Autumn foliage puts on a colorful show

Editor’s note: This story, originally published on Sept. 25, 2011, has been updated for this section.

Fall foliage comes first to higher elevations, typically in late September. And up in the mountains, fall colors contrast brilliantly amid the evergreen pine, fir and cedar species that dominate the landscape.

No place works harder in California than Plumas County to let people know about the beauty of nature’s annual striptease show put on by its aspens, cottonwoods, oaks, maples and dogwoods.

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 have been known to start blushing by mid-September.

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 during fall foliage.

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 like 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 1-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 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.

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.

The winery has live music on most weekends in the playground, weather permitting, 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 other community structures sport squares painted in quilt motifs. There are more than 100 barns and buildings displaying the colorful quilt squares in Plumas County.

Information on the quilts and a “Barn Quilt Trail” map are available from the visitors bureau (across the road from one nice barn) and the Plumas Arts Council, or on under the Things to Do menu tab.

Our favorite is 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.

Special events

“Almost every weekend in October, there’s events,” said Brakken.

Two of the biggest will be the Fall Leaf Peeper Century Bike Rides, one metric the other in miles, on Oct. 4 in Indian Valley and the Mountain Harvest Festival on Oct. 18 at the Plumas County Fairgrounds.

The bike rides start and end at Greenville High School, and each ride includes a lunch stop along the route and a shower back at the high school. The cost is $50 for adults and $25 for those 16 or younger. For more details and registration form, go to

The harvest festival will have live music and more than 20 breweries pouring more than 50 brew samples, along with tastings of organic wines provided by Quincy Natural Foods.

For details and to purchase the $35 general admission tickets, go to The fairgrounds offer overnight camping for $10 per site and RV hook-ups for $20.

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