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  • Carl R. Piesch / Courtesy of Plumas County Visitors Bureau

    Golden light filters down to a creek lined with maple leaves in the Feather River Canyon. Leaves will reach their peak about mid-October.

  • Tony Mindling / Plumas County Visitors Bureau

    Mountain dogwood produces white flowers in the spring and vivid red berries in the fall.

  • Tony Mindling / Plumas County Visitors Bureau

    Black cottonwoods line the creeks and rivers of Plumas County. This stand is along the middle fork of the Feather River.

  • Carl R. Piesch / Courtesy of Plumas County Visitors Bureau

    The north fork of the Feather River follows Highway 70 from Oroville to Quincy.

  • Carl R. Piesch / Courtesy of Plumas County Visitors Bureau

    Aspens gleam among the firs along Gold Lake Forest Highway between Graeagle and Sierra City.

Plumas County lures leaf peepers

Published: Sunday, Sep. 25, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1I
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012 - 6:21 pm

Throughout much of California, a seasonal change in colors means that the grass turns brown in late spring – or even earlier.

That isn't, however, our state's only state of change.

Up in the mountains, amid the evergreen pine, fir and cedar species are others that put on brilliant displays in autumn before their leaves are discarded in nature's annual strip-trees show.

No place is working harder than Plumas County to let people know that in a matter of weeks their aspens, cottonwoods, oaks, maples and dogwoods will be donning fall fashions.

The onset of color varies from year to year, but the peak is typically mid-October and after, said Suzie Brakken, director of the Plumas County Visitors Bureau.

The bureau offers maps and trail guides to those who want to ogle the orange and red colors, and it offers more:

• A fall colors kit that includes a car window sign (in red and yellow, of course) reading, "Plumas County Leaf-Peeper, Makes Frequent Stops."

• A small bottle of windshield spray and wipes – in recognition of the realities of rural driving – so visitors will be able to see through the glass.

• A blog (at where observers mark the changes in particular trees or particular parts of the county, so visitors can know exactly when it's best to come in a given year.

Some trees have become famous.

The Judge Theiler Tree, a maple near Quincy's courthouse, has become a magnet for photographers and painters, drawn by its size and stunning colors.

An early adopter, the tips of the tree's leaves were already starting to blush during a mid-September visit.

"In another 10 days, that tree will probably be at peak," said Mike Nellor, the owner of nearby Ada's Place cottages and a photographer who often swaps tips with his guests.

At Thompson Lake, near Buck's Lake at 5,200 feet in elevation, the aspens are the stars, said Ken Nelson, owner of Haskins Valley Inn at Buck's Lake.

Color hunters touring the county make the trek up to Thompson to catch a particular stand of trees on the far side of the lake.

"When they turn color and reflect in that water, it's really nice," Nelson said.

Cottonwoods and aspen in the Mohawk Valley near Graeagle, dogwoods near Keddie, deciduous oak on the Genessee Road – there is good color about everywhere in the county.

Accommodations, too, are spread throughout the area – a variety of condos, bed-and-breakfast inns, classic cabin motels and campgrounds – from Chester in the north to Graeagle and Portola to the south.

And because man and woman do not live by foliage alone (Garden of Eden attire notwithstanding), it bears saying that this colorful area also has fishing, boating, golf and other activities as well.

Here are some additional Plumas County activities for fall:


Given that most of the county is covered by the Plumas National Forest, it shouldn't be surprising that there are miles of trails to explore on foot or by bicycle.

"That's really how you see the best colors," said Brakken, who offers a pamphlet with tips for finding 20 hikes.

We took the Cascades Trail along Spanish Creek.

This trail is known best by locals, since no signs will direct you there, but the Visitors Bureau trails guide gives excellent directions.

The early section of the one-mile trail to the creek's cascades runs through an arcade of dogwood and big-leaf maple, which should offer lovely colors come October.

The creek itself holds large patches of Indian rhubarb, which also turns brilliant colors.

Two new footbridges skirt what was once a tricky spot on an otherwise easy hike, and the trail offers many views of the canyon.

Wine tasting

Some people won't believe they're in California unless there is a winery nearby.

Now, for the first time, Plumas County offers a little bit of that for the close of a day of following foliage.

A wine bar in Quincy is joined by a wine-tasting room operated by Indian Peak Vineyards in Graeagle.

The winery, with vineyards and operations in adjoining Tehama County, runs its tasting room in what was once a lumber mill worker's home and later a preschool.

The latter gives them a tongue-in-cheek theme, offering a "preschool" wine-tasting club, snacks in a lunch box and a music yard that was once the playground.

"No wine outside playground," it says on the signs.

Live music on weekends is expected to continue through winter, said Trevor Bartlett, whose in-laws run the winery while he handles the Graeagle operation.

Barn quilts

Taking off from the Pennsylvania Dutch country hexes on barns, Plumas has begun a "barn quilt" movement.

Rather than actual quilts, the barns and a few other buildings sport squares painted in quilt motifs.

An art and barn tour took place last weekend. Information on the barn art is available from the visitors bureau (across the road from one nice barn) and the Plumas Arts Council.

Our favorite was on the Cy Hall Museum in Greenville.

It's not a quilt pattern. It's an irregular shape, cut and painted to look like an actual faded quilt blowing in the breeze while pinned to a clothesline.

"The barn quilt tour, it's just really caught fire," said Janice Thomas, Cy Hall's daughter.

Special events

"Almost every weekend in October, there's events," said Brakken.

Two of the biggest will be the Fall Leaf Peeper Century on Oct. 8 in Indian Valley – info at – and the 25-brewery Mountain Harvest Fest on Oct. 15 at the Plumas County Fairgrounds – details at

A full calendar of events can be found on the visitors bureau website,


Visit to find out where to go this week – and every week – to get the best shots of fall color. You can take a look at photo galleries from 2007 to the present. Need tips on how to take photos as beautiful as the ones you'll find there? We've got that covered as well at this special site.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Carlos Alcalá

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