Knowing where and where to see the spectacle requires planning — and patience.

The blazing spectacle that is the changing foliage colors in the Eastern Sierra is the most reliable show in Mono County, although only in the sense that it happens every year. Exactly when Mother Nature decides to dress up the valleys and slopes is rarely a certainty.

Which is why longtime fans of the annual change say that visitors should plan ahead and prepare to patient and flexible. On the plus side fall colors season in Mono County is one of the longest and most diverse in the country.

Take that, Vermont.

High in the Eastern Sierra, the leaves start to change in mid- to late September, weeks before autumn actually begins. The show continues to descend across California at a rate of 500 to 1,000 feet per week until it fades away near the coast in December. That’s why Mono County, with its impressive range of elevations (from 5,000 feet to nearly 12,000 feet) typically has the longest fall foliage period of California’s 58 counties.

But because timing is crucial, it helps to know where and when to look. Here are top recommendations for catching the colors of fall in Mono County:

Late September: In the last two weeks of September, Mono County visitors will find peak fall color, dependably, at the Virginia Lakes, Sagehen Summit and Upper Rock Creek.

Early October: For visitors with all-wheel drive vehicles, Lobdell Lake, Summers Meadow, and Dunderberg Meadow dirt roads come alive with displays of fluttering yellow aspen leaves during the first week of October.  A week later, it's time for McGee Creek Canyon, Laurel Canyon, Sonora and Monitor Passes, and the Mammoth Lakes Basin to glow.

Mid October: By the third week in October, Lundy Canyon (one of the finest fall color hikes in California) is at its peak and Convict Lake and the June Lake Loop are coming into their own. Trails canopied with golden aspen circle the lakes and climb drainages.

Late October: As October wanes, so does fall color in the Eastern Sierra. Among the last to be enjoyed is a gorgeous boulevard of towering cottonwood lining U.S. 395 as it passes through the Antelope Valley.

Before heading out, download the Eastern Sierra Fall Colors map here.