I took my last summer hike this weekend. I’m out of town the next two weekends, and then it will be fall. I’m sad to see such an incredible summer come to an end, but I’m looking forward to the fall colors. The fall hiking season in the northwest is even more fleeting than summer. The stars really need to align – getting good weather when the colors are at their peak – and some years they never do. And often you need to drive to eastern Washington, so it’s a big time commitment for Seattlites. However, I have found a few good fall color hikes that are doable in a day from Seattle, and I’m hoping to find more this year.
The best source I’ve found about hikes in Washington is the Washington Trails Association website (wta.org). Hikers’ trail reports give helpful information about snow conditions and when/where the fall colors are appearing. The site also has directions to each hike and tells you what pass you need to park at the trailhead (almost all hikes require either a Discoverer or a Northwest Forest Pass). I highly recommend hiking poles and/or microspikes for fall hiking in case you encounter snow or ice. I also recommend a camera or you’ll be kicking yourself.
Artist Point and Heather Meadows (Mt. Baker) – These aren’t hikes, but rather very scenic viewpoints at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway. There are hikes in the area, but I’ve only done them in the summer, so I can’t comment on their fall colors, although if the viewpoints are any indication, they are probably pretty good. Snow usually closes the road by late October or early November (and some years the road never even opens), so it’s a special treat to get up here.
Blue Lake (North Cascades Highway) – This is a long drive from Seattle for a short hike, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s larch heaven. I’ve done it both when the trail is clear and dry and when the trail is snow and ice. It’s definitely easier when the trail is dry, but it’s so pretty with the snow. I like to stop by the Cascadian Farms stand on Highway 20 on the way back and get a giant pumpkin ice cream cone.
Colchuck Lake (Leavenworth) – Since discovering this hike last year, I’ve done it four times, with hopes to do it again this fall. That’s saying a lot since it’s a 2-1/2 hour drive from my place in Seattle. In the fall, this is all about majestic snow-dusted mountains, a beautiful alpine lake and some larches to make the whole scene really pop.
Maple Pass (North Cascades Highway) – This is a solid hike with lakes, good views and a bunch of larches. Like Blue Lake, this hike allows me to get a Cascadian Farms ice cream cone on long drive home.
Rachel and Rampart Lakes (Snoqualmie Pass) – I’ve done this once in the summer and once in the fall, and it’s much more interesting and beautiful in the fall. It’s about 10 miles east of the pass, so weather can be good there when it’s bad in Seattle. There is a steep and rooty part that can be wet, but I think it’s worth it once you get to the top. Rachel Lake is nice and is a good turnaround point if you don’t want to go further, but I like continuing the climb up to the Rampart Lakes, which look like a poor man’s Enchantments to me (coming from someone who has only seen pictures of the Enchantments, so don’t put too much stock in that comment).
This fall I’m hoping to add Lake Ingalls and Yellow Aster Butte to the list.