5 Frequently Asked Questions About Fall Color in Mammoth Lakes

While the days remain warm in the high country, the nip of fall is in the evening air and a few leaves are starting to change. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about fall color in and around Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra.

How long is fall in the Eastern Sierra?

The Eastern Sierra’s elevations range from approximately 5,000 to 10,000 feet (1,512 to 3,048 meters), which means that fall colors peak at different times. They start earliest in the highest elevations and move down into lower elevations later in the season. Mammoth Lakes, June Lake and Northern Mono County tend to peak around mid-October, but color starts as early as mid-September.

What types of Eastern Sierra trees change colors in the fall?

Look for aspens, cottonwood, and willow to change color. Aspen are the most prevalent trees near Mammoth Lakes.

Why do the leaves change colors?

The reason we see fall colors is part of an annual cycle that begins in spring and summer when green chlorophyll pigments are active in cells that make food for the tree to grow. It’s during this time that leaves also contain lesser amounts of yellow, orange and red pigments that are masked by the chlorophyll. The occurrence of fall colors is actually a disappearance of chlorophyll.

What determines the intensity of fall colors?

The intensity of leaf color is determined by the air’s temperature and moisture. Warm, dry days and cool nights (under 45 degrees F or 7 degrees C) mean brilliant colors; rainy days and warm nights result in less intense coloration.

Why do different leaves turn different color?

Different trees have pigments called xanthophylls (yellows), carotenoids (yellows, oranges, and reds), and anthocyanin (red). Anthocyanin is the result of trapped plant sugar, produced by the leaf when days are sunny and nights are cold.

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