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Stories from the valley

Drive of a Lifetime – Sierra Aspens at their best

Contributed by Tim Johnson


This time of year, I often run across travel blogs attempting to reflect just a glimmer of the vibrant fall colors seen in the east. With their abundant hardwood and other deciduous trees and crisp nights, the effect is justly breathtaking. While these sights are well known (there are even fall colors maps online) just a couple of hours from Sacramento, there are fall spectacles that rival!

Here in the Sierra, there are three primary trees that turn in the fall. The first are the many species of oak that lose their leaves each year. Typical from 1,000 feet in elevation up through 6,500 feet, your eye will catch the yellows and orange set against the dark green of the firs and pines.

Starting about 3,000 feet you can find the big leaf maples in hues from pale yellow to brighter yellow orange. Inhabiting the dark wet courses of the Sierra’s rivers they jump out of the forest this time of year.


The king of fall color, however, are the aspens. Catch your first glimpse of golden-yellow leaves quaking in the breeze and stark white trunks against the impossible blue fall sky and you will agree it has no rival in the west. The best news is we have a lot of them along a very accessible stretch of highway.

The drive from Jackson to Monitor pass starting on Highway 88 and then south to Highway 89 at the old Pony Express stop of Woodfords, the drive is one of the best in the state for jaw dropping fall colors.


The trip winds from the Gold Rush town of Jackson at the lower elevation to the 8,314 foot top of the pass overlooking the both the east side and west side of the Sierra’s. Apline lakes, meadows and rivers are all right here along with an abundance of falls colors.

For a longer day turn south again when you come down Monitor Pass and go back along Highway 4 to the town of Murphys. Some late afternoon wine tasting or dinner is a perfect end to a remarkable day.

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