15 Best Fall Hikes in Washington for Stunning Color (2024)

best fall hikes in washington
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Summer in Washington is by far my favorite season in the state, but something about that first chilly September morning excites me. That’s because I know that it’s time to explore all the best fall hikes in Washington, and while pumpkin-spiced everything is great, the real treat is hitting the trails during this time. Like clockwork, you’ll find me trekking through Washington’s beautiful backcountry every fall.

Fall hiking in Washington has many advantages: the mornings are cooler, so you don’t start your hike hot from the start, plus the trails are less crowded. Let’s not even start on the explosion of colors – the fall foliage in Washington loves to show off in the best way possible. It’s also a prime time to spot wildlife on the trails, as they’re getting ready to hibernate for the winter, so hiking is by far one of my favorite things to do in the fall near Seattle.

If you’re as pumped about Washington fall hikes as I am, you’ll love this article. I share all my favorite trails and crucial information like where they are, mileage and elevation gain details, and any personal tips I have from my experience hiking them.

It sometimes feels like there is a short time window between fall hiking and finding things to do in Seattle during winter, which is why I wrote this article so you can quickly plan hikes out. Read on to find out everything you need to know about Washington fall hiking, as well as where to go and how to get there!

This post was first written in 2021 and last updated in August 2023.

15 Best Fall Hikes in Washington

Although there are numerous hiking trails throughout the entire Washington State, some are simply better experienced during the fall. Here are my best fall hikes in Washington.

1. Heather-Maple Loop Pass

heather maple loop pass hike
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 7.2 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Loop

This is easily one of the most popular fall hikes in Washington State, and it was actually the first fall hike I ever did. The Heather-Maple Pass trail has become an iconic part of the hiking landscape in North Cascades National Park. It combines stunning Washington fall foliage with epic mountain views, setting a standard few can reach.

Throughout its 7.2-mile trail, you’ll be mesmerized by alpine lake views and an array of changing colors. Shades of amber, crimson, and auburn showcased in the natural flora are what elevate the trek to a whole different level.

I recommend starting the trail early in the morning or later in the afternoon. It gets quite busy due to its fame. This is known as one of the top North Cascade hikes because of its aesthetic appeal. You’ll stop for photos almost every 5 minutes – trust me, because I did!

2. Snow Lake

  • Location: Snoqualmie Pass
  • Mileage: 7.2 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

I’d heard of Snow Lake for years, but it wasn’t until a random free day last year that I decided to finally go explore it. Wow, had I been missing out, as this may now be my favorite fall hike by Seattle. You’ll park in the Alpental parking lot at Snoqualmie Pass and follow the signs for the Snow Lake trailhead.

I found this hike to be pretty gradual, as you’ll slowly make your way to the forest, and then start on long switchbacks going up the mountain. This trail is a bit unique in that once you get to the top of the mountain, you’ll have to go all the way down to the other side to reach the lake. This is also where you’ll find a makeshift pit toilet if you have to go.

I loved taking my time to have my lunch and relaxing with the stunning view of the lake. While I didn’t have enough energy for it, you can continue on to the smaller Gem Lake to see two lakes on your day hike.

Buy your Northwest Forest Pass in advance so you don’t have to buy it at the trailhead.

3. Yellow Aster Butte

  • Location: Mount Baker
  • Mileage: 7.5 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,550 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Out and back

In the Mount Baker area, Yellow Aster Butte is often overlooked by most due to the steep climb towards the end. Although it’s a bit more complex than other fall hiking options, it’s worth it.

What sets this trail apart from others is the vast collection of different wildflowers and forests along its route. Turning bright red and orange, it’s a classic and picturesque display of what fall is all about. If you’re hunting for one of the best fall hikes in Washington, this is it.

The trailhead is about 5 miles from Twin Lakes Road, east of Mt. Bakes Hwy. 542. Due to the beauty of the trail, it can get busy with other hikers. Another perk of Yellow Aster Butte is that it’s dog-friendly, but keep in mind that your dogs have to be leashed.

I’ll be honest – the first two miles here are brutal, and I took way more breaks than I was expecting. You gain the majority of the elevation during this time, but I promise you it’s worth it. The trail flattens out significantly for the rest of it, with the exception of the short but steep climb to the top of the butte at the end.

I did this hike during a weekday in October when the colors were just slightly past prime and it was still completely packed, so make sure you get here early. It’s one of the most impressive hikes I’ve done as far as constantly seeing fall colors for the last half of the trail.

4. Chain Lakes Loop

chain lakes loop hike
  • Location: Mount Baker
  • Mileage: 7.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,886 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Loop

For those looking for a different take on fall hiking, the Chain Lake Loop trail has gorgeous rock formations framed by soaring mountain peaks. That being said, there are quite a few rocky areas and steep climbs, so be sure to pack the right pair of hiking shoes.

With 12 waypoints along the path, each provides the chance to see stunning views. Clear views of Mount Shuksan, Herman, and Table Mountain make the moderately challenging trail a standout.

While I loved doing this Mount Baker hike, I will warn you that there isn’t a lot of shade on the trail. I had a warm day when I was there, and I was glad I packed so much water to keep myself hydrated.

The various lakes on the trail have campsites and stunning beaches, which make it a favorite amongst outdoor enthusiasts looking for summer hikes. Another highlight of Chain Lakes is that you can start it from either Artist Point or the Austin Pass picnic site (I parked at the latter).

I love using AllTrails to download maps and stay on the trail during all my hikes.

5. Lake Ingalls

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  • Location: Snoqualmie
  • Mileage: 9.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to hard
  • Route Type: Out and back

The Lake Ingalls Trail is well known for its spectacular views and stops around the lake. Making it one of the best hikes in Washington is the fact that it’s quite stunning throughout every season. Catching it in the fall just adds a certain majesty to it.

This hike is really worth the hype it gets. Lake Ingalls is a super enticing option that mixes everything any intrepid hiker could want. Be warned, however, that the trail through its forested valley, wildflower patches, and rocky hillsides is challenging. The reward for your effort is pristine blue alpine Lake Ingalls.

My top tip for tackling this trail is to bring enough water and sunscreen. As it’s on the eastern side of Washington, it gets sweltering.

6. Skyline Trail 

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  • Location: Mount Rainier
  • Mileage: 5.5 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,450 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Loop

You can’t beat Mount Rainier in the battle for the best fall hikes in Washington. The park is any hiker’s paradise (I’m here all the time in the summer), and ironically, one of my favorites starts close to Paradise Inn. Perfect for a half-day hike in Washington State, I highly recommend doing the Skyline Trail.

This hike starts on the mountain’s southern side and encompasses stunning vegetation and unbelievable glacier views. Take that and paint all of it with fall colors, and you’ve got yourself quite a pretty picture with one of the best fall color hikes in Washington.

What draws most people to this trail are its many lookout points and the different hiking options. Panorama Point, Glacier Vista, and Myrtle Falls are some of the most visited spots along the trail, and I felt like every corner I turned had a new view to be in awe of.

Skyline Trail can be somewhat challenging, but you can make the entire loop in about 3 hours and 40 minutes. After, book a stay at a cozy cabin rental near Mt. Rainier, as you’ll want to relax after one of the best fall hikes by Seattle.

7. Naches Peak Loop

  • Location: Mount Rainier
  • Mileage: 3.2 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 636 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Route Type: Loop

Mount Rainier has so many amazing hikes to choose from, but Naches Peak Loop is by far one of the most popular ones. It’s a relatively easy hike with just a few challenging parts, and it’s great even for beginner hikers. You’ll even be on part of the Pacific Crest Trail for some of it (although it’ll be too late in the season to see thru-hikers).

I’ve done this hike in the summer when it’s full of beautiful wildflowers, but I think fall is really the best time to hike this trail. You’ll get gorgeous fall foliage the whole way, and you may even see some animals getting ready to hibernate.

While you can head out from the trailhead in either direction to get the most from its fall beauty, clockwise is best. This guarantees unparalleled views of Mount Rainier, perfect for some snapshots during a Mt. Rainier day trip from Seattle.

However, on some days, the area can get foggy, but when it comes to fall hiking, that’s not always a bad thing. It’s even a good hike if you happen to get stuck with a rainy Washington hike, as you’re covered for part of it with trees.

8. Spray Park

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  • Location: Mount Rainier
  • Mileage: 8.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Out and back

Since it does take some driving on roads that aren’t always the best, Spray Park is often skipped by most. This, however, shouldn’t deter you if you’re looking for one of the most beautiful hikes in Washington during the fall.

On a clear day, views of Echo Rock, Observation Rock, and Mount Rainier are easily found throughout the trail. You can expect sprawling open meadows along the route, especially once you reach Grant Creek. 

Then, of course, there’s Spray Falls. The stunning waterfall hike by Seattle lends its name to the entire area as one of the best fall hikes in Washington. Beyond its gorgeous views, the meadows along the trail are filled with a range of wildflowers that create picturesque fall scenery. 

This trail is considered moderately difficult and will for sure test your hiking abilities. Along the route, there are several junctions that you can use to circle back to the trailhead. Beware of roaming wildlife, as bears frequent the area; unfortunately, pets aren’t allowed.

Make sure you have your America the Beautiful Pass! For only one price, you can visit all the national parks over and over throughout the year. I renew mine every year.

9. Granite Mountain

granite mountain hiking
  • Location: Central Cascades
  • Mileage: 8.6 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,700 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Route Type: Out and back

Showcasing fall colors from early September, Granite Mountain is one of the best day hikes in Washington State. The trail is considered quite challenging, and you can expect an elevation gain of 1,000 feet per mile. I was a bit out of shape hiking-wise when I did this, so it took me longer than expected to complete it.

The upside is that the trail is relatively exposed all the way to the summit, and this makes it easy to plan out before you start. Lined by huckleberry bushes, it does get rocky, and large boulders might make it quite the climb. 

After making your way through most of the trail, the final haul is a bit of a challenge. Leading out of the green alpine basin along the trek, a talus field is where the summit lies. From here, you can catch stunning views of Mount Stuart and Mount Rainier on a sunny day(although, unfortunately, my views were completely blocked by the fog!).

One thing to remember is that Granite Mountain Lookout can only accommodate a few people at a time. Late summer and early fall see up to 100 hikers at its summit, which unfortunately means you’ll have to limit the time you spend here. However, it’s still worth it, as it’s one of the best fall hikes near Seattle.

10. Goat Peak Lookout

goat peak lookout hike
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 3.7 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

While I love all hikes, I particularly love fire lookout hikes, and Washington has a ton. Last October, I was on a multi-day hiking trip in the North Cascades and decided to add this hike in because I heard the larches were showing up there. While it’s a good amount of elevation gain in a short period of time, the view at the top is completely worth it.

You’ll be able to see miles and miles of the surrounding North Cascades, and there are even two chairs up there to take your snack break. You’re not able to go inside the lookout, but I was happy enough to be surrounded by hundreds of golden larches.

The parking lot is pretty small, so you will want to go early if you can only hike on a weekend. After, I recommend stopping at Old Schoolhouse Brewing for a beer and appetizer.

11. Old Sauk River Trail

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  • Location: Darrington
  • Mileage: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 240 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Route Type: Out and back

If you prefer a less strenuous hike that combines natural beauty with a fantastic display of fall colors and weather, I can’t recommend the Old Sauk River Trail enough. This flat roundtrip hike along the Sauk River is one of the best beginner hikes in Washington.

These forest canopies emulate the perfect atmosphere for fall hiking trails in Washington State. Although there is a fair amount of rain in the area, the canopies shield you from the majority of the downpours. This makes it an ideal rainy-day activity near Seattle when you want one of the easier Seattle fall hikes.

Thanks to the weather patterns in the region, the forests that line the trail are also ideal habitats for mushroom growth. I know it doesn’t sound so enticing, but once you start the route, you’ll quickly see the aesthetics that this adds to the fantastic fall colors.

There are several access points to this trail. The first is located about 3.6 miles from the Darrington intersection on Hwy. 530. The second and third are a little further down the same road, and signposts indicate them on one of the best autumn hikes in Washington State. You’ll also love this as a winter hike around Washington, as the area rarely gets snow.

12. Cutthroat Pass

cutthroat lake hike
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 10.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Out and back

Cutthroat Pass is seemingly very underrated regarding the best fall Washington State hiking trails. I would guess this is because it is directly opposite the more famous Maple Pass trail. One thing is for sure – it is just as breathtaking as its counterpart and one of the best larch hikes in the state.

I’ll admit, this trail does include fewer mountain views, but it makes up for this with a massive amount of fall colors in Washington. These are displayed in the range of wildflowers and bushes that dot its landscapes.

Starting within the forest, which then leads across a few small streams, there’s one larger creek you’ll need to watch out for. Once you’re outside, you’ll encounter a few challenging switchbacks that lead to Cutthroat Pass’s viewpoint.

Although the views from here are incredible, for a genuine fall-focused hike, it’s the trail leading to the viewpoint you’ll enjoy the most. The surrounding forested areas are awash with eye-catching colors you’ll only see during the fall, so keep your cameras ready.

You can do this trail by hiking from Cutthroat Lake to Cutthroat Pass or doing Cutthroat Pass via the PCT. I love stopping at Cutthroat Lake for my snack break and to view some of the larches that were just starting to peak.

When you’re done, you can head down to find things to do in Winthrop or explore more of the area on a North Cascades one-day trip.

13. Mount McCausland

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  • Location: Leavenworth
  • Mileage: 7.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Route Type: Out and back

Prepare yourself for a very steep trail, and at the same time, be ready for the most rewarding and best hike in Washington State to do during fall. Mount McCausland could easily rank as the best fall hike near Seattle were it not for its difficulty.

The rewards are absolutely spectacular if you put in the effort and time to head out on this trail that has one of the best hikes for fall colors in Washington. You’ll catch views of Lake Valhalla and the Lichtenberg Mountains from the peak.

Although challenging, the mix of red and orange foliage that leads to the summit and its epic views make it worth every drop of sweat. If you have the time to spare, I suggest adding the equally incredible Lake Valhalla trail to the tail-end of your trip to top off your experience of the best Washington fall hikes.

A word of caution, though, bears roam the area, and the trail is unmarked. That said, it’s still one of the best fall hikes in Washington, and it’s relatively easy to find, as the trailhead sits about 2.8 miles along Smithbrook Road (FR 6700).

Afterward, head into Leavenworth to grab a beer and something to eat and do all the fun activities in Leavenworth. Fall is a fun time of year to visit the area before the busyness of wintertime in Leavenworth hits.

14. Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap

  • Location: Chinook Pass
  • Mileage: 6.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

I recently discovered this Washington fall hike when looking for a trail with colors that I could do with my baby. This was a perfect choice, as it’s only about two hours east of Seattle and fairly easy to get to. You follow 410-E towards Mount Rainier and Yakima until you reach Chinook Pass, where the parking lot is right off the highway.

The first 1.5 miles of the trail are fairly easy, as it follows a flat path along 410 until you get more into the woods. It’s a nice combination of half sun and half shade throughout the hike, as you’ll consistently go in and out of the forest. I loved this, especially since I had my baby with me, and we stayed nice and cool.

You’ll then come upon Sheep Lake, which is an ideal place to take a break if needed. If you have small kids, you could turn around here, but I recommend pushing onto Sourdough Gap if possible.

This is where the scenery is truly stunning, and the fall colors are really alive. It’s a good bit of elevation gain in the last mile, but it’s worth it. I loved doing this hike on the warm fall day I had.

15. Iller Creek

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Image credit: Iller Creek Conservation Area
  • Location: Spokane
  • Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Route Type: Loop

Iller Creek is one of the best options for half-day hiking in Washington State. Starting in a thickly forested area, it ends with epic views of Big Rocks and Washington Palouse.

The many different native plant species you’ll find throughout the shaded forest are what make this a great hike to tackle in the fall. Open year-round; the trail is quite famous for hiking, mountain biking, and during winter, snowshoeing (so make sure to look at my winter clothing packing list).

As you progress through most of the trail, you’ll be skirting a ridgeline ramble that offers stunning views of the Palouse in the south and Selkirks to the north. You might see

It’s a moderately difficult trail that should take about 2 to 3 hours to complete. Iller Creek is also a great spot to take the family, and it’s pet-friendly, but dogs have to be leashed at all times.

Tips for Fall Hiking in Washington

washington larches

Here are a few tips to keep in mind before setting out on these best fall hikes in Washington State.

How to Find Fall Colors in Washington

One of the most important things to know before fall hiking is if those vibrant orange, red, and yellow colors are out yet. The easiest way to do this is to check the trip reports on either WTA or AllTrails (my personal favorite). You can look at the most recent pictures people have posted and read reviews about the trail.

I love AllTrails so much that I wrote a full AllTrails Pro review if you’re curious about how I fully utilize the paid version.

Generally, fall foliage starts to show in mid-September, depending on the elevation of your hike. Those infamous larches happen for a few weeks between late September and early October, and you’ll want to watch those trail reviews closely to see when people start posting that they’re showing. I have a whole list of the best larch hikes in Washington if you want to start prepping.

What to Pack for Fall Hiking in Washington

Hiking in the fall is all about layers, as you’ll likely encounter cold mornings and warm afternoons. Check out my recommended list of rain gear for the Pacific Northwest before you go.

Here are some of my favorite items to bring on fall hikes in Washington:

  • A waterproof rain jacket is necessary for the fall because you never know when you’ll get caught in the rain, yet it’s light enough to stash in your backpack.
  • You’ll want to start out wearing a fleece layer, which will keep you plenty warm until you’re ready to ditch it after a few miles of hiking.
  • I’m obsessed with Merino wool socks year-round, but fall is a great time for them, as they’ll keep you warm while not getting

While there are more fall hikes than that in the state, those are just the best fall hikes in Washington, in my opinion. Leave a comment below and let me know which one you’re planning on doing first!

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