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Hi-Lo Hikes for Fall Colors

Get the most out of autumn hiking in Washington: go high and go low. When the forecast is fine, ascend alpine slopes for golden larches and long views. On cloudy days or when snow closes out the high country, delve deep into canyon country and river gorges for your fall fix.

Fall is arguably one of the best seasons for hiking in Washington state. Forget the blazing heat and bugs of summer; your backpack now holds a puffy jacket or a cozy fleece and a thermos of hot cocoa.

One way to get the most out of autumn in Washington is to write your hiking wishlist with a split focus: go high and go low.

When the forecast is fine, ascend alpine slopes for larches (deciduous confiers that turn golden in fall) and long views. On cloudy days or when snow closes out the high country, delve deep into canyon country and river trails for your fall fix of aspen, vine maple and mushrooms.

Get your personalized Hi-Lo hikes list started from our ideas below and don't forget to share your own fall adventures in a trip report.

Safety tips: Shorter days, colder nights and quick-changing weather patterns can make even a simple hike more risky than your average summer excursion. Pack the 10 Essentials, and check conditions before you head out.


    Hike the High Country 

    Tatie Peak and Grasshopper Pass

    Location: North Cascades -- Pasayten
    Length: 9.4 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain: 1200 feet
    Highest Point: 7386 feet
    Fall Feature: larches

    The stunning fall colors along the PCT in the Tatie Peak and Grasshopper Pass section. Photo in early October by BradGeyer.

    Until fall storms begin to complicate things, the heights of the Pacific Crest Trail in the North Cascades are a wonder of fall color and ripe berries. Starting from Harts Pass gives you the added benefit of starting high and staying high as you cruise south through alpine meadows, talus fields and stands of golden larch.

    If you're looking for your fall backpacking trip, it's easy to extend (depending on the weather). Tip: the Forest Road up to Harts Pass can be harrowing, so it's a good idea to check the road status before you set out for this one.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Easy Pass

    Location: North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway - Hwy 20
    Length:
    7.0 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain: 2800 feet 
    Highest Point: 6500 feet
    Fall Feature: larches and mushrooms

    Looking north from Easy Pass, larches and alpine color dot the landscape in early October. Photo by hikingshen.

    Don’t be fooled by the name; the way to Easy Pass is anything but easy. But the reward for your efforts is an eastside gateway into the stunning North Cascades National Park. This challenging hike is worth the trip, or you can work it into a fall “larch march.” Take a long weekend and head to the North Cascades, an area chock-full of hikes lined with larches, which turn an arresting gold in the autumn. Keep your eyes peeled in the first few miles for mushrooms.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Skyline Divide

    Location: North Cascades -- Mount Baker Area
    Length:
    9.0 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain:
    2500 feet
    Highest Point: 5450 feet
    Fall feature: colorful alpine meadows


    Fall colors on the slopes from the ridge trail of Skyline Divide. Photo by Ty Kelly.

    If there's one place not to neglect during fall hiking, it is Mount Baker. The bugs that plague August visitors are gone in September and early October, and the rolling flower meadows blaze red this time of year. Many hikers don't go beyond the first viewpoint, but take the time to walk up the ridge for stunning North Cascade views. Better yet, haul up a backpack and take in the fall constellations on a clear (cold) night. Just be sure not to park your tent on one of the meadows.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Juniper Ridge

    Location: South Cascades -- Dark Divide
    Length:
     6.0 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain: 1900 feet
    Highest Point: 5611 feet
    Fall Feature: huckleberry bushes and alpine meadows

    juniper ridge_Happy Hiker.jpeg
    A dusting of snow and blaze of orange leaves make Juniper Ridge a gorgeous destination in the fall. Photo by Happy Hiker. 

    Juniper Ridge, running along the high, lonesome hillsides of the Dark Divide, features views of massive Cascade Volcanoes. In fall, the huckleberry bushes hang heavy with fruit and views in every direction light up with the variegated tones of red, deep brown and green in autumn.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Pinnacle Saddle

    Location: Mount Rainier Area -- SE - Cayuse Pass/Stevens Canyon
    Length:
     2.5 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain:
    1000 feet
    Highest Point: 5920 feet
    Fall Feature: wildlife activity, fall color


    View from Plumber Peak along the saddle. Photo by Niko Niko.

    Mount Rainier may be renowned for wildflowers, but take your pick of fall hikes around the mountain for an entirely different season of colorful flora. Come late September, if you visit mid-week, you may even feel like you have the whole place to yourself, a rare treat for such a popular National Park.

    Save this short, steep trail on the south side of the mountain for a crisp, clear day, when the payoff will be unobstructed views of Mount Rainier and the Tatoosh Range. And keep your eyes and ears open for the bustle of local pika and marmots preparing for winter.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Norway Pass

    Location: South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens
    Length: 4.5 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain: 860 feet
    Highest Point: 4500 feet
    Fall Feature: fall foliage, huckleberries


    Norway Pass. Photo by Bob and Barb.

    Mount St. Helens gets overlooked as a fall destination, but the cooler temperatures make a visit to the volcano ideal this time of year. Late October and early November snows close the road accessing this classic volcano view of Mount St. Helens, so be sure to go while this 4.5-mile hike is still showing off the bright reds of huckleberry bushes and a range of autumn grasses.

    The area elk are a delight to see (and hear), but they also draw hunters in the fall, so wear orange and refresh your hiking during hunting season skills.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Hike the Low Country

    Tumwater Pipeline Trail

    Location: Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass - East
    Length: 2.4 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain: 100 feet
    Highest Point: 1400 feet
    Fall Feature: fall foliage


    Photo by HeatherD.

    Stretch your legs on this short hike through railroad history down lovely Tumwater Canyon just outside of Leavenworth. The river-fed foliage lights up the canyon as the long light of fall catches the colors and reflects them in the river. Watch your step on the sometimes-slippery bridge that starts off your hike.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Olympic Discovery Trail

    Location: Olympic Peninsula - Northern Coast
    Length: varies
    Elevation Gain: varies
    Fall Feature: vine maple, golden grassy meadows, elk

    Olympic Discovery Trail. Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.jpeg
    Photo by Erika Haugen-Goodman.

    This nearly 130-mile trail travels through some awesome scenery along the northern Olympic coast, going from the city waterfronts of Port Townsend and Port Angeles to the northern shore of Lake Crescent to the shady forests beyond, and eventually to the Olympic Coast. But don't let that huge mileage number scare you off, this trail can be easily sectioned off into day hikes to make a for a perfect fall outing!

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Sullivan Lake

    Location: Eastern Washington -- Selkirk Range
    Length:
     8.2 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain:
    250 feet
    Highest Point: 2840 feet
    Fall Feature:
     larches, aspen, hemlocks, fall camping


    Sullivan Lake by Saylah Leu.

    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.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Old Sauk River Trail

    Location: Mountain Loop Highway
    Length: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain:
    150 feet
    Highest Point:
    800 feet
    Fall Feature:
    mushrooms, fall color


    Look for early fall fungi along the trail. Photo by Jon Lee.

    Fall color doesn't just come from leaves or larches. Look down to catch the many-hued surprises of mushrooms popping up along riverside and creek trails west of the Crest. This hike is a lovely stroll along one of the Skagit River's surging tributaries. You'll weave between forest and stream bank on this level trail that makes a great beginner hike rain or shine.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Gold Creek Pond

    Location: Snoqualmie Region -- Snoqualmie Pass
    Length: 1.0 mile
    Elevation Gain:
    10 feet
    Highest Point:
    3000 feet
    Fall Feature: spawning salmon and vine maple


    Gold Creek Pond. Photo by by hikingchungs.

    While 3000 feet isn't exactly a low elevation hike, this trail remains the perfect rainy-day hike for families or beginners well into fall. The one-mile (stroller and wheelchair-friendly) loop will stun you with brilliant fall color and salmon spawning. More experienced hikers can add on a trip up the nearby Gold Creek-Alaska Lake trail.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Cedar River Trail

    Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Seattle-Tacoma area
    Length: 5.56 miles
    Elevation Gain:
     50 feet
    Highest Point:
    800 feet
    Fall Feature:
    spawning salmon and vine maple


    The first signs of fall along the Cedar River Trail. Photo by mykoleary.

    No amount of drizzle can spoil an autumn stroll along this bus-accessible trail, which has multiple access points from Lake Washington to Maple Valley. This former railroad is great for kids, dogs, or for a long run. The start of the salmon run makes it extra special in early autumn.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Black Canyon

    Location: Central Washington -- Yakima
    Length:
    7.0 miles, roundtrip
    Elevation Gain:
    1250 feet
    Fall Feature:
    aspen


    Black Canyon. Photo by Bob and Barb.

    In lieu of high-country larches, look for golden aspens and colorful cottonwoods in the water-fed creases of the canyon country around Yakima. Cowiche Canyon and Umtanum Canyon are more well-known, but the distinctive golden flicker of aspen make Black Canyon worth a visit during peak color season. It's also hunting season, so when you go, dress in orange or other bright colors as a precaution.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


    Silver Falls Loop

    Location: Mount Rainier - SW
    Length: 3.0 miles roundtrip
    Elevation Gain:
     600 feet
    Highest Point:
    2300 feet
    Fall feature: m
    ushrooms, fall foliage


    Silver Falls Loop. Photo by Bob and Barb.

    Most hikers think of waterfalls as springtime destinations, during the drama of spring melt. But fall can transform your favorite waterfall hike. Along this flat, easy trail, summer greens give way to a rainbow of reds and yellows clinging to the sides of this rocky gorge where you'll find the falls. If you keep your eyes open on this family-friendly trail, you can all spot all kinds of unlikely color springing from the earth in the form of fall fungi.

    > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide