Fall is one of the best seasons to be out on trail in Washington. The air is crisp and fresh, honeyed sunlight sets meadow basins aglow and ripe berries hang heavy from bushes. Plus, the bugs and the thick summer crowds disappear. As summer's green gives way to spectacular autumn hues, pack an extra fleece, fill your thermos and rediscover an entirely new side to Washington hiking.
Shorter days, colder nights and quick-changing weather patterns can make even a simple hike more risky than your average summer excursion, so pack the 10 Essentials, and check conditions before you head out.
Try one of the hikes below or share your own fall favorites in a Trip Report.
Tieton River nature trail
Location: Central Washington -- Yakima
Length: 6.75 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Fall Feature: a riot of late fall colors
Save this hike west of Yakima off Highway 12 for mid-October or November, when the color in the alpine meadows is starting to fade and the mountains are filling with snow. Take a leisurely stroll up the Tieton River Canyon among color-changing cottonwoods, quaking aspens, Garry oaks and shrubby willows, all putting on one of the most spectacular autumn displays you’ll ever see.
Mount St. Helens and the Loowit Trail
Location: South Cascades -- Mount St. Helens
Elevation Gain: varies
Fall Feature: glowing grasses and bushes
Mount St. Helens gets overlooked as a fall destination, but the cooler temperatures make a visit to the volcano ideal this time of year. We recommend a visit to the east side of the Loowit Trail on a clear day in fall, where the bright reds of huckleberry bushes and a range of autumn grasses give this unusual landscape an entirely different character. Don't forget your water and sunscreen, and if you want some spectacular sunrise photos, start early or plan an overnight.
spruce railroad trail
Location: Olympics -- Northern Coast
Length: 8.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
Fall Feature: fall colors
If you can plan this lakeside hike for a clear day, the sunlight will sparkle on the lake, light up the mountains and brighten the brilliance of the maples. Winding through sunlight dappled corridors of maple, Sitka spruce, hemlock and countless other types of trees, with the lake lapping nearby, there is something to delight the senses every step of the way. The main attraction of the hike comes only one mile in. A large bridge spans a section of lake and to the right is a gorgeous, still pool--the Punchbowl.
Location: North Cascades -- Methow/Sawtooth
Length: 12 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2480 feet
Fall Feature: larches
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.
Location: North Cascades -- Mount Baker Area
Length: 9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
Fall feature: colorful meadows, views
If there's one place not to neglect during fall hiking, it is Mount Baker. The bugs that plagued 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.
Old Sauk River Trail
Location: North Cascades -- Mountain Loop Highway
Length: 6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Fall feature: mushrooms, fall color
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.
Location: Central Cascades -- Stevens Pass East
Length: 12 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2450 feet
Fall feature: larches, of course
You'll 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.
Indian Bar-Cowlitz Divide
Location: Mount Rainier Area -- Cayuse Pass/Stevens Canyon
Length: 15.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2900 feet
Fall Feature: elk, colorful meadows, misty mornings
While this hike is better known for wildflowers, it takes on a whole new character in fall. Come October, you can feel like you have the whole place to yourself, a rare treat for such a popular National Park. The trail alternates between forest and meadows alight in autumn colors and busy with wildlife getting ready for winter. You don't need to hike all 15 miles of this section of the Wonderland Trail to get the true flavor of fall. But if you're up for the climb, it's worth making it up on the ridge (at the 4 mile mark), where you'll have incredible views on a clear day. Because hunting isn't allowed in National Parks, this is a good choice for hikers who shy away from National Forests this time of year.
Note: The fall window on this hike isn't long. Make sure to check the weather and road status in late fall.
Location: Eastern Washington -- Selkirk Range
Length: 8.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
Fall feature: larches, aspen, hemlocks, fall camping
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.