September in the Sierras

Summer is coming to an end and autumn is around the corner. While fun in the sun may be on its way out, there are still plenty of seasonal activities to enjoy, even for those not quite ready to start thinking about pumpkin patches and hayrides.

Fall Fish Fest

This shoulder season is ideal for a trip to Tahoe. Not only can you do many of the same activities you might enjoy in the summertime, without quite the large crowds, but there is also a special event that only occurs as fall approaches: the annual salmon run. This is an occurrence that begins in September every year as the Kokanee salmon migrate back to Taylor Creek to spawn. The salmon transform this time of year, turning a bright red color with the males developing a hook jaw. The sight of brightly colored fish streaming up the creek is a stunning and dramatic must-see.

Kokanee salmon were introduced to Lake Tahoe in the 1940s and stocked at Taylor Creek for sport fishing purposes. Taylor Creek was imprinted upon the juvenile fish so that they recognized it as a place to return to when spawning. It is thought that salmon use scent-memory and the earth’s magnetic field to guide them back to their home streams.

The salmon run is marked each year by the Fall Fish Festival which typically takes place on the first weekend of October at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, along Highway 89 in South Lake Tahoe. The festival is free and family friendly with fun activities for kids, education about local fish and habitat, wildlife viewing, and the hallmark of the event, a giant inflatable fish.

Kokanee salmon in water
Kokanee salmon Lake Tahoe painting by Leeann McLanegoetz

You can also catch the show by simply choosing a creekside walking path, or viewing the fish through below-water windows at the visitor center. You can camp near Taylor Creek at Fallen Leaf Campground, or head into town for lodgings with more creature comforts. September weather in Tahoe is usually still warm and sunny, but the evenings can get chilly, so if making a weekend of it, be sure to pack layers.

Apple Hill farms donuts and apples and a cup of apple cider
Slice of apple pie a-la-mode on a picnic table at Apple Hill

Apple Hill

Another great trip for a day or weekend getaway is Apple Hill, a group of 55 apple ranches located in El Dorado County, among the foothills of the Sierras. This is the time of year when the ranches open to visitors, offering family friendly fun for all. There are plenty of delicious baked goods to sample and purchase, ciders to try, wines to taste, and, of course, apple varieties to pick. From face painting to pony rides to scavenger hunts, there are endless adventures for the kids, with each ranch offering a little something different.

In addition to the kid-friendly ranches, there are a handful of wineries, a brewery and a spa, all within the parameters of Apple Hill. September is a great time to go, as it will get you ahead of the seasonal rush in October. Weekends are typically the most crowded, as it’s usually when the kids’ activities are scheduled. 

You’ll want to plan your trip ahead of time by consulting the Apple Hill website,, to determine which ranches, wineries, etc. you want to visit. See their calendar of events at and a list of ranches with kid-friendly activities at

If you go, be sure to bring a cooler for any treats or bottles you buy and want to take home. If making a weekend of it, lodging can be found nearby in the forms of hotel, bed and breakfast, or campground.