Fall Color in Reno and VicinityYou don't have to go anywhere to experience the spectacle of the changing season. People have planted a wonderful variety of deciduous trees and shrubs throughout the Truckee Meadows. From just about any vantage point that lets you look out over the city, you will see great swaths of autumn color where green dominated during the summer. If you want to get up close, the best places are older neighborhoods and districts where the trees are big. I particularly like old southwest Reno with its combination of vintage homes and stately old trees arching over the narrow streets to create orange and yellow tunnels.
Fall Color in Reno & Sparks ParksFor a special treat, pay a fall visit to the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. There are trees and shrubs from all over the world and some of them manifest other worldly displays of color during autumn.
The path that follows the Truckee River through Reno and Sparks provides some excellent fall color viewing. My favorite stretch is upstream from Wingfield Park in downtown Reno to Idlewild Park. This walk (or ride if you have a bike) takes you through an older part of town with big, well watered trees, and into the park with its own groves of colorful deciduous trees. If you go downstream past the National Automobile Museum, the path passes by some big old cottonwood trees with golden yellow fall foliage.
Rock Park in Sparks is right on the Truckee River and has big trees that put on a good fall color display. There is lots of free parking and a walking/biking path along the river lets you explore both upstream and downstream should you wish to do so.
Fall Color East and West of RenoThe Truckee River corridor supports huge cottonwood trees that create a golden swath where the river winds through the desert. Drive east on I80 toward Fernley and you will see these trees defining the course of the Truckee as it meanders its way to Pyramid Lake. Drive west toward Truckee and you will see a combination of aspens and cottonwoods creating a magnificent canyon display along the river's course from Lake Tahoe to Reno. Both of these drives are on the freeway with limited places to safely stop for leaf peeping and photography. Please be careful.
Just a bit south and east of Reno is a colorful spot I particularly enjoy. It's along the Carson River at Ft. Churchill State Historic Park, a landscape of serious desert. The cottonwood trees here have grown large by hugging the watered banks of the river and they create a golden display that stands out sharply from the surrounding dry hills. The park has day use areas and local historic significance, making it a nice place to spend a few quiet hours on a fall day.
Fall Color Around Lake TahoeUp at Lake Tahoe, aspens are the predominant trees splashing the mountains with streaks of gold and orange. The drive up the Mt. Rose Scenic Byway to Incline Village presents numerous opportunities to view displays of color. If you continue around Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side (south on Highway 28), you will be in almost constant contact with the shades of autumn. Spooner Lake is a good place to stop for an easy walk through the trees on the path around the lake. More ambitious hikers can head for Marlette Lake from here, and will be treated to several miles of non-stop golden aspens. I've done this trek and it's worth the moderate effort.
Just past Spooner Lake, 28 turns into US 50 and continues south. From Zephyr Cove to Stateline and South Lake Tahoe, color cascades from the mountain slopes down to the shores of Lake Tahoe. This is a busy highway - be careful exiting and entering when you stop to take in the scenery.
Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe, is a special treat. It has one of the best aspen color fiestas I've ever seen in the Sierra Nevada. To reach Hope Valley, go west on US 50 from Stateline and South Lake Tahoe. Turn left at the South Lake Tahoe Y to stay on 50. Continue a few miles past the airport to Myers, then turn left onto Luther Pass Road (Highway 89) and follow it to Hope Valley and the intersection with Highway 88. Just look around for gold and orange in every direction. You will see why this is a magnet for fall color aficionados and photographers, and will probably be joining bunches of them. Drive slowly and be on the lookout for preoccupied picture takers and wandering pedestrians. I've actually seen people set up tripods in the middle of the road.
To take an alternate route back to Reno, go east on 88 toward Woodfords and Minden / Gardnerville. As you leave Hope Valley, the road passes through some unusually dense, colorful, and photogenic aspens near Sorensen's Resort, then winds down out of the mountains to return you to the desert. At the intersection with US 395 in Minden, go north to return to Reno.
Rather than going to Minden, you can turn on 89 at Woodfords and go to Markleeville. The Alpine County seat is surrounded by fall color. If you want to stay a while, there is lodging in town and nearby camping with a hot spring pool at Grover Hot Springs State Park. This park is busy with fall color campers at the height of the season. Past Markleeville, continue on 89 to Monitor Pass and its expansive stands of aspen groves, then down the eastern Sierra slope to rejoin U.S. 395 south of Topaz Lake. An alternate to the alternate is to take the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 4) up into the heart of the high Sierra for even more swaths of color.
Continue for more - Fall Color Along the Eastern Sierra.