8 Places to Catch the Scenic Fall Colors at North Lake Tahoe


Wondering where you can catch a glimpse of nature's annual splendor? See the fall colors in North Lake Tahoe at these 8 spots near Northstar Resort.

Posted on August 3, 2023

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As the vibrant hues of summer transition into the warm and inviting tones of autumn, North Lake Tahoe becomes a picturesque destination promising a breathtaking display of fall foliage. Nestled in the heart of California's most stunning landscapes, this region offers several scenic spots to witness nature's annual spectacle. If you're planning your vacation to coincide with the changing seasons, these are our favorite spots in, near, and not too far from North Lake Tahoe. 

Within 30 minutes of Northstar Resort:

1. Donner Memorial State Park 

Drive time: 14 minutes 

Donner Memorial State Park not only holds a significant place in history but also provides an exquisite backdrop for autumn exploration. This beautiful California state park is a blend of dense woodlands and wide-open meadows. In the fall, nature weaves a blushing canopy of autumn hues. At Donner Lake, the peaceful water is a reflection of red, yellow, and sky. Take a moment to learn about the ill-fated pioneers this state park memorializes. 

2. Tahoe Meadows 

Drive time: 27 minutes 

If you want to check out the changing leaves from a different perspective, take a drive to Tahoe Meadows. Considered "high meadows" for its elevation, it's a vantage point that's sure to leave you awestruck. The higher altitudes bring about an earlier onset of fall colors, creating a captivating contrast against the rugged terrain sure to take your breath away. 

From here, you can see North Lake Tahoe fall color and the lake in its entirety, as well as views of the majestic mountains surrounding it all. Whether you're hiking the meadows or just leisurely strolling through to enjoy the colors, this spot is breathtaking in its sheer panoramic view of the Tahoe region. 

3. Shirley Canyon Trail 

Drive time: 28 minutes 

Hiking opportunities abound in North Lake Tahoe. Avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts' itineraries always include the Shirley Canyon Trail.  

The trail offers an exhilarating journey any time of year, but it's especially blissful when nature reveals her autumn palette. Shirley Canyon leads you on a captivating ascent, passing by glistening waterfalls, moss-covered outcroppings, and vibrant foliage at every turn. As you hike through the elevation, the changing leaves create a mind-blowing backdrop that adds an extra layer of magic to your hike.  

The trail's diversity, ranging from peaceful meadows to rocky terrain, ensures that every step offers a new perspective on North Lake Tahoe's fall colors. At the summit, marvel at the sweeping vistas below, showcasing a delicately intricate blend of sizzling reds, coppers, and golds. 

Just over 30 minutes from Northstar Resort: 

4. Sand Harbor Overlook 

Drive time: 31 minutes 

Sand Harbor State Park is renowned for its stunning beaches and crystal waters, but during the autumn months, it becomes a theater of vibrant colors that rival even the most stunning sunsets.  

The Sand Harbor Overlook, like Tahoe Meadows, provides a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe and its surroundings—indigo water surrounded by a blanket of warm fall tones. While Spooner Lake reigns as one of the top places to capture photos of the Tahoe region's changing seasons, Sand Harbor is also a popular spot, especially among professional photographers who want to freeze in time the stunning relationship between crimson and violet leaves, deep blue water, and baby blue sky.  

Photos from the overlook are essential but don't forget to capture some shots from Sand Harbor's shoreline. 

5. Spooner Lake 

Drive time: 30-45 minutes 

For a serene escape into a Van Gogh scene painted by Mother Nature, Spooner Lake is a tucked-away gem that's just over the Nevada border. Spooner Lake is a tranquil setting that's perfect for leisurely strolls or contemplative moments. The reflection of the surrounding trees on the glassy surface of the lake creates a mirrored kaleidoscope of autumnal shades. While capturing the scene on your phone for Insta posterity—or simply taking in the view—Spooner Lake is a must for viewing fall colors in North Lake Tahoe. 

Less than an hour and a half from Northstar Resort:

6. Taylor Creek Visitor Center 

Drive time: 1 hour, 11 minutes 

Do you enjoy immersive, educational experiences on vacation? If so, the visitors center at Taylor Creek is especially enlightening. Located within the Lake Tahoe Basin, this center offers interpretive trails that wind through the vibrant forests and along the shores of Lake Tahoe.  

During the North Lake Tahoe fall color season, knowledgeable guides help these trails come alive with educational exploration amidst a dazzling array of colors. For instance, during the Fall Fish Festival, Taylor Creek Visitor Center hosts informative programs about the area's many fish species, such as kokanee salmon. You can learn about this fish's remarkable journey from birth to venturing off, breeding, and returning to lay its eggs—all while surrounded by the captivating sights of autumn. 

7. Fallen Leaf Lake 

Drive time: 1 hour, 14 minutes 

Discover the serene charm of Fallen Leaf Lake before the leaves fall. Nestled amidst the towering pine trees, this pristine lake offers a tranquil refuge where you can connect with nature and enjoy the fall weather. The lake's calm waters mirror the kaleidoscope of colors, creating a scene of unrivaled stillness. Whether you're kayaking across the lake or simply unwinding on its shores, Fallen Leaf Lake is a soothing escape for a fall getaway. 

8. Emerald Bay State Park 

Drive time: 1 hour, 23 minutes 

Emerald Bay State Park stands as a testament to the sheer splendor of Lake Tahoe's surroundings. Hiking the trails amid North Lake Tahoe's fall colors offers more than just cooler temps—as you scale ridges with brisk fall air in your lungs, panoramic shades of crimson, pumpkin, and goldenrod are revealed. On Eagle Falls Trail, the falls' cascading water strikingly complements the vibrant foliage. 

Experience Autumn's Fall Colors in North Lake Tahoe at Northstar Resort 

As the seasons transition and the air takes on a crisp edge, the fall colors in North Lake Tahoe make it an autumn paradise that beckons to be explored. From serene lakeshores to rugged trails, each destination on this list offers a unique perspective on the captivating beauty of fall's arrival. Whether you're drawn to the peaceful shores of Spooner Lake, the dramatic display at Sand Harbor, or the educational adventure at Taylor Creek Visitor Center, there's a spot for every type of traveler to enjoy North Lake Tahoe's change of seasons. 

Grab your hiking gear, camera, and blanket for fireside chats and roasted marshmallows—no matter which of these top spots you choose to catch the scenic fall colors, set your sights on Northstar Resort. North Lake Tahoe promises an unforgettable journey through one of nature's most magnificent displays less than 10 minutes from Northstar, placing you in the heart of fall splendor. Book your reservation today