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Looking for Larches in an Early Snow Year

Mid-October marks the peak of Washington's larch season. But this year, the federal shutdown, early snow, and last year's larch losses along Blewett Pass to wildfire mean hikers have a few extra conditions to contend with in their hunt for their golden rewards.

Carne Mountain Basin Larches Snow
Larches in the snowy basin of Carne Mountain. Photo by Sangaek.

Seeking out the unusual, brilliant hues of fall larches are a wonderful Washington hiking tradition, and mid-October marks the peak of larch season. But this year, larch marchers have a few extra conditions to contend with in their hunt for their golden rewards including early snow and last year's larch losses along Blewett Pass to wildfire.

Early season snow. With a lot of early snow in the high country this year, seeking out larches may mean encountering snow. Read recent trip reports and snow reports to decide if hiking boots, crampons or snowshoes are required.

Bottom line: If you head out seeking larches:

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    Lake Ingalls

    Lake Ingalls Snow
    View of Mount Stewart on the Lake Ingalls Trail. Photo (c) Ali Alam.

    Location: Teanaway
    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.

    >> Read more about Lake Ingalls and recent trip reports in WTA's Hiking Guide

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    Blue Lake

    Blue Lake larches
    Blue Lake larches. Photo by cmitch85.

    Location: 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.

    >> Read more about Blue Lake and recent trip reports in WTA's Hiking Guide

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    Cutthroat Lake

    Cutthroat Lake in Fall
    Cutthroat Lake in fall. Photo by explorerdogs.

    Location: North Cascades Highway - East Slope
    Round Trip: 3.3 miles
    Elevation Gain: 400' to 5000'

    This trail is a shorter, easier hike with a gentle slope to a lake surrounded by rocky cliffs. Perhaps less spectacular than the traditional larch favorites, this trail from Cutthroat Creek up through forest and a valley to the lake does have larches along the way, and probably a little less snow, too.

    >> Read more about Cutthroat Lake and recent trip reports in WTA's Hiking Guide

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    Heather - Maple Pass Loop

    Maple Pass - Heather Loop snowy larches
    Snow and larches on the Maple Pass Trail. Photo by cascadehiker.

    Location: North Cascades Highway - Eastern Slope
    Round Trip:
    7.2 miles
    Elevation Gain: 2000' to 6850'

    Maple Pass, just outside the closed North Cascades National Park, is all about fall –- spectacular colors, stands of larches, and great views. A popular trail for alpine larch, peak viewing is usually mid-October. Bring your camera, because the bright yellow larches shining against the snow on a sunny day will make a spectacular memento of your trip. It's worth a trip for larch-viewing, but don't expect to make the entire loop if you encounter deep snows.

    >> Read more about Maple Pass and recent trip reports in WTA's Hiking Guide

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    Cutthroat Pass

    Cutthroat Pass Snow
    Hiking through snow on Cutthroat Pass. Photo by Octo.

    Location: North Cascades Highway - Eastern Slope
    Round Trip:
    10 miles
    Elevation Gain: 2000' to 6800'

    Start with a small river crossing, then climb about three miles up to one of the most scenic portions of the the Pacific Crest Trail. That's where you'll find spectacular views, plenty of snow and the larches you've been looking for.

    >> Read more about Cutthroat Pass and recent trip reports in WTA's Hiking Guide

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    Eagle Lakes

    Larches at Upper Eagle Lake
    Larches at Upper Eagle Lake. Photo by Doug Walsh.

    Location: North Cascades - East Slope
    Round Trip: 12 miles
    Elevation Gain: 2480’
    Highest Point: 7110'

    To experience the real drama of Eagle Lakes, wait for the peak of larch season and hike all 6 miles to the top of this longer dayhike in the Sawtooths, where you'll reach the stunning larch-ringed basin of Upper Eagle Lake. If you're looking for your fall backpacking trip, the area has many loops and side trips worth their weight in golden larches, including a larch classic, Cooney Lake Trail and on WTA staffer's favorite, the Copper Glance Trail. Go prepared to encounter snow.

    >> Read the Hiking Guide and recent trip reports for more information

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    Larch Lake

    Larch Lake in Fall
    Golden larches at Larch Lake. Photo by Judy West.

    Location: Central Cascades - Stevens Pass East
    Round Trip: 12 miles
    Elevation Gain:
    2450'
    Highest Point:
    6078'

    You'll probably encounter snow and you'll definitely have to work for a look at this high lake, nestled among the Scottish Lakes out of High Camp, but oh, will it be worth it. High alpine passes and lake basins and golden larches make this a classic fall hike.

    >> Read the Hiking Guide and recent trip reports for more information

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    Sullivan Lake

    Fall on Lake Sullivan Trail
    Fall colors on the trail to Lake Sullivan. Photo by Aaron Theisen

    Location: Eastern Washington
    Round Trip: 4.1 miles
    Elevation Gain:
    250'
    Highest Point: 2840

    Wander woods reminiscent of eastern hardwood forest, filled with aspen, hemlock and birch along the largest natural lake in the Colville National Forest—plus enjoy one of the best western larch displays in Eastern Washington. It's a great hike for both kids and dogs on leash.

    >> Read the Hiking Guide for more information

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