Sacramento may be the Farm-to-Fork Capital, but that doesn't mean we don't have plenty of opportunities for viewing fall colors. Northern California counties have such plentiful leaf-peeping options available you may forget you're on the West Coast entirely.
California has the longest and most varied seasonal change of fall color in North America, thanks to the range of elevations and Mediterranean climate. Even the Central Valley, with its orchards, pumpkin patches, and corn mazes, and Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area's urban forests and botanical gardens, offer incredible views of changing leaves and show-stopping displays in the fall.
In Northern California, fall color first appears in the Eastern Sierra at high elevations and descends by elevation through December. Peak fall foliage season in California stretches from September through December, so if you miss the peak season at one elevation, you can go to a lower elevation to find it elsewhere.
Best Day Trips To See Fall Foliage In Northern California
We've rounded up some of the best places to see the leaves change, each one easily accessible as a day trip from Sacramento.
Apple Hill is open seasonally every year, from August through December. Not only can a trip to Apple Hill bring you a bountiful of beautiful fall foliage, but you can also enjoy Christmas Trees, gifts, bake shops, beer, wine, cider, and you-pick apple farms. This Sierra Foothill destination is a local favorite.
Photo courtesy of @princessleiaforever via @applehillofficial
Getting to Placerville from Sacramento takes approximately one hour by car.
Plan your visit at Applehill.com.
Folsom is a hidden gem for fall foliage. With over 50+ miles of hiking and running trails winding around Folsom, you can enjoy lake views accented by vibrant pops of red, yellow, and orange. The American River Bike Trail connects Sacramento to Folsom, making this leaf-peeping day trip easily accessible by bicycle - no car needed. Whether you're in the mood for a short 2-mile stroll over Folsom's Johnny Cash Trail or the full 38-mile trip from Sacramento to Folsom on the American River Trail, you're sure to see plenty of fall leaves in astounding colors.
Photo courtesy of @goodthompson via @visit_folsom
Folsom is approximately 33 minutes from Sacramento via car, two and ½ hours by bike, or one hour via public transportation from the Sacramento Valley Station.
Plan your trip at visitfolsom.com
The vineyards of Napa put on a show every fall, transforming rolling green hills into hues of crimson and gold. According to VisitNapaValley.com, popular spots for fall color include vineyards along the Silverado Trail and Highway 29, spots on the valley floor like Yountville and Rutherford, and hikes in the hills to the east and west of the valley like Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and the Oat Hill Mine Trail.
Image courtesy of @farnientewinery via @visitnapavalley
Napa Valley is approximately 1.5 hours from Sacramento.
Plan a visit to the vineyards displaying fall foliage at VisitNapaValley.com.
UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens
Late November is the peak season for leaf peeping at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, where 10,000 types of plants cover 34 acres in Strawberry Canyon above the main campus. Organized geographically, the Garden features nine regions of naturalistic plantings from Australasia to South Africa, along with a major collection of California native plants. The Asian section of the garden is carpeted with auburn Japanese Maple leaves, making a walk through this garden feel like a stroll down a red carpet. As one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, the Botanical Gardens at Berkeley are sure to put on a show each fall season.
Photo courtesy of @ucbgarden
The drive to the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens from Sacramento takes approximately one ½ hours, or two ½ hours via public transit from the Sac Valley Station.
Plan your visit at botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe is about a two-hour drive from the Sacramento Valley Station, and it's definitely worth a day trip for serious leaf peepers. Where should you go to see the best fall colors in South Lake?
Luther Pass is a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada bursting with gorgeous fall colors; it's a popular destination for professional photographers around the fall season. Hope Valley is a stunning destination located just south of South Lake Tahoe with endless Aspen forests and fall foliage views. You can enjoy these views on the 2 ½ mile hike on Crater Lake trail or the 3-mile Scotts Lake path. Just south of Hope Valley is Ebbetts Pass, a mountain pass through the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Highway 4, about 3 hours from Sacramento. Enjoy the views of golden-tinged Aspen trees right from your car, or stop and do some exploring along these points of interest.
Photo courtesy of @visitlaketahoe_official
Various destinations at South Lake Tahoe can take 2- 3 hours by car from Sacramento.
Plan your trip to South Lake at visistlaketahoe.com
June Lake Loop
Take a drive around June Lake Loop (Hwy 158), where you'll encounter four lakes featuring a breathtaking display of burnished fall colors and views of Aspen reflecting off the water. Evergreens intertwine with bursts of yellow, and the colors of fall contrasting with turquoise waters is a treat for leaf peepers.
Photo courtesy of @junelakeloop
June Lake is located in Mono County, and June Lake Loop (Hwy 158) is an approximately 4-hour drive from Sacramento.
Plan your visit at monocounty.org
Find More Fall Foliage Destinations Near Sacramento
Looking for more fall foliage destinations in Northern California and beyond? The fall color map located at CaliforniaFallColor.com can help you plan a day trip based on whether the area's leaves are just starting, patchy, near peak, peak, or past peak. Fall foliage reports and photographs on the site are provided by volunteer color spotters, public lands agencies, and destination marketing organizations. Plan your leaf-peeping trip at californiafallcolor.com/map.