Fall colors and food & wine tours in the foothills and Sierra


Weather permitting, take an old time Sunday drive at slow speed along Old Hwy. 40 from Rocklin to Donner Pass and Truckee— or a “leg” or two—instead of Interstate 80. The fall colors are spectacular.

“You will see the parade of rich history that formed California: the path of the Native American petroglyphs and grinding stones; the trails of wagon trains; the bed of the first transcontinental highway,” says the Explore Donner Summit website. “Many of the people who formed California came over Donner Pass.”

Popular “legs” include Rocklin to Old Town Auburn; Old Town Auburn to Colfax; Colfax (exit 135) to Baxter and I-80; and Cisco Grove to Donner Summit and Truckee. Along the Yuba River near Donner Summit, the historic Rainbow Lodge has reopened. There are restaurants, shops and art galleries in Loomis, Auburn and Colfax. For more information, Visit ExploreDonnerSummit.com.


Delight in the brilliance of fall foliage walking or driving the historic streets of Nevada City and Grass Valley.

Mid-October through much of November each year—vibrant maples, oaks and liquid ambers adorn the foothills of western Nevada County.

Experience the beauty of a New England autumn here in Northern California. Local colors are best in the Victorian neighborhoods surrounding the historic downtown areas.

Cooler weather and the changing colors of the landscape make a fall visit to a state park a memorable experience. Grass Valley is especially pretty from higher vista points. Nevada City colors are centered in a smaller area and may be more easily enjoyed by foot or bicycle. For more information, visit GoNevadaCounty.com.


State Road 89—linking the north and south ends of Lake Tahoe—is one of the region’s most spectacular drives, with glorious views of mountain peaks ringing the clear lake.

Starting in Tahoe City, head south toward Blackwood Canyon, where giant Aspen trees are ablaze in fall colors up to Halloween.

The entrance to Blackwood Canyon is five miles south of Tahoe City on the right side of the road, across from the Kaspian Picnic Area on the lake side. A paved road will take you to the Aspens in only a few minutes—well before you reach the bridge that crosses Blackwood Creek. Be aware that the road typically closes in late fall.

Then continue south to Homewood, site of one of the state’s original ski resorts. Further south, slip into the thickly forested region known as Rubicon Bay. At lovely D.L. Bliss State Park, the granite cliffs begin to get steeper around you, and the road bends around breathtaking coves, including Emerald Bay. You also will marvel at the fall foliage.

Proceed south around sobering switchbacks to Tallac Historic Site, with elegantly restored mansions. End your trip at popular Camp Richardson, gateway to South Lake Tahoe. Go to VisitingLakeTahoe.com for more information.


The Colfax Hwy. or SR 174—a “road less traveled” but convenient nonetheless—offers fall colors along with farm stands, pumpkin patches, wine tasting and roadside diners.

The Colfax Hwy. is an easy detour off I-80, whether you’re traveling from Reno or Sacramento. What’s more, Amtrak’s California Zephyr train stops at historic Colfax—get off and begin your adventure.

This roadtrip harkens back to the days of the 49er Fruit Trail, where ranchers sold cherries, peaches, figs, apples and vegetables from their farm stands.

Stop at Bierwagen’s Donner Fruit Trail in Chicago Park. You can visit their legendary pumpkin patch, sip apple cider or pick up some apples. Across the road, the Happy Apple Kitchen offers homemade apple pies, delicious burgers and fresh salads.

The scenic route also includes two of our favorite wineries: Montoliva and Solune. The wineries along Hwy. 174 are just 10 to 15 minutes from the junction of I-80 and Colfax.

(Photo: Neil Lockhart)

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