Pacific Northwest Destination Lakes

These 15 Lakes Are Great Fall Destinations

Bodies of water are special in the Pacific Northwest. From rivers fed by mountain glaciers, to the salty shores of Puget Sound, even in the flood-carved lands on the eastern side of the state, we find ourselves drawn to them. While we enjoy taking trips to the coast and along rivers, these lakes inspire adventure and offer experiences unlike anywhere else.

Dotting the Evergreen State, from the Olympic Peninsula to the Cascades and out in eastern Washington, these lakes are destinations in themselves, giving every level of adventurer a place to enjoy. Whether you fish, hike, boat or just enjoy looking at the water, there is a lake waiting for you.

 Because of COVID-19, please take recommended safety requirements, check road closures, and practice social distancing if you are planning a future trip. 

Sun set Lake Ozette

Sunset at Lake Ozette, Photo by iStock

OLYMPIC PENINSULA

Out on the Olympic Peninsula, an area known for heavy rainfalls and rainforests, there are three lakes that are destinations for serenity and wilderness beauty. Lacking many amenities, these three locations capture the rugged spirit of the Olympic Peninsula. Just west of Port Angeles on Highway 101, Lake Crescent is a crown jewel of Olympic National Park. The second deepest lake in Washington offers lodging and dining, as well as miles of hiking and paddling adventures. The Lake Crescent Lodge, a historic lodge in the park, is truly picturesque, while the Spruce Railroad Trail, highlighted by Devil’s Punchbowl, is a family-friendly trek that gives stunning views. The trail is scheduled to reopen in this fall.

Further west, just a few miles off Highway 101, Lake Quinault is another can’t-miss lake to explore. To experience Lake Quinault, one can stop at the historic Lake Quinault Lodge, or drive the Quinault Loop, taking in sights of waterfalls, wildlife and rainforest wonder. A drive on the loop in the fall months will have you seeing fall colors on big leaf maples, eagles eating salmon, and bugling elk.

If these two spots aren’t remote enough, a trip out to Lake Ozette (pictured) will give you the wilderness boost you need. Although the shores of Lake Ozette are accessible only by boat, you can drive to a small campground and a trail to a stunning stretch of coast at the end of the lake. The loop hike is 9 miles in length and is considered one of the best hikes in Washington state. A fun fact about Lake Ozette is that the bottom of the lake is below sea level.

Winter at Lake Wenatchee

Winter at Lake Wenatchee, Photo by iStock

NORTH CASCADES

Up in the Northern Cascades, lakes add beauty to an already-pretty area, with blue waters reflecting the towering peaks that line their shores. One of the most spectacular lakes in Washington state, Diablo Lake, is found in the North Cascades. Located along the North Cascades Highway, Diablo Lake is best known for its roadside viewpoint and outdoor recreation opportunities. Nearby, Ross Lake allows boaters and backpackers a chance to get into the wilds of the mountainous majesty of the region. Neither lake has much in the way of amenities, but both are close enough to towns that make them a great, seasonal road trip destination.

Southeast of the North Cascades Highway, Lake Chelan rests, waiting for your adventures. Lake Chelan, the deepest lake in the state, is possibly the most well-known lake in Washington and for good reason. In the town of Chelan, there are dozens of opportunities for lodging, dining and recreation. Take a trip up the lake to the small community of Stehekin to find access to truly wild terrain.

A short drive northwest of Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee (pictured) is a year-round gem for campers and hikers. The lake is best accessed through Lake Wenatchee State Park. Although there isn’t much in the immediate vicinity, its close proximity to Leavenworth makes it a perfect spot to visit on a road trip in any season.

Tipsoo Lake

Lake Tipsoo, Photo by iStock

CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN CASCADES

The Central and Southern Cascades also are home to incredible lakes, from Snoqualmie Pass all the way down to Mount St. Helens. The easiest-to-reach lakes along I-90 near Snoqualmie are Kachess Lake and Lake Easton. Kachess Lake is the more remote of the two, with forest service roads available to get farther off the beaten track. Lake Easton is more developed, with a state park, a resort and lodges all right near the waters. In addition, near Snoqualmie is Gold Creek Pond, which is a great place to stop, stretch your legs and enjoy the mountain views.

In Mount Rainier National Park, two lakes perfectly capture the beauty of Washington state’s iconic mountain. Seasonally accessible, both Reflection Lake near Paradise and Lake Tipsoo (pictured) on the eastern side of the park offer splendid recreation opportunities and breathtaking views. Either of these lakes will give you a fantastic picture of Mount Rainier, as well as a chance to do some short hiking, if desired. Although both spots should not be missed, an unforgettable adventure is to hike along the Naches Peak Loop Trail at Tipsoo Lake during the wildflower season.

Down near Mount St. Helens, Coldwater Lake is an often-overlooked lake with minimal amenities, but fantastic views. Located near the end of the Spirit Lake Highway, Coldwater Lake has a few hiking trails to explore, including a trail that circumnavigates the entire lake. If hiking isn’t your desire, the lake is close to the seasonally opened Johnston Ridge Observatory, where one can learn and look at the still-steaming volcano.

Lake Coeur d'Alene

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Photo by iStock

EASTERN WASHINGTON AND BEYOND

Not to be outdone, the lakes in eastern Washington and beyond are fantastic spots to stop and enjoy the sun. One of the better-known lakes to make a road trip or weekend destination is found at the Potholes Reservoir, just south of Moses Lake. Here, you’ll find camping and boating opportunities, as well as great birding and hiking. When in the area, don’t miss checking out the Moses Lake Mud Flats and Sand Dunes, especially if you are a fan of off-road vehicle recreation.

North of Moses Lake, you’ll find the always gorgeous Sun Lakes-Dry Falls area. Along Highway 17, there is a handful of lakes to enjoy, including Park Lake, where you’ll find camping, dining, golfing, a resort and hiking trails to enjoy. Those hoping for something a little less developed can explore the trails at Dry Falls or hike up above Lenore Lake to the Lenore Lake Caves. Here, enjoy the region’s great views and get to know the area’s geology up close.

If your adventure finds you heading farther east, don’t miss exploring Lake Coeur d’Alene (pictured) in Idaho. Although Idaho has numerous lakes to explore, Lake Coeur d’Alene is a great first step. The easiest way to see the lake is to wander Coeur d’Alene and explore the world’s longest floating boardwalk. Those seeking a more unique experience should drive the Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway. An overlooked gem on Lake Coeur d’Alene is Higgins Point near I-90. In the late fall and winter, hundreds of bald eagles descend on the area, feasting on landlocked sockeye salmon called kokanee.

–Written by Douglas Scott
–Top Image of Diablo Lake by iStock

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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