10/07/2011 05:56 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2011

California Fall Foliage: A MapQuest Guide

California fall foliage features brilliant hues and spectacular scenery. The changing colors of leaves in autumn is one of nature’s most beloved rites of passage -- and makes for one of the most popular and inexpensive getaways for families. As part of LeafQuest -- a MapQuest series helping leaf peepers across North America find easy and rewarding destinations -- here are three recommended spots for viewing California fall foliage. — Andres Jauregui

The Ortega Highway

Granted, when most people think of the Golden State -- particularly Southern California -- they conjure images of palm trees. But the mountains in SoCal put on a yearly display of fall colors. The Ortega Highway, officially known as State Road 74, climbs over the Elsinore Mountains and down into Lake Elsinore. Spots along the highway burst with patches of color, and the lakefront's cottonwoods and willows turn golden yellow. However, those colors might not come until December! Locals like to go birding in the lake's surrounding wetlands. Start your trip at the Lake Elsinore Historical Society Museum.

106 S. Main St., Lake Elsinore, CA 92530 | Get Directions

California's Gold Country

The gold rush of the mid-1800s, one of the most significant events in California history, brought a great migration of people to the state. Today, the only gold that visitors are likely to find will be on the trees in late October and early November, but the old mining towns of the Sierra Nevada and Northern California gold fields remain great spots for fall getaways. Empire Mine State Historical Park has preserved mine shafts that visitors can explore with a guide -- dressed in period clothing -- from May through October. There's also a wooded back country with trails to explore. In the northern gold country, Shasta National Forest is an excellent leaf-peeping location. As notes, "Dude, autumn happens here too."

10791 E. Empire St., Grass Valley, CA 95945 | Get Directions

Yosemite National Park

In addition to being perhaps the nation's most renowned park, Yosemite National Park is probably California's most famous fall-color destination. Its ample foliage, well-maintained trails and majestic mountain terrain draw visitors from around the world. Look for a virtual rainbow of dogwoods, black oaks, quaking aspen, black cottonwood, and even wild grape vines and poison oak. The National Park Service notes that a Yosemite fan favorite is "the non-native sugar maple that turns a brilliant red near the Yosemite Chapel."

9039 Village Drive, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389 | Get Directions

Vibrant fall foliage in California's eastern Sierra Nevada mountains

Did we miss a California fall-foliage spot? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Want other great fall-foliage destinations? Check out more LeafQuest.

LeafQuest Special: Read ex-Navy SEAL team leader (and former Californian) Chuck Pfarrer's take on Michigan foliage.

LeafQuest Special: Read two-time Pulitzer-nominee Joyce Millman's take on California vs. New England foliage.

Interested in more stories about California? Go to Patch and scroll the list of states to get great local coverage of your neighborhood.