PNW Outdoors: Colorful Fall Hikes

Blue Lake. Photo by S. Wilson.

Some 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 reds and oranges in huckleberry shrubs, brilliant yellows of the aspens, and a variety of different berries in many hues–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 grounds and become friends again, flocking together to prepare for migration.

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 ourFive Tips for Fall Hiking and Staying Safe During Hunting Season for how to prepare and stay safe as the weather changes.

Blue Lake. Photo by S. Wilson.
Blue Lake. Photo by S. Wilson.

Location: North Cascades Highway
Round Trip: 4.4 miles
Elevation: 1050 ft. gain

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.

Maple Pass. Photo by Bob & Barb.
Maple Pass. Photo by Bob & Barb.

Location: North Cascades Highway
Round Trip: 
7.2 miles
Elevation: 2000 ft. gain

Maple Pass is all about fall, with 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.

Annette Lake. Photo by John Brink.

Location: Snoqualmie Region
Round Trip: 7.5 miles
Elevation: 1400 ft. gain

Waterfalls, wildflowers, sheltering forests, mountain views and an alpine lake are offered on this well-maintained trail. At the lake, enjoy the sights and relax for a while. If you backpacked in, stay at the campsites for a sunrise and sunset on the lake. There’s nice fall foliage here and it’s a fun hike.

Carne Lake. Photo by Kirklander.
Carne Mountain. Photo by Kirklander.

Location: Stevens Pass
Round Trip: 8.0 miles
Elevation: 3600 ft. gain

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 7,085 feet. Bring a good map so you can identify all the peaks before you. It’s quite a display of mountains!

Find more info on fall hikes here.