top of page
  • solarastills

Weekend Leaf Peeping Road Trip In Eastern Sierras (In A Tesla)

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

It is hard to believe that California displays fall colors, but it truly does. Fall here may not be as vibrant and as colorful or as widespread as in New England, but there are small pockets in the state where the landscape is ablaze with primarily aspens, come October. One such area is the Eastern Sierras, from south of Mono Lake all the way to Bishop. Although the time of peak color varies from year to year, it is usually a safe bet to plan your trip around the middle of October. We visited the area around October 15th and were not disappointed by the colors. Below is a weekend itinerary I have curated to check out the prime leaf-peeping spots in Mammoth-Bishop area, along with a few attractions along the way.


Fall colors in the Eastern Sierras


 

>> Got a question about this leaf-peeping trip that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 


Where To Stay : Yosemite Gateway Motel, close to Yosemite's Tioga Pass Road entrance, in the town of Lee Vining, is a perfect spot to stay for this trip. This no-frills hotel seems to have been recently renovated. Our room was very spacious, especially the bathroom, and had views of Mono Lake. Highly recommend this place.



Friday

Drive from the Bay Area towards Yosemite NP. If driving an electric car, Groveland is a great spot to charge at the Tesla Supercharger, before entering Yosemite NP. While your car gets charged, you can recharge at Pizza Factory, just a couple of minutes walk up the road. We really liked their Greek Pizza, as the pizza sauce they use is very flavorful. Once charged, drive along Hwy 120 into Yosemite NP. There is no permit required in October to enter Yosemite. However, you will be charged an entry fee of $35 at one of the entrance kiosks. If you own an America The Beautiful card, then entry is free. Drive along Tioga Pass Rd, exit the park and head towards your motel at Lee Vining, which is a small town about 10 miles from the Tioga Pass entrance at the other end of Yosemite. Spend the night in the motel.



Saturday

Today we will be exploring the fall colors by driving south to Bishop area. But along the way, there are a couple of interesting pit stops which are worth the detour.

Mono Lake's Tufas : Start your day early with a visit to Mono Lake's South Tufa area at sunrise to view the unusual limestone formations. South Tufa area is 5 miles off of Hwy 395, but the last mile to the trailhead is gravel. We had no issues driving our sedan over the unpaved road. Self-registered entry fee to the area is $3 per person. But since Mono Lake is federal land, it is free if you have America The Beautiful pass. From the trailhead, it is a short quarter mile walk on the boardwalk to the Tufas. The bizarre pillars standing in the middle of the lake were formed due to thousands of years of interaction of subterranean spring water with a high concentration of carbon in the lake. Prior to 1940, these towers or Tufas were submerged under the lake. But in the 1940s when the city of Los Angeles started diverting the water from nearby creeks towards LA, the towers became exposed. The Tufa outcrops look especially stellar during sunrise and sunset, with the lakes calm water reflecting a rich palette of colors.

South Tufas illuminated by the colors of the rising sun


South Tufas illuminated by the colors of the rising sun

Mammoth Lake Hot Springs : After exploring Mono Lake head south along Hwy 395 to your next stop, which is Wild Willys Hot Springs. Just outside of Mammoth Lakes, there is a huge caldera with a number of natural hot springs surrounded by sweeping views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. Whitmore hot springs, Crab Cooker hot springs and Wild Willy's hot springs are three popular ones, all located along Benton Crossing Road. These three are rural and outdoors and are just natural holes in the ground. They are owned by the Bureau of Land Management, and hence free. We chose to explore Wild Willys as it was the biggest of the three. The last 1.2 miles access to Wild Willys is along a dirt/gravel road, but it was nothing that our Tesla sedan couldnt handle. A boardwalk from the parking lot leads you to the natural pools. There are 3-4 pools of varying sizes. When we went around 8.30am on a Saturday in October, the place wasnt crowded but people were filtering in and out of the pools. The warm water was just the perfect temperature and it felt heavenly soaking in the warm water on a chilly morning.


One of the many natural hot tubs at Wild Willy's



City of Bishop : Soaking in the hot springs can make you hungry! Once you've cleaned up and returned to your car, head further south on Hwy 395 to the city of Bishop. This is a perfect spot to charge your car at the Tesla Supercharger in town on Warren, while you catch a quick brunch. There are a number of eateries close to the Supercharger lot, along Main Street. We opted for a Mexican brunch at El Ranchito. The service was quick and the food was satisfying.

Bishop Creek Canyon : After recharging yourself (and your Tesla), drive west along State Route 168 (W. Line Street) towards Bishop Creek Canyon where there are innumerable places to see the changing colors of the forest. This IS the prime location for leaf peeping in the Eastern Sierras. The entire canyon comprises three forks of Bishop Creek – north, middle and south fork. A large lake marks the head of each fork, North Lake on north fork; Lake Sabrina on middle fork; and South Lake on south fork, with numerous other smaller lakes along the creeks.


Lake Sabrina is the prettiest, and the most crowded. It is a popular picnic and fishing spot with views of large clumps of aspen trees changing colors towards the far end of the lake. The drive to Lake Sabrina is equally stunning with with trees ablaze with bright yellows of varying shade. There are many photo opportunities at each turn of the road, so take your time to take in the vibrant colors.


Lake Sabrina

Fall colors on the farther shore of Lake Sabrina

The most brilliant of the forks was the drive to South Lake. The view of the rocky mountains with yellow aspens growing on them, a waterfall in the distance, and a small cottage set in all that color - it was such a visual treat. The drive to South Lake was the perfect example of the journey being more important than the destination, as South Lake itself was unimpressive and almost dry in mid October 2022, so you can safely skip stopping at the lake.


South Fork vistas

South Fork Vistas

We did not take the North Lake fork as I had read up before our trip that the road was unpaved, with a lot of ruts, and steep. Since we were driving a sedan, we decided not to risk it and skipped North Lake entirely.

South Fork Vistas

Rock Creek Road : Bishop being the southern most point of our trip, it is time to head back north towards Lee Vining. Next stop is Rock Creek Road which is a few miles north of Bishop and a quick detour on our road trip. This is the highest paved road in all of California and stretches about 10.5 miles each way. The drive offers dramatic views of surrounding Sierra peaks. The fall colors were peaking all along the road when we went, and it was well worth the side trip.

View along Rock Creek Road

Lake Crowley : Very close to Rock Creek Road, off Hwy 395 is the unique and interesting Lake Crowley. What is unique about this lake are the mysterious columns created on its banks. These stone columns are up to 20 feet tall connected by high arches, as if part of an ancient Moorish temple. Researchers have found that these columns were created due to volcanic activity under the earth surface and were exposed when the Lake Crowley reservoir was built in the 1940s. To reach the stone columns, it requires hiking for about 2 miles to the top of the cliff and then down a very steep incline down the cliff face to lake level. But dont let the hike discourage you. Lake Crowley is a sight not to be missed if you are in the area. Read more about this hike in my blog here.

Lake Crowley at sunset

Lake Crowley columns


Before calling it a day, it is time to recharge your car in anticipation of the long drive back home the next day. The town of Mammoth Lakes has a Tesla Supercharger on Tavern road, close to many restaurants. We had a quick dinner at Nik N Willies Pizza and Sub across the street, while we waited for our car to complete charging. We headed back to our motel and turned in for the night.



Sunday

After checking out of our motel, we had a quick brunch across the street at Nicely restaurant in Lee Vining. The service was prompt and the food was satisfying. In anticipation of a long and slow drive through stop and go traffic along Tioga Pass in Yosemite on our way back home, we decided to keep the vista points to a minimum. We planned to cover the famous June Lake Loop, south of Mammoth Lakes today.


Parker Lake : The road to Parker Lake trailhead is along the June Lake Loop, close to the North entrance of the loop. It requires driving about 3 miles on an unpaved dirt road. Although we were initially skeptical, our Tesla sedan handled it just fine.

The 3 mile dirt road to Parker Lake trailhead

The trial itself is about 2 miles each way. The first half mile or so is pretty steep and rocky, and at over 8000ft elevation, climbing a steep incline is no joke. After that, the remainder of the trail is gradual, and follows by the side of Parker Creek.

Fallen aspen leaves in Parker Creek

The trail goes through large aspen groves. Unfortunately, they were past peak when we went, and most of the trees were bare. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous hike and the view of beautiful and serene Parker Lake at the end of the trail was most rewarding. Having gone early in the day, we were greeted by absolutely still water and mirror reflection of the surrounding waters.

Parker Lake reflection


I must say that Parker Lake was the highlight of our entire trip. The hike back to our car was all downhill and easier than our way in.

June Lake Loop : After Parker Lake hike, continue along the June Lake Loop. There are three big lakes which are worthy of a stop along the way - Grant Lake, Silver Lake, Gull Lake and June Lake. The drive along the loop is scenic with vibrant groves of yellow and orange fall colors on either side of the loop.


Silver Lake

June Lake Loop rejoins Hwy 395 at its southern end. Having charged your Tesla sufficiently the previous night, it is now time to make the long journey back home to the Bay Area with a camera full of memories of a colorful weekend spent in the Sierra Nevadas.


 

>> Got a question about this leaf-peeping trip that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.

 


Kommentare


bottom of page