As fall colors go, McGee Creek Canyon was just starting to turn. I had a look the last weekend in September after driving the steep, winding four miles to the trail head — mostly on pavement, the end on gravel — for a short hike up the canyon south of Mammoth Lakes.
Most of the good leaf-peeping at this time of year in the Eastern Sierra means leaving the main drag, Highway 395, and climbing on mountain roads to elevations around 8,500 feet and higher. McGee Creek Canyon in the Inyo National Forest sits a little lower than that, which means its colors will peak a week or so later.
But the remote location is what drew me. During the couple of hours I explored on foot, I saw only a handful of hikers, some toting tripods to record their fall finds.
Autumn colors appeared in uneven pockets; this canyon still had time to pop. Aspen trees that lined the creek showed lots of green leaves or yellow tops where leaves just started to change. Shrubby willows along the water’s edge were turning a pale yellow.
As I walked farther up, I could see streaks of gold and dark orange where whole lines of trees had turned and I tried to imagine the entire canyon ablaze with color. The Sierra peaks at the end of the canyon showed a sprinkling of yellow too.