My Favorite Fall Hikes

Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Blackrock-High Rock Desert.
Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Blackrock-High Rock Desert.

Fall is coming.

For me it is a time of rejuvenation and also my favorite season. With the shift of the California Current, rains begin to fall in California after a summer of drought. The high country along the Pacific Slope finds snow returning. While we retreat inside our homes, native plants and animals must adjust to the changes. Some birds migrate, mammals might hibernate, and some plants shed their leaves and “hibernate” for winter in their own way.

What follows is a journey across the Pacific Slope to four favorite fall hikes–excellent for colorful foliage. I’ve also included some of the plant species that will be found.
  1. Siskiyou Wilderness
  2. Pasayten Wilderness
  3. San Gabriel River National Monument
  4. Blackrock-High Rock Desert National Conservation Area

Siskiyou Wilderness

Low elevations of the Siskiyou Wilderness with dense moss-mats and Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

I’ll start by admitting that my son’s middle name is Siskiyou. This wilderness was my first destination upon moving to Humboldt County and I’ve been back many times since–and learned something new each trip. The wilderness represents the mystery and intrigue of Conifer Country and holds within its boundaries at least 16 species of conifers – making it second to the Russian Wilderness in diversity within the Klamath Mountains. A few other regional highlights include the success story of the GO Road, the epic Bigfoot Trail along the crest, and a stay at Bear Basin Butte on the edge of the wilderness. Once you visit, you will never forget this place.

Fall Highlights:

  • Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum)
  • Vine maple (Acer circinatum)
  • Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
  • Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata)
  • Dwarf huckleberry (Vaccinium caespitosum var. caespitosum)
  • Cascade bilberry (Vaccinium deliciosum)
  • Blue or thin-leaved huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum)
Higher elevations offer fields of color from Bilberries (Vaccinium sp.)
Under-story of Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata)

The Siskiyou Wilderness

Pasayten Wilderness

The alpine tundra of the Pasayten Wilderness is characterized by small hummocks decorated with diminutive heaths and grasses with the much taller conifers surviving on only the fringes of this landscape. Subalpine larch (Larix lyallii) has a range restricted to the North Cascades and Northern Rockies where they are locally common on exposed rocky areas as well as pioneers on disturbed sites and more recently in snowfields.


  • Alpine Bearberry (Arctous alpinus)
  • Creeping dogwood (Cornus canadensis)
  • Subalpine larch (Larix lyallii)
Subalpine larch (Larix lyallii) on the edge of hummocky meadows.

Larix Lyallii | Derivations on a survival regime

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Favorite Fall Hikes

The 346,177 acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was dedicated in October 2014 by a proclamation by President Obama after nearly 10 years of work to get it established.  It contains the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, the San Gabriel Wilderness, and Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness as well as most of the major peaks including Mount San AntonioMount Baden-Powell, and Throop Peak.


  • Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum)
  • Black oak (Quercus kelloggii)
Black oak (Quercus kelloggii) in the Sierra Pelona Mountains.
Listen for the fall rut when the male bighorn sheep battle in the high country.

San Gabriel Mountains – A Photo Tour

Blackrock Desert-High Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Want to visit a newly-designated wilderness area in the llitteral middle-of-nowhere? Then the Pine Forest Range is another favorite fall hikes destination. Nearby is Nevada’s Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area with loads of places to adventure. There are only a few plants that grow to any noticeable height, including rare conifers and the iconic quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) which offers epic fall color.

Fall Highlights

  • Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides)
Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) below the pine belt in the Pine Forest Range.
Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) below the pine belt in the Pine Forest Range.
Aspens in fall -- Black Rock Desert
Holy WOW! Aspens in fall — High Rock Canyon

Pine Forest Range