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Forest Falls

Forest Falls is a key gateway to the Sand to Snows National Monument in the San Bernardino Mountains and home to the original trail into the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Lined with bigleaf maple, black oak and aspen, the trail is a favorite in autumn. SoCal color spotter Jim Van Matre describes the trail as “showing off its color, right now.”

He states, “The drive up Valley of the Falls Drive from Highway 38 is beautiful, but the payoff is at the top around the Falls Picnic Area.

Forest Falls, San Bernardino Mountains (10/11/21) Jim Van Matre
  • Forest Falls, San Bernardino Mountains (5,700′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)
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Big Bear Brightens

Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino Mountains (10/9/21) Jim Van Matre

The autumn show has begun in the San Bernardino Mountains around Big Bear.

SoCal color spotter Jim Van Matre was there on Saturday to find “a lot of color along dirt road N210 for the first mile or two. After that there is no color.”

He estimates the show to be just beginning with native trees (aspen, bigleaf maple, black oak) tending to change quickly, “before falling off.”

Exotic trees in and around town are spectacular with shades of red and orange. Because of the quick peak and some species peaking, we’re categorizing Big Bear Lake as Near Peak.

  • Big Bear Lake (6,752′) – Near Peak (50 – 75%), Go Now!

Fall Color is Catching

Lake Hemet (11/20/20) Jeff Brown

It appears fall color is catching in the San Jacinto Mountains where peak Fremont cottonwood and black oak are ringing the lake.

  • Lake Hemet Campground (4,340′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

24 Little Hours

Mountain biking at Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino NF (10/17/20) James Wei

Well, if what Dinah Washington once sang was true …

“What a difference a day makes
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain …

Stanley Adams / Maria Grever

Then, what a difference a week makes, at least in Big Bear Lake. James Wei reports he was there a week ago when it was Patchy to Near Peak and now golden hues are everywhere.

He wonders whether the dry year had something to do with the fact that the color isn’t as vibrant as he remembers and though his bike ride through the mountains was fantastic, there’s a sense the color won’t last.

  • Big Bear Lake – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Big Bear Peaks Through

Big Bear Lake (10/14/20) Steve Shinn

It almost seems like the clock tower in Big Bear Lake is peeking through the cottonwood. It’s the other way around. The cottonwood are the ones peaking.

Southern California color spotter Steve Shinn rates Big Bear as at Peak and estimates that the exotics have a week to go, while those cottonwood will last a while.

Now that San Bernardino National Forest is open and skies have cleared, the color at Big Bear is vibrant. Steve notes that a mix of native and exotic trees in Big Bear Lake provide for a colorful palette.

  • Big Bear Lake (6,752′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Ashen Aspen

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

When San Bernardino National Forest reopened last week, I had hopes that the scene Alena Nicholas captured two years ago in an award-winning report, Aspen Grove Trail Recovers, would look even better.

Instead, the moribund scenes captured by Lisa Wilkerson-Willis with her camera phone tell of aspen not bursting with new life, but struggling beneath a coating of ash.

Aspen Grove Trail, San Bernardino NF (10/11/20) Lisa Wilkerson-Willis

Lisa visited the grove soon after it reopened, but found little to no color. It was so disappointing, she didn’t think it “worth it to use my camera.”

The grove has so little color or promise that it will develop, that I’m classifying it as Past Peak, even though many of the few leaves there have yet turned color.

Despite the dismal setting, Lisa found optimism in the “baby aspen” pushing up “all around the grove, some as tall as 11 feet, measuring two to three inches in diameter.”

Now if we could just get a break … a year with rain, an autumn without smoke … perhaps we could see it at its best.

Elsewhere in the San Bernardino Mountains, James Wei says Big Bear is dragging its roots, as well. He rates most of the foliage to be short of 50%, which makes it barely Near Peak.

  • Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow National Monument, San Gorgonio Wilderness, San Bernardino National Forest (7,370′) – Past Peak – You Missed It.
  • Big Bear Lake (6,752′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10 – 75%) Go Now!
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Serviceberries at Big Bear

Surrounding the town of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, the national forest is officially closed, but a forest closure does not mean the trees stop what they do naturally.

Fall color is Patchy (10-50%) at Big Bear Lake, though serviceberry bushes, as local color spotter Trent Vierra found, are Near Peak.

Trent took these from the forest hillside behind his cabin in the Moonridge area. He admits that his “little hillside seems to be much farther along than other areas, probably due to it being north-facing. The serviceberry bushes on the hillside, which are pictured, are very golden, while the one by our deck is more green. Black oak, also pictured, on the hillside are about 40% changed into their beautiful autumn russet color.

“Elsewhere around town, the bigleaf maple and some cottonwood are starting to turn, about 40% or less as well. On the drive up the 330, some willows and ferns are beginning to change and there are cool, shaded pockets, especially after the dam on the way into town, where there is some really great golden color in the deciduous ground cover,” Trent posted in a very thorough and appreciated report.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier), deciduous shrubs within the rose family, have beautifully delicate blossoms in springtime and the Autumn Brilliance variety is rich with deep orange and red in fall. The shrub needs little care or attention, though occasional pruning will accentuate its form and remove dead, crossing or dry stems.

  • Big Bear Lake (6,752′) – Patchy (10-50%)
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You Gotta Love It.

Spectrum News 1 joined up with color spotters Nick and Alena Barnhart to report about fall color in the Oak Glen area of Southern California.

Nick’s comment? “Fall color in California? You gotta like it.”

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A Cornucopia of Color

Liquidambar, Oak Glen (11/18/19) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen is displaying a cornucopia of color.

Though the San Bernardino Mountains apple-growing area is at an elevation of 4,734′, fall color still looks good and should stay at peak until Thanksgiving Day, SoCal color spotter Alena Nicholas estimates.

She was there on Monday taking pictures and being interviewed by Spectrum News for Californiafallcolor.com.

Oak Glen (11/18/19) Alena Nicholas

Alena reports that Oak Glen’s ponds, woods and orchards are still full of bright color. Deer have settled into the orchards as they wait for the inevitable apple to fall from an upper branch.

Oak Glen was California’s first apple harvest destination. Its farms and shops are famous for their homebaked apple pastries, nature trails, handmade gifts, harvest atmosphere, honest family fun and fresh-pressed cider.

And yes, there’s still time to order a ready-to-bake apple pie before Thanksgiving Day.

  • Oak Glen (4,734′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.

Retreat to Idyllwild

Black oak, Ernie Maxwell Trail (11/4/19) Mark Hanning-Lee

Idyllwild has long been a favorite Southern California retreat.

The San Jacinto mountain town is surrounded by scenic terrain that invites hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and awe.

Mark Hanning-Lee hiked the Ernie Maxwell Trail and explored the area last week, showing black oak, manzanita and Frémont cottonwood at peak. By now, the areas he photographed with an iPhone X are at the end of peak with lower elevations (Lake Hemet) and northwest-facing areas now peaking.

Mark parked at the Humber Peak trailhead and walked south along the Ernie Maxwell trail. He recommends an afternoon hike, as it is lit from mid afternoon to sunset.

In town, a spindly Frémont cottonwood by the Town Crier office was still full of golden leaves. He then continued north 10 miles on State Route 243 to find Near Peak color along Stone Creek and Lake Fulmor.

  • Idyllwild (5,413′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Lake Hemet (4,340′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!