You can (and should) go leaf-peeping in California. We have tips

Editor’s note: The Wild is featuring exciting voices from SoCal’s outdoors scene. We loved having Matt Pawlik share his adventures and musings over the last three months. Starting this week, we’re excited to welcome Casey Schreiner as our new guide. Casey has been writing about the outdoors since 2006, when he launched the popular website Modern Hiker. You may also have picked up one of his three outdoors books, including his bestselling guidebook to Griffith Park. For the next few months, he’ll be sharing fresh ideas for hiking and getting outdoors.

You might notice the writing in this edition of The Wild is a bit different. Well, that’s because there’s a new writer behind the keyboard. Hi there! I’m Casey. I’m truly honored to follow in the boot-prints of Mary Forgione and Matt Pawlik. And I’m excited to take you on a few new side trails too. But first: It’s fall!

Is fall the cruelest season in Los Angeles? It sometimes feels that way. When our nation’s Strategic Pumpkin Spice Reserve opens up and clothing ads turn to sweaters and scarves, we Angelenos are still likely facing at least a few more blistering heat waves before the rainy season (hopefully) arrives.

Good news, though! For those who don’t truly feel settled into October until they see green leaves turn different colors, there is hope — and it doesn’t require a plane ticket to Vermont.

I put together a round-up of some of the best trails to see some fall color right here in the Golden State. Look, I’ll be honest — the really good stuff requires a drive to the Eastern Sierra, where the high elevations and native aspen groves provide weeks of spectacular sights (not to mention crisp fall temperatures and the region’s year-round beautiful granite peaks and alpine lakes). But if you can’t make it up north, there are some terrific hikes you can do right here in Southern California … or you can always head to Julian for some orchards, pie and cider.

Before you lace up your boots for any of those adventures, though, you absolutely must consult with the site California Fall Color. Its editor and publisher, John Poimiroo, has been meticulously documenting and compiling crowdsourced foliage observations in California since 2009.

I chatted with Poimiroo about tips for first-time foliage fiends in California. His advice: First, nix your expectations if you grew up somewhere else — California’s color is beautiful, but it’s its own thing. Second, when it comes to timing your adventure, you have some flexibility. Whereas the most popular leaf-peeping spots around the country usually get one or two weeks of peak fall color (and that’s in a good year), California’s range of elevations and numerous microclimates allow us to see autumn hues for up to three full months.

Finally, Poimiroo mentioned that cities with good urban tree canopies like Sacramento can also put on a beautiful show, usually later in the season. He suggested checking the lunar calendar to plan for some night hikes (the harvest moon is Monday, FYI).

As you prepare to head out to the aspen groves, I’ll just note here that Taylor Swift’s new album comes out in a few weeks and it probably will be the perfect soundtrack to your fall fantasy roadtrip.

4 things to do this week

A crowd of people biking on a multilane city road empty of cars.

The streets are yours at CicLAvia.

(Laura Rudich / CicLAvia)

1. Take back the streets with CicLAvia. In 2018, Bicycling Magazine named L.A. the Worst Bike City in America (yay for being No. 1?), but a shining counterpoint has been CicLAvia. Started in 2008, the event is a too-rare glimpse of what L.A. could look like without cars — or, at least, with some halfway decent cycling infrastructure. The Heart of L.A. route returns on Sunday, so hop on Metro (the K Line is finally open this weekend!), grab your bike, skateboard or skates — or penny-farthing — and enjoy exploring your city at a human speed. Later on, be sure to check out these local bike paths too.

Check out “The Times” podcast for essential news and more.

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

A person in gray sweatshirt, gray beanie and glasses smiles while holding a tray of plants in pots.

Desert plants en route to their new home.

(Mojave Desert Land Trust)

2. Adopt some rare desert plants in Joshua Tree. I love gardening with native plants, and fall is the best time to plant them. If you are looking to try your hand at this rewarding and habitat-renewing hobby, you’ll want to head to the Mojave Desert Land Trust’s headquarters in Joshua Tree on Saturday. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., you can pick up more than 50 locally grown, hard-to-find species, as well as some cool stuff to add to your backyard sculpture studio. The staff recommends arriving early — in the past, folks have lined up an hour before the kickoff. Times writer Jeanette Marantos got a sneak preview and some helpful desert planting tips too.

A set of outdoor concrete stairs that are painted with hearts and rainbow colors is seen from the bottom looking up.

The Micheltorena Stairs in Silver Lake.

(@hikingwithsun)

3. Get your steps in — and learn about L.A. history. On Saturday at 8 a.m., join See L.A. in a Day and Hiking With Sun on a collaborative urban hike through Silver Lake’s Insta-famous staircases. Along the way, you’ll learn about Silver Lake’s fascinating history, take lots of beautiful photos and stop at a local bakery to replenish all those burned calories. Reserve your spot here.

Carved pumpkins glow in the dark in an area strewn with leaves and lit by purplish lights.

Pumpkins light up the night at Carved.

(Jake Fabricius for Descanso Gardens)

4. Stroll alongside hundreds of carved pumpkins at Carved. Everyone seems to be getting out their Halloween decorations right now, but one of the most enchanting displays you’ll find is at Carved at Descanso Gardens. In addition to the famous pumpkin house, hay maze and hundreds of carved gourds throughout the garden, this year’s festivities will feature UV black-light experiences, live carvings and a Día de los Muertos installation. Tickets are on sale now for the rest of the month and likely will sell out quickly.

The face of a man in a cowboy hat is seen over the back of a saddled horse.

Times reporter Doug Smith returns to the Golden Trout Pack Station, where he worked as a teenager in the 1960s.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The must-read

Of mule trains and memories: As a young man, veteran Times reporter Doug Smith spent four summers as a mule hand in the southern Sierra along the Kern River. Nearly 60 years later, he returned to revisit his old stamping ground. His descriptions are beautiful — you can almost taste the high-altitude dust and pine in your mouth. The story also investigates how our memories of beloved places can clash and coexist with their present and future states, an experience many of us will have as the frequency of wildfires continues to increase.

Cars are lined up in a parking area next to towering red rock boulders.

Summer traffic at the Devil’s Garden.

(V. Verdin / National Park Service)

Red flag

We all love visiting our national parks. What we don’t love is visiting them with crowds that belong at a Black Friday sale. Overcrowding and overuse are going to affect more of the outdoor places we love, and experts are trying out different solutions. Arches National Park already has a shuttle program during the summer months, and this year, it experimented with limited timed-entry permits. The pilot program ended this week, and the park will announce its 2023 congestion plan soon. If you’re visiting Arches this fall, expect the return of long lines. On Tuesday, the park was full before 10 a.m., and visitors were told to try coming back in three to five hours. Yikes.

A large grizzly bear stands in a stream, soaked, with a red fish in its mouth.

Otis, the Fat Bear Week champion of 2021, 2017, 2016 and 2014.

(L. Law / National Park Service)

Wild thing

It’s Fat Bear Week. Repeat: It’s Fat Bear Week. I’m pretty sure every election I’ve ever been able to vote in has been called “the most important election of our lifetime,” but no election is more fun than the annual Fat Bear Week bracket organized by Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve. In the competition, which celebrates healthy ecosystems, you can pick your favorite bears based on any criteria you like. You can also join a live online chat with naturalists to learn more about the bears. Voting started Wednesday.

Closeup of a man with gray hair standing outdoors and holding a professional-looking camera.

John Poimiroo in his element.

(John Poimiroo)

Five questions with …

Name: John Poimiroo, editor and publisher of California Fall Color

What does being in nature mean for you?

Nature grounds me. The natural world is soothing. It has little of the conflict society inflicts upon us and all of the wonder.

What’s a place that inspires you and why?

Riparian forests and meadows are full of glory and life. Spend time near a stream and it will flow through you spiritually.

If you could change one thing about the way people think of nature, what would it be?

That it’s wild. We are wild. Nature is not. It is predictable and natural.

What’s your personal can’t-live-without item when you’re outside?

A camera. They are more about expressing experience and place than capturing a moment. Be a student of great photographs. Study how they’re composed. Then, practice expressing your own vision with that knowledge. Good photos tell stories and move the mind and heart.

What’s your No. 1 tip for people who want to strengthen their relationship with nature?

Read John Muir. A favorite of mine is his short work “A Wind-Storm in the Forests.”

P.S.

Want to shine a spotlight on a group or person doing good work in the outdoors? An upcoming event our readers might be interested in? Shoot us a line and let us know!

For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.

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