Labor Day has passed, and though daytime temps are still up there, nights are cooling down and there is a certain delicious slant to the summer sunshine in the afternoons. Fall is almost here, bringing with it dazzling autumnal colors, perfect for an end-of-season road trip. On the western slope of the Sierra you’ll find plenty of color starting in October – even the poison oak turns a seductive shade of red. Moving upslope into the higher elevations, changes start as early as mid-September, with the oaks, maples and dogwoods. On the dryer eastern side of the Sierra, aspens, cottonwoods, and willows rein with their bright yellows and golds; expect early to mid-October to be the peak for these beauties.
To make the most of the short window, start your trip in the morning following a good night’s sleep at the Groveland Hotel. Head east into Yosemite National Park, taking Tioga Pass up and over the Sierra summit. Note the brilliant red of the dogwoods along highway 120 once you enter the Park. As you approach the near 10,000 foot high eastern gate exiting Yosemite, you’ll begin to see the cottonwoods and aspen, famous for their quaking leaves in even the most minimal breeze.
When you reach Lee Vining stop for lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli (it’s the best gas station food you’ve ever had!) then head north on 395 where you will skirt the sky-high Sierra Nevada mountain range on the left and the mountains and desert of the Basin and Range of Nevada on the right. Bearing north you’ll pass stunning Mono Lake, home of famous formations called tufa towers. Farther along you’ll drive through cattle country surrounding historic Bridgeport, and beyond there is your turnoff onto highway 108 West for Sonora Pass.
Take the drive over Sonora Pass very slowly. Though it is not quite as high in elevation as Tioga Pass, it is not nearly as well developed…though you’ll find the views are absolutely amazing. You’ll continue to see pockets of golden foliage, jagged granitic peaks, and high mountain meadows as you traverse back over the Sierra summit and onto the less precipitous western slope.
Coming back down-elevation into the foothills, stop in Twain Harte (named for Mark Twain and Bret Harte) for dinner and a stroll before continuing westward on your loop back to Groveland. Once back at the hotel, complete your day with a nosh and a drink from Provisions Taproom on our beautiful patio. Total round trip from/to Groveland, with stops, is six to seven hours and along the way you will have discovered fabulous flora and fantastic vistas – some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the country!
With such a fleeting Fall foliage window, and the closure of the Sierra mountain passes once the snow starts, make sure to book your stay at the Groveland Hotel NOW!