriving monarchs is in Big Sycamore Canyon at Point Mugu State Park. Sycamore Canyon Trail (6.5 miles round trip to Deer Camp Junction) takes you through a peaceful wooded canyon, where on a “good butterfly year” a multitude of monarchs dwell. The sycamores that shade the canyon suffered greatly from a 2013 wildfire but during the autumn months you might be lucky enough to experience the twin delights of falling autumn leaves and fluttering butterflies.
Palomar Mountain State Park features meadows full of bracken fern in rich golden brown hue. Nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, though scorched by a 2003 wildfire, is recovering well. In the Cuyamaca Range, look for gnarled old oaks stand above a blanket of ferns and dry grasses, autumn-colored in soft shades of yellow and brown. Through gaps in the oak canopy, glimpse nearby canyons aflame with fall color.