Classic Fall Color Hikes
Vine maple and larches. Two of the finest reasons to hike in the fall.
Washington’s diversity of flora in the mountains makes for a spectacular fall color display – from the deep reds of vine maple on the western slopes to the golden yellow of alpine larches on the eastern slope. But that's not all that makes the hillsides light up in autumn - we have fiery oranges of huckleberry shrubs, brilliant yellows of the aspens, and pretty reds from a variety of different berries - often against a backdrop of crisp blue sky.
The cooler weather and shorter days of autumn also bring an increase in wildlife activity, as animals like bears and marmots busy themselves gathering food and storing up calories for the long, sleepy winter. Songbirds are seen in much greater numbers as they ditch their breeding territories and become friends again, flocking together to prepare for migration.
>> See where Trip Reporters have spotted them.
So pack an extra fleece, your camera and a thermos of hot chocolate or spiced cider, and get ready to fill your lungs with cool, crisp autumn air and take in a wonderful palette of Washington’s fall color. WTA has carefully selected nine spectacular hikes for you to do just that. To hit the peak color, check back with Trip Reports regularly for the latest news from the trail. And be sure to read up on our Five Tips for Fall Hiking and Staying Safe During Hunting Season for how to prepare and stay safe as the weather changes.
Maple Pass Loop / Lake Ann
Location: North Cascades Highway
Round Trip: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2000' to 6850'
Maple Pass is all about fall – spectacular colors, late-season huckleberries, and great views. A popular trail for alpine larch, peak viewing is usually mid-October. Bring your camera, because the bright yellow larches punching through the flaming undergrowth on a sunny fall day will make a spectacular memento of your trip. A great family hike, and a short side trip to Lake Ann makes a nice addition.
Blue LakeLocation: North Cascades Highway
Round Trip: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 1050' to 6250'
Imagine a short and easy hike to a beautiful, deep blue lake. Add in views of several stunning North Cascade peaks. Then ring the lake electric yellow of larches. Sound good? If so, definitely add this hike to your October larch march. The trail starts just past Rainy Pass and climbs to more than 6200 feet. It can be icy and snowy in October, so be prepared for all conditions.
Location: Stevens Pass
Round Trip: 8.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 3600' to 7085'
This trail shares a trailhead with the popular Spider Meadow hike, but peels off early - shedding people as it gains some serious elevation. After three miles, hikers arrive in a glorious basin highlighted in fall by golden larch trees. Catch your breath as you enjoy them, because the trail continues its climb to the top of Carne Mountain, elevation 7085 feet. Bring a good map so you can identify all the peaks before you. It's quite a display of mountains!
Round Trip: 9.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2500' to 6500'
The pass on the way to Lake Ingalls puts on one of the best larch shows in the state year after year. Hundreds of stunning yellow trees shimmer in the sun. On a nice day, you might never even make it to the lake, which would be a shame because it is a pretty fabulous destination in its own right, with lofty Mount Stuart as a backdrop. However far you make it, be sure your camera battery is charged and your memory card empty for all the photos you are sure to take.
Location: Snoqualmie Pass - West
Round Trip: 8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3800' to 5629'
Here’s a great hike to celebrate what excellent shape you’ve gotten yourself in over the summer! The huffing and puffing will reward you with the eruption of a psychedelic blast of fall color as you gain elevation, culminating in a spectacular view at the lookout summit.
Location: Olympics - East
Round Trip: 14.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1650' to 5100'
Gone are the crowds that flock to this picturesque basin above the Dungeness River in summer. Gone too are the wildflowers, but in its place is a tranquil carpet of fall color and rewarding long day hike or overnight. This is one of the prettiest hikes in Olympic National Park, with towering trees, crashing creeks, alpine meadows and Royal Lake ringed by two huge mountains.
Naches Peak Loop
Location: Mount Rainier - East
Round Trip: 3.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 600' to 5849'
Subalpine meadows filled with huckleberry bushes that seem to be on fire with color make this hike a great one, but it’s the backdrop of “the mountain” that makes it brilliant. To get the best views of Mount Rainier, hike the loop in a clockwise direction and go on a clear day!
Silver Star Mountain
Location: Columbia Gorge area
Round Trip: 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1000' to 4390'
Here's a hidden gem for folks living near Portland or Vancouver. This landscape was the scene of a scorching hot fire nearly 100 years ago - so hot that the ancient forest that was here never grew back. That's a boon for hikers. The views are stupendous, and the incredible fall colors start near the trailhead and never stop.
Cowiche CanyonLocation: Near Yakima
Round Trip: 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 100' to 1500'
Proof that not all fall color is found in the mountains. This rail-to-trail conversion near Yakima is ablaze in October, from the reds of the sumac, dogwood and hawthorn to the yellows of willow, birch and aspen. Take a bike ride or a walk - the canyon is quite stunning in every season.
Round Trip: varies
Elevation Gain: varies
Head to Eastern Washington to find piles of crunchy, crisp leaves instead of wet, matted ones. In the September+October issue of Washington Trails magazine, writer Rich Leon extols the wonders of hiking in the Spokane area in autumn. Spokane's 65-acre Finch Arboretum, Spokane County's Liberty Lake (with trails maintained by WTA volunteers) and Mount Spokane State Park are featured.