13 Best Larch Hikes in Washington State You’ll Want to Do (2024)

larches in washington
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While I love hiking in Washington any time of the year, no time is more exciting than the fall season. This period brings the beautiful larches, but they’re only around in certain areas of the state and usually for a few weeks. That’s why you’ll want to plan your larch hikes in Washington in advance so you’re ready to go when it’s time!

They call it larch madness for a reason – many of us hikers are anxiously waiting around, reading trip reports, and as soon as we see mentions of the first signs of larches, we are off to the mountains! I will drop almost any plan I have to rush up in search of larches because I know they’re only here for a couple of weeks. I don’t know what it is about them, but I am absolutely obsessed with going on Washington larch hikes.

While I personally love going to the North Cascades area to see Washington larches, there are other places you can see them as well. I’ve spent hours compiling research for my own hikes in the past, so I made this list to show you the best places to see larches in Washington. Since the larch season is so short, you’ll want to be prepared and know when and where to go.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about these golden larches and the best larch hikes in Washington.

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

13 Best Larch Hikes in Washington

While it’s still incredible to hike through any kind of forest, fall is when the magic of the larches can really be seen. Remember, you’ve got to be quick when planning a trip to one of these dreamy hiking spots – the larches are only gold for a couple of weeks. Luckily, these are larch hikes near Seattle and can be done as a long Seattle day trip.

1. Heather-Maple Pass Loop

washington larch hikes
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 7.2 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Heather-Maple Pass Loop is a stunning hike in the North Cascades and my favorite larch hike in Washington. The trail leads you through wildflower meadows in the summer and golden larch forests in the fall and is one of the best North Cascades hikes.

Being a 3-hour, 20-minute drive from Seattle, it’s a good idea to bring plenty of snacks and lunch to have during one of your rest breaks. When I did this hike several years ago, I spent all morning here stopping to take pictures and have an extended lunch break at the midway point of this loop.

Since it is a loop hike, you can go either way when you start, but I recommend hiking counterclockwise. This provided stunning views of the whole trail, and I felt like going down was a bit easier this way.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that this is considered one of the best fall hikes in Washington during the yellow larch season. That means you should expect to walk the trail with other hikers – it’s even crowded on weekdays. Nonetheless, this hike is well worth it for the incredible mountain views and the traverse along the shore of Lake Ann when you want to find larches in the North Cascades.

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

2. Blue Lake

  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 4.4 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Blue Lake trail is a shorter, easy hike in Washington that won’t take you up steep ridges when looking for golden larches in Washington. This is a perk for hikers keen on bringing their furry friends – provided they are on a leash. It’s also good for kids, so you can add it to your Washington family vacation itinerary.

The trail features plenty of boardwalks which makes walking far more gentle. The first boardwalk begins right at the parking lot, just off Highway 20 and three and a half hours from Seattle.

The parking lot is also just 0.8 miles from Washington Pass Lookout – which provides you with amazing views of the Liberty Mountain group.

As you wander down the trail, you’ll be met with spectacular views of Cutthroat Peak and Whistler Mountain. These mountains are home to hundreds of larches, and during the fall, the sides of the mountains are transformed into a field of gold, making this area one of the top hikes in Washington

This is one of the most popular larch hikes in Washington, so you’ll need to go here on a weekday (your best option) or very early on a weekend to get a parking spot. I came here first thing on a Thursday in October, and the parking lot was full when we left around noon.

3. Lake Ingalls

golden larches
  • Location: Snoqualmie region
  • Mileage: 9.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Lake Ingalls trail is two hours from Seattle, which is perfect because it is quite a long trail when you want larch hikes in Washington. This hike gets its name from the turquoise blue lake that is found within the basin of the rocky peaks, and it’s one of the best Washington fall hikes.

You’ll discover an array of ecosystems as you traverse through the landscape. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a mountain goat or two wandering over the rocky ledges and through the country wildlife. 

As you climb up Ingalls Pass, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the larches nestled alongside the mountains. The top of the pass reveals an abundance of meadows, streams, and forests of alpine larches.

4. Clara and Marion Lakes

clara lake larches
  • Location: Wenatchee
  • Mileage: 3.2 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Pass Required: None

Clara and Marion Lakes Trail is a charming trail that often gives hikers the feeling that they’re the only ones embarking on the journey. Chances are, you won’t see other hikers, which is perfect for those looking for some alone time. This was my first larch hike in Washington, and I was completely obsessed after this!

Reaching the lakes is the pinnacle of the adventure. You can sit alongside the waters while listening to the chirping birds and seeing the larches in bright golden yellow.

While I did love this hike, I was confused about how to get here, so let me save you some trouble. Get directions to Mission Ridge Ski Area, and then look up the WTA directions for this trail. It’s technically the Squilchuck Trail that you’ll be following to the lakes.

This trail is three hours from Seattle, but its easy nature means that you can complete the trail in two hours and still have time for a leisurely drive back home. You also don’t need to buy a pass, meaning you can plan a weekend trip in Seattle easily. There are plenty of fun things to do in Wenatchee while you’re out there.

My friend and I went into town after this and stopped at Wenatchee Brewing Company for a pint and pizza, which was the perfect end to our day.

5. Tronsen Ridge

tronsen ridge
Image via Flickr by Dan Nevill
  • Location: Central Cascades
  • Mileage: 8.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Tronsen Ridge is a thrilling trail for outdoor enthusiasts searching for a hike that is more on the remote side. That means it’s a less popular trail with hikers, given its difficulty and the hard-to-access road that leads to the entrance of the path.

Although the trail feels completely remote, it’s just two and a half hours away from Seattle. Avid hikers and campers can choose to set up camp in one of several camping areas, as well as the option of spending the night in your RV.

The path dips and climbs through patchwork meadows, creaking trees, pine groves, and basalt spires – all of which provide a different experience depending on the season. 

Of course, you’re venturing here for the iconic larches during your fall hiking in Washington. Throughout the mountain landscapes, the larches grow tall and wide, leaving you with endless views of golden fields. 

6. Carne Mountain

carne mountain
Image via Flickr by Martin Bravenboer
  • Location: Central Cascades
  • Mileage: 7.3 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 3,600 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Pass Required: None

Carne Mountain Trail is in the Steven’s Pass area, which is three and a half hours from Seattle and great for hikes to see larches in Washington. The early bird catches the worm here, and if you leave before 8 am, you’ll have enough time to make the drive back home without having to rush the hike.

This is a challenging yet rewarding hike that shows off endless forests of golden western larches and the dazzling peaks of the Cascades region. The trail leads you through open forests, home to hundreds of low-growing shrubs that all transform into orange and red bundles during autumn.

Towards the end of the hike, you’ll pop through the forest and be greeted by a mesmerizing waterfall tucked between the slopes. As you keep climbing, you’ll have the chance to see Clark Mountain, Glacier Peak, Carne Mountain, and Mount Maude.

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

7. Colchuck Lake

hikes near leavenworth colchuck lake
  • Location: Leavenworth area
  • Mileage: 8.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 2,280 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to hard
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Travel three hours from Seattle to arrive at the Colchuck Lake hiking pass for one of the more popular larch hikes in Washington. This is also a popular spring hike for those who want to see the snow around it, but I personally think fall is the best time. While the star of the show is a glistening, deep blue lake, the golden alpines that meet the lake shores in autumn add an extra bit of magic! 

The first mile of the hike begins with a gentle incline and shows off spectacular scenery that hikers of all levels can enjoy. The dense forest allows you to catch glimpses of Mountaineer Creek in the distance, but once you’ve made it through the thicket, the entire valley can be seen.

As you near the lake, the hike becomes trickier, but the beauty of the turquoise lakes alongside Colchuck Glacier makes the trek worth it. The Colchuck Glacier features hundreds of larches and firs that create idyllic fall scenery.

Again, this is a very popular larch hike in Washington, so either leave Seattle early or stay overnight in Leavenworth the night before.

If you want to add to your trip, you can stay a night nearby and make a reservation at Scenic Hot Springs the next day for a scenic vacation. You could also head down to visit Leavenworth for a Washington Oktoberfest celebration, or just stop at a local restaurant for lunch (Rhein Haus is my favorite).

8. The Enchantments 

larch hikes in washington
  • Location: Leavenworth area
  • Mileage: 18.0 miles, one-way
  • Elevation gain: 4,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass & Backcountry camping permit

Anyone looking for serious hiking and an awe-inspiring larch conifer experience should, without a doubt, head to the Enchantments Trail. Although it’s a popular summer hike, it’s not for the faint-hearted, and you’ll need to be moderately fit.

The trail is three hours from Seattle, but it’s not a one-day hike, given its length and how strenuous it is. However, to spend the night here, you’ll have to enter the lottery for a permit. Applications open up around mid-February, so be sure to get yours in right away to have a chance at an Enchantments backcountry permit. I’m sad to say I’ve never won this lottery, but I keep trying every year!

Parts of the trail can be challenging to follow, passing through boulders and sandy beaches. However, hiking the Enchantments provides you with magnificent views of glaciers, crystal blue lakes, herds of mountain goats, and larches growing wild and free. 

9. Esmeralda Basin

larch hikes in washington
  • Location: Snoqualmie region
  • Mileage: 7.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,750 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

The Esmeralda Basin is a popular hiking trail two and a half hours from Seattle. The trail boasts stunning scenery, from 75 varieties of flowers and views of craggy mountain peaks to remnants of old mining operations. 

Because you’ll be venturing here to visit the gorgeous larches, climbing to reach one of the various viewpoints is a must. The larches prefer to be high up, and upon reaching the top of the peaks, you’ll witness sweeping views of the trees below. 

10. Cutthroat Pass

cutthroat lake hike
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 10.0 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

This is yet another stunning larch hike in Washington that you’ll want to put on your list if you have some experience hiking. It’s long, but the fall foilage is completely worth it this time of year. One part that I love about this trail is you’ll be on the PCT for part of it, so you’ll likely run into some PCT hikers finishing up their big trek.

The hike starts out in the forest and goes over small streams, and a few miles in, you’ll run into a larger creek you’ll need to be careful crossing. After you get out of the forest, you’ll have some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains before encountering some tough switchbacks.

All the hard work is worth it, though, as you’ll be greeted by golden Washington larches, huckleberry bushes, and more, depending on the time of the year. There are several ways to go on this trail – you can hike to Cutthroat Lake (pictured above) and then onto Cutthroat Pass, or Cutthroat Pass via the PCT, as mentioned earlier.

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.

11. Minotaur Lake

minotaur lake
  • Location: Stevens Pass
  • Mileage: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Pass Required: None

If you’re looking for a trail for the whole family, Minotaur Lake is ideal for all fitness levels – although there are vertical climbs. As one of the best fall hikes near Seattle (one and half hours from the city) and scenic things to do in Seattle in the fall, you can spend your time soaking up the magnificent views and stopping at the picturesque lake. 

The trail starts by taking you through the creek that leads up to the lake and then through some dense forest grounds. Get your energy ready to climb up a hill before arriving in a beautiful meadow. Once you’re here, you have the choice to wander around the lake or venture to the cliffs to experience spectacular views of the deciduous larches down below.

12. Swauk Forest Discovery Trail

washington larches
  • Location: Central Cascades
  • Mileage: 2.45 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 660 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

Swauk Forest Discovery Trail is an ideal option for those not keen on breaking too much of a sweat. Being two hours from Seattle, you can include this short trail as a stop for your Washington state road trip itinerary. Be sure to visit Rosly Cafe for a meal after your adventure. 

The trail features five benches scattered along the path. After a couple of minutes of walking, stop along at one of the benches to take in the dreamy views. On clear days, views of Mount Rainier (you’ll definitely want to do a day trip from Seattle to Mt. Rainier during this season!) and the Enchantments appear through the relatively flat terrain, making it a must-do for Washington larch hikes.

13. Goat Peak Lookout

  • Location: North Cascades
  • Mileage: 3.7 miles, roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass

I hadn’t even heard of this trail until my fall hiking trip last October, but it ended up being my favorite one out of the three we did. Fire lookout hikes are a big obsession of mine, and the fact that this one was overflowing with golden larches at the top was a huge plus.

You do gain a good amount of elevation in a short period, and my legs got pretty tired toward the end (although we did do Cutthroat Lake right before this one). However, it’s completely worth it to get to the top and see views of the North Cascades. While the lookout was closed, there were two chairs to relax on while we were refueling.

I recommend heading east to Winthrop to have dinner at Old Schoolhouse Brewing and relax by the river. They are always my go-to after a hike in the area. After, you can explore all the other fun things to do in Winthrop.

What to Know About Larches in Washington

Here are some tips to help you plan the best hikes to see larches in Washington.

What Are Larches?

best larch hikes in washington

Larches are impressive deciduous coniferous trees that grow to a height between 65 and 160 feet. While spring and summertime allow these tall trees to display a rich green color, they’re even more spectacular in the fall. As the weather starts to cool, their once green needle-like leaves turn a golden yellow.

The tree’s needles are only around an inch long, but they form large clusters of between 30-40 leaves. Nestled in between these clusters are tiny pink flowers that’ll eventually turn into yellow or red cones. As the cones start to mature, they’ll turn a woody brown before it drops off the tree. 

Naturally, these trees give you the feeling that they belong in a picture-perfect fall or winter wonderland scene, depending on if you go when there’s also snow. These trees prefer colder climates, and they thrive in mountainous areas where they have plenty of space to grow into forests.

The various species of larch trees are also native to Asia and northern, colder parts of Europe. 

The state of Washington is lucky enough to have two species of iconic larches; the western larch (Larix occidentalis) and the subalpine larch (Larix lyallii). 

When is Larch Season in Washington?

During the spring, the larches grow bundles of lightly colored needle leaves. The colors transform into a deep green throughout the summer months. While we have some beautiful winter hikes in Washington, you won’t find the larches topped with snowy peaks – they lose these needles and stand bare, waiting for the chance to produce fresh leaves. 

Washington is a dream state for those chasing the beauty that comes with fall. A large portion of the indigenous species are evergreens, meaning that they won’t lose their leaves. This provides the perfect backdrop of yellowing and reddening leaves contrasting against emerald greens, and going on a Washington larch hike is one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest.

Fall officially starts in Washington on September 22nd and ends on December 21st. This is prime time for seeing general fall foliage, as many other trees turn yellow, red, and orange. On the other hand, the larches turn predominantly yellow, which will be a sure giveaway that you’re spying on larches and not fir trees, which they are often mistaken for.

If you’re looking for when to see larches in Washington, it’s only for a few weeks out of the year, which tends to be late September to early October. So if you plan on hiking to see the golden larch trees, it’s always a good idea to research the hike you’re planning on and find out how the larches are looking. 

The best way to find out when to go is to read the trail reports on the WTA website or on AllTrails (I pay for AllTrails Pro, which is more than worth it for the trail map downloads). Both of these are regularly updated by users who can report both the conditions on the trail and the color of the larches, and upload pictures so you can see if you need to go soon or can wait a little bit.

However, my general rule is as soon as I see pictures of those golden larches, I plan a trip within a week out to the location. They can turn really quickly, so it’d be a disappointment to wait too long and miss them.

Where to Find Washington Larches

larch hikes in washington state

When it comes to finding larch trees in Washington, you might find it rather tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Or when you should be looking for the golden trees.

Now that you know when the larches are showing off their fall colors in Washington State, you can set off on your adventure to start finding them. Depending on where in Washington you are, the general North Cascades and Leavenworth area are two spots you can explore to find larches.

Western Larch

Its triangular shape can identify the western larch. They have a narrow crown and can reach up to 170 feet in size – the tallest of the two species growing in Washington. You can find this species growing from Oregon to British Columbia and from Idaho to northwest Montana. 

Subalpine Larch

The subalpine larch is native to northwest America, typically growing in cold and snowy environments. It’s a lot smaller than its cousin, the western larch, and reaches around 70 feet. Also, in contrast to the western larch, the subalpine’s branches grow in different directions. 

Subalpine are found in high mountainous regions in Idaho, British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana.

What to Pack for Larch Season in Washington

washington larches

Fall hikes in Washington have a chilly bite in the air, but it’s still a wonderful Washington bucket list experience. It’s best to come prepared for colder conditions than warmer temperatures. 

Mastering the art of layering is an essential part of a successful hike in Washington state. It might be tempting to wear your thickest jacket, but your temperature will fluctuate as you build up a sweat.

Here are a few tips on what to bring with you:

  • Clothes with sweat-wicking fabric are important, and I won’t hike without them anymore. They can be worn under layers and won’t create an odor build-up.
  • When it comes to packing your backpack, consider bringing along an insulated flask with a hot drink and some warm snacks to keep in an insulated lunchbox.
  • You’ll also need to bring your own water, either a water bottle or a CamelBak, which I find much easier to drink.
  • Bug spray might be crucial depending on what time of year you hike, and I love this lotion because it doesn’t smell horrible but does a great job of preventing bites. I always have some in my hiking backpack, just in case (because I swear mosquitoes smell me coming from a mile away).
  • Many of these are moderately challenging hikes, so I recommend that you bring along lightweight trekking poles that can attach to your backpack. If you encounter rocky paths, the poles provide an extra grip that can prevent a slip. Poles also work well in rainy conditions when paths tend to get slippery. 

Now the hard part is deciding which one of these larch hikes in Washington you want to do first!

6 thoughts on “13 Best Larch Hikes in Washington State You’ll Want to Do (2024)

  1. Marissa from Vancouver says:

    Thanks for this article! My partner and I did some hiking in the North Cascades in July for the first time and are thinking to go back for the larches. We did all 3 trails you listed here, heather maple loop, cutthroat pass, and blue lake. Stunning in summer, would probably be even better in fall.

  2. Marissa says:

    Hi Marissa! 🙂 Yes, it’s so hard to pick the best time to hike the North Cascades because both the summer and fall are equally beautiful.

  3. Lalit Deshmukh says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive article. I enjoyed it and find it useful. I look forward to hiking some trails you wrote about and I haven’t visited yet. Best. +Lalit

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