Nevada and California Fall Color: The Two Sides of the Sweetwaters

The Sweetwater Mountains straddle California and Nevada. In California, you’ll see them rising up to the east of Antelope Valley and the town of Walker stretching out to the north of Bridgeport. In Nevada, they loom to the west of Smith Valley just south of Wellington. California Fall Color reported that the aspens on the California side of the Sweetwaters on Lobdell Lake Road were at peak. 

So we were curious to know how the aspens on the Nevada side were coming along. On Sunday, October 3, we set off on a bumpy journey along a rough dirt road to find out.

An Adventurous Drive

Our goal? To drive to the primitive Desert Creek Campground. There are two ways to get there. The Toiyabe National Forest web page for the campground only mentioned the southern route, probably because the northern route requires five stream crossings. We chose the southern route.

Before we left the highway we saw our first glimpse of fall color: one of the best displays of blooming rabbitbrush I’ve seen. The yellow flowers carpeted a large meadow. 

We turned off the main road on to Risuse Canyon Road. According to the Forest Service website, standard vehicles can drive this southern route to the campground. However, there is a stream crossing that from spring to late summer might prevent you from getting there. I would not recommend the road for standard vehicles even before you get to the stream crossing. It’s a rough rumble along a rocky road. Even with our RAV4 we worried.  

Rabbitbrush in bloom, Sweetwater Mountains Nevada, 10-3-21, Patrick Wilkes

Fall Color on the Nevada Side of the Sweetwater Mountains

When we reached Desert Creek, I was pleasantly surprised to find some of the largest willows I’ve seen in Nevada. They were starting to turn yellow. I’d rate them at the low end of Getting Better. Backlit by the sun they looked beautiful. 

Willows by Desert Creek, Sweetwater Mountains Nevada, 10-3-21, Patrick Wilkes

I don’t remember seeing willows this big on the Sweetwater Mountain’s California side, although I might have been distracted by the aspens putting on their own show.

The aspens over here in Nevada were still green. I’d give them another 10 days or so to really get going. However, that’s good news. Because they’re still green they should be protected from the cold temps arriving with the two storms approaching later this week and early next. 

Sweetwater Mountains aspens waiting to put on a show, 10-3-21, Patrick Wilkes

We did not make it all the way to Desert Creek Campground since the road was starting to make us nervous. We parked by a bridge that crossed the stream and walked down the road a little ways. There was a small wildfire here that burned some of the aspens but most of them survived. 

Fall color near burned area, Desert Creek, Sweetwaters, 10-3-21, Patrick Wilkes

There weren’t as many aspens on this side of the Sweetwaters as on the California side. However, there was a nice ribbon of them along the stream, mixed in with the willows.

If you have an ATV, a really sweet trip would be to drive from the Nevada side up and over to Lobdell Lake Road on the California side. There’s also good fishing in the stream, which is stocked.

Directions from Wellington: First, we strongly recommend you come armed with a map of this area. There are a lot of dirt roads that connect with the main road and it can be confusing.

  1. For the southern route, from Wellington, Nevada, take the Wellington Cutoff towards Bridgeport.
  2. Turn right on State Route 338.
  3. From the Desert Creek Road sign drive about 14 miles further south on SR 338.
  4. Turn right on Risuse Canyon Road (FR-50). Follow it uphill. It’s very rocky and not well-maintained. We strongly recommend a high-clearance vehicle. You’ll reach the creek in just under 7 miles.
  5. Continue to follow the road across a bridge. Turn right on Desert Creek Road. The campground is past the creek crossing. 

Nevada Side of the Sweetwaters Fall Color Report

Willows: Getting Better (20%)

Aspens: Still green 

Please send in your own Nevada Fall Color report. You could win a $50 Amazon gift card if your photo is chosen as the best of the season. Here’s how to submit a report.

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