Dan's Outside

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Best Time of the Year in the Sierra?

It is September, and my favorite time of the year in the Sierra Nevada begins now and lasts for the next two months or so.

Aspen Leaves. Bishop Creek, California. October 1, 2006. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

Labor Day weekend marks the last big rush of tourists to the Sierra – at least until the ski season begins. During the next two weeks the number of visitors to the high country will diminish greatly, and by the second half of September many places will seem downright (and delightfully) deserted. I’m lucky enough to have a schedule that gives me a lot of free time still for the next three weeks, so I’m planning to be up there several times this month.

What many people do not realize is that some of the best Sierra weather of the year occurs during September and early October. Early September can be like late August – warm, going on hot, and increasingly dry, especially in a drought year like this one. But some days are not like this, and a change is obvious – the sun sets earlier and the rate of change increases, nights are colder and days generally are comfortable, the light is softer and often there seems to be a stillness in the air. Grasses have all gone golden and some of the leaves on trees and bushes and even short alpine tundra plants are beginning to change color. An early Pacific front or two may pass by, and there may even be a dusting of snow on occasion as the month goes by. (And the mosquitos are gone!)

In many ways, early October is even better. The best days are sunny and warm but not hot. The light is soft and golden, and by the beginning of the month the aspens change colors spectacularly. In a good year, a stunning display of aspen colors can be seen all up and down the eastern Sierra – the amazing thing is that so few people seem to know about it.

If you can schedule your Sierra visits just right, you can follow the aspens down the length of the Sierra over several weekends, and then you can visit the lower country on the west slope and see more amazingly colorful displays a bit later, stretching the season over a good month of more. Yosemite Valley colors seem to be at their peak near the end of October and even into early November.


September 1, 2007 - Posted by | Commentary, Places, Sierra Nevada

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