SAN DIEGO — Autumn leaves are already starting to show their colors across the country, meaning the peak time for seeing the magnificent colors of the season is inching closer.
While the best places to see trees ubiquitously colored amber and red are typically on the east coast, Southern California has its own fair share of destinations that offer beautiful views of fall foliage, including plenty in San Diego County.
Despite being known for its year-round summer, if you head into the eastern mountain areas, there are dozens of great spots in the county for people to check out the colors from local trees — like California oaks and sycamores — as their leaves change.
The best time to do that would be sometime between Oct. 16 and Oct. 23, when the leaves are predicted to reach their peak, according to a 2023 fall foliage prediction by travel brand SmokyMountains.com.
The forecast is determined by historical weather reports, information on tree species and user data. The map showing the predicted foliage as of Oct. 9 is pictured below.
Some places that are favorites among those looking to check out the local color include:
- The mountain towns of Julian or Idyllwild
- William Heise County Park
- Palomar Mountain State Park
- Mount Laguna in the Cleveland National Forest
- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Trees at a few of the San Diego-area destinations have already started to change, but it’s still a little early to know exactly how brilliant and widespread the color may be this season.
Generally, trees at higher elevations peak first since they are the first to experience shorter daylight hours that stops the production of chlorophyll, the pigment that helps turn sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. When chlorophyll starts to breakdown, the normal green color seen during the spring and summer disappears, making yellowish colors visible.
Heavy rain during the growing season that eased much of the region out of a drought followed by a relatively dry, sunny summer and fall could give way to the perfect conditions for the best colors in San Diego County. Although, the extreme rain brought on by Tropical Storm Hilary could also play a role in the development of this year’s local fall colors.
One possibility with the August rainfall is that it could delay the peak slightly due to the precipitation coming at the tail end of the growth season — September is usually when chlorophyll production starts to slow prompting the leaves to change, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
On the other hand, the heavy rainfall could also deter a robust fall color, as heavy rain events during the summer often knock leaves off trees prematurely.
While it’s unknown how quickly the leaves may transition in San Diego County, it remains likely that the fall foliage will not peak after Halloween during the first days of November as it does in other parts of the southern U.S.
In Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, park rangers said in an Instagram post on Friday that the first bits of fall color have already started to show up, mostly among low-lying plants like the poison oak, basket bush and sierra gooseberry. Leaves on the black oaks in the area are still more green than orange, they added.
Meanwhile, farther north in Palomar State Park, some oaks have started to change a little more widely, although it still appears to be relatively patchy.
Regardless, with fall in full swing, heading to check out the local foliage is a must-do activity for those looking to embrace the season before the leaves fall down like pieces into place for winter.