The State of Southern California Fall Color

Over the last week, Modern Hiker made a couple of trips out to eastern San Diego County, where the higher elevations support large groves of deciduous black oaks. These trees are one of the few non-riparian deciduous trees in Southern California, and they are responsible for putting on a gorgeous fall color show that one would not expect to find this far south. DSC00093

In the past, I have seen some gorgeous shows of color in Cleveland National Forest and further north in Idyllwild. While the color range and scenery aren’t as spectacular as the shows along the Eastern Sierra between Bishop and Lake Tahoe, the vivid oranges and golds in the local mountains help debunk the assertion that Southern California does not have classic seasons.


Recently, Modern Hiker visited two hot spots for fall color in San Diego, Hot Springs Mountain and the Laguna Mountains Recreation Area. You can read more about the state of things by visiting these two posts from California Fall Color. We are sad to say that, although both areas are close to peak, the oaks in the Laguna Mountains are showing numerous signs of drought stress and attack from invasive species. The oaks in this region and in nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Julian have been subject to attack from the Gold Spotted Oak Borer for the last 15 years, and as Southern California continues to limp through the worst drought in California’s recorded history, the black oaks in the Lagunas are struggling mightily.


The fall color show this year reflects this struggle. Many of the trees have not achieved peak color, yet they have lost the majority of the leaves. A lot of trees are showing characteristic signs of bark beetle attack, including dying crowns and peeling bark. Many of the leaves on the trees appear to have died in response to lack of water rather than undergone the subtle transition from green to gold. On top of that, a substantial fraction of the black oaks in the region have already succumbed to bark beetle attacks in the past, and it appears that every tenth tree is dead or dying.


But that does not mean that there is not a show to be seen down south. Many oaks, particularly those on Wooded Hill or along Laguna Meadow, are right where they should be and will be producing a beautiful color show over the next couple of weeks. The black oaks on Hot Springs Mountain are faring much better as that region has not been affected by Gold Spotted Oak Borer infestations, although Hot Springs Mountain is far less accessible than places like Julian, Idyllwild, Cuyamaca, and Mt. Palomar.


This weekend, Modern Hiker will visit another San Diego foliage hot spot, Palomar Mountain State Park, as well as Los Angeles hot spot Santa Anita Canyon to scope out how the fall color continues to progress. Stay tuned for more updates, foliage lovers!

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