Best Bets for Autumn Color in Washington State
School is back in session and the temperature has started to drop, but that doesn’t mean road trip season is over! Fall is a great time of year to get outside and explore the Pacific Northwest. And despite our reputation as the Evergreen State, Washington boasts some great places to view colorful fall foliage. For show-stopping displays of vibrant crimson, orange and golden leaves, we’ve rounded up four must-see destinations. So pack an extra fleece, grab your Pumpkin Spice Latte, and go explore!
When to go: Late September and October
Why visit: Between the Autumn Leaf Festival and Oktoberfest, fall is really the perfect time to swing by everyone’s favorite local Bavarian village. Nestled in the heart of the Cascade Mountains about two hours from Seattle and three hours from Spokane (with plenty of scenic and scrumptious stops along the way), Leavenworth offers a huge assortment of things to do and serves as a perfect jumping off point for local trails. Look for vine maples and cottonwoods with their stunning scarlet, orange and gold leaves. The drive west of Leavenworth on Highway 2 is also a feast for the eyes, as forests of dogwood, maple and alder shine against a backdrop of dark green conifers.
When to go: October
Why visit: For a different take on fall colors, head to Mount Rainier and watch the low-lying shrubs become a field of fiery reds and oranges. The Skyline Trail Loop, a 5.5-mile round-trip jaunt from the Paradise parking lot, is considered a favorite among park-goers. Huckleberry bushes and vine maples carpet the mountainside with vibrant reds, plush purples and golden yellows, and Mount Rainier looms majestically over it all (on clear days). Colors will be best in mid-October, but since mountain weather is notoriously temperamental, be sure to keep an eye on the forecast and pack the 10 hiking essentials, just in case.
When to go: October
Why visit: Aside from a having a colorful name (anyone else envisioning crazed squirrels throwing acorns?), this scenic drive is awesome for its big views and bright fall foliage. Winding from Burlington to Bellingham along Highway 11, the road skirts Chuckanut Mountain and offers gorgeous panoramas of saltwater bays and the San Juan Islands. In October, maples and alders arch over the roadway and create tunnels of scarlet and yellow leaves. The drive takes about two hours from Seattle (if you take Interstate 5 to Burlington) and features a number of scenic overlooks and tasty food stops, including the renowned Taylor Shellfish Samish Farm Store.
Washington Park Arboretum
When to go: September through November, and especially mid-to-late October
Why visit: Right along the western shore of Lake Washington (just south of the University of Washington’s main campus), the 230-acre Arboretum offers a complete sensory experience in the fall. This sprawling green space boasts more deciduous tree species than any other setting in the Northwest, which means LOTS of beautiful fall colors. The Woodland Gardens are an absolute must-see; with one of North America’s largest collections of Japanese maples, this garden becomes a Technicolor wonderland of rich red, fiery orange, eye-grabbing yellow, deep purple and dreamy magenta leaves. The gardens even feature a tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum, aka katsura) whose leaves smell like burnt sugar throughout autumn! So bring your camera and breathe deep; just don’t eat the leaves.