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Jill Sanford | 09.26.2018

Northern California comes alive in the fall. Sometimes it's a subtle muting of hues as shadows deepen, the grasses growing redder as they shrink back, browns and grays blending together in dry landscapes. Or it's the golden light that hits a cliff pounded by wave after wave from the Pacific Ocean. Or sometimes fall in Northern California happens in a brilliant explosion of yellow aspen leaves contrasting against a paper-white trunk and the violent maroon leaves of a liquid amber that deepen as the season slips into winter. 

Sure, the state sees its fair share of rolling brown hills, long Indian Summers that never seem to end, and a history of drought that fuel anxieties about winter, but autumn is the state’s most underrated season. Visitors can cruise right into parks that are crowded throughout the summer and bundle up on trails and in campgrounds before it gets too cold and things close down for the winter. There’s plenty of golden leaves to see if you know where to look, and if you are up for a less traditional take on fall, the coast and the redwoods are there for the exploring.

National park leaf-peepin’

Redwoods: While you might not see fall’s signature display of orange and reds among these towering evergreens, autumn is an amazing time to explore the redwoods. There are fewer crowds, and the chilly coastline will put you in the mood for hot drinks and cozy sweaters.

Lassen: One of California’s least visited and most remote national parks, Lassen is always a good idea. It gets pretty chilly here, which means that it’s time to bust out your heaviest down jackets, wool socks, and sleeping bags if you plan to camp out in the fall.

Brave the high elevation chills

When in doubt, head for the hills…and head for the Sierra specifically. The aspens, cottonwoods, and other brightly hued trees that are scattered through the pine forests surrounding Tahoe are a guaranteed showstopper, you just have to know where to look.

The land of liquid gold...and plenty of pastries

Local Northern Californians are likely familiar with hearing the phrase “liquid gold” to describe the bounty of wine coming out of this region. This is because many areas that were once mining hotspots also make for great grape growing—what was once known as the "motherlode" or "gold country" is now synonymous with wineries, craft beer, and farm-to-fork eateries. And rural beauty abounds in the Sierra foothills of Placer, El Dorado, and Amador counties, not to mention the more well-known vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties, as well.

What's a better pairing for adventure than local treats to drink and eat? Fall is the harvest season, after all! 

Gold Country

Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Areas

Not quite Northern California highlights

Even though these places aren’t technically in Northern California, they fall in the ambiguous central California/Eastern Sierra Zone. And, more importantly, they are beautiful places to visit—especially in the fall. Picture the crisp white of aspen trunks popping against yellow leaves, dazzling azure lakes, and cool mountain forests.


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