The 12 Best Fall Hikes in Washington for Stunning Color

best fall hikes in washington
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We all love summer around here, but I’m always excited when that first cool September day hits and reminds me that fall is on the way. In addition to all the pumpkin-related things that start popping up, it’s also time for better hiking weather. That’s why I made a list of the best fall hikes in Washington to share with you so you can experience one of the best seasons to hike.

Hiking is one of my favorite things to do in the fall near Seattle, as the weather is perfect. Mornings often start off cool, but then you’ll get beautiful weather as the day warms up. I’m also obsessed with the colors of fall foliage, and this is also an ideal time to see wildlife.

Read on to find out everything you need to know for fall hiking in Washington as well as where to go!

Tips for Fall Hiking in Washington

washington larches

Here are a few tips to keep in mind before setting out on your hike.

How to Find Fall Colors in Washington

One of the most important things to know before fall hiking is knowing 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 posted and read reviews about the trail.

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. Here are some of my favorite things to bring:

  • A waterproof rain jacket is necessary for the fall because you never know when you’ll get caught in 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

The Best Fall Hikes in Washington State

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 for a good reason. The Heather-Maple Pass trail has become an iconic part of the hiking landscape in the region. It combines stunning 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 best North Cascade hikes because of its aesthetic appeal. You’ll stop for photos almost every 5 minutes – trust me!

2. Yellow Aster Butte

north cascades
  • 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 forestry 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 your dogs have to be leashed.

3. 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 offers 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 scenes of Mount Shuksan and Herman and Table Mountain make the moderately challenging trail a standout.

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.

4. Lake Ingalls

  • 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 a stunner throughout every season. Catching it during 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. 

5. Skyline Trail 

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

Mount Rainier is quite the formidable foe in the battle for the best fall hikes in Washington. The park is any hiker’s paradise, and ironically one of its finest starts close to Paradise Inn. Perfect for a half-day hike in Washington State, I present Skyline Trail.

Skyline Trail 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 the pretty picture.

What draws most to this trail is 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. 

Skyline Trail can be somewhat challenging, but you can make the entire loop in about 3 hours and 40 minutes.

6. Naches Peak Loop

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

Another of Mount Rainier’s premier hiking trails, which is fantastic to tackle during the fall, is the Naches Peak Loop Trail. A relatively easy hike with some challenging bits, and the payoff is views of an array of colors that paint the peak.

To match its summertime beauty, this trail takes on new life when fall arrives, making it one of the best Washington State hikes. It draws a lot of adventurers, so unless you don’t mind sharing the trail, opt to start early in the morning.

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. However, on some days, the area can get foggy, but when it comes to fall hiking, that’s not always a bad thing.

7. Spray Park

  • 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. Similar to other hikes, you’ll need a National Park Pass to tackle this trail.

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 lends its name to the entire area for 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.

8. Granite Mountain

granite mountain
  • 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. 

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.

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.

9. Iller Creek

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 Selkriks to the north. Along the route, you might also encounter moose and elk, amongst other wildlife.

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.

10. Old Sauk River Trail

  • 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 easiest hikes in Washington

These forest canopies emulate the perfect atmosphere for fall hiking trails in Washington State. The area does see a fair amount of rain, but thanks to the shielding provided by the canopies, you’re shielded from most of the downpours.

Thanks to the weather patterns in the region, the forests that line the trail are also the ideal habitat 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 bit further down the same road and highlighted by signposts.

11. Cutthroat Pass

  • 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 does make up for this with a massive amount of fall colors. 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 out, you’ll be greeted by a few rough switchbacks, leading 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.

When you’re done, you can head down to Winthrop for the night or explore more of the area on a North Cascades day trip.

12. Mount McCausland

  • 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. 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.

A word of caution, though, bears roam the area, and the trail is unmarked. 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.

While there are more fall hikes than that in the state, those are just the 12 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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