Friday, September 27, 2013

Fall Colors in the Pacific Northwest

Autumn is my favorite time of year, when deciduous trees look like they're all dressed up for a pre-winter party. While we don't get quite the showy fall colors here in the Pacific Northwest that New England does, we do get some spectacular displays. 

It's still early in the season, but many trees are already starting to turn.  Here are some general suggestions of where to see leaves turning here in the Northwest, but I'd love to hear your suggestions too.

Ornamental maples planted around Portland, Seattle, Eugene, Spokane, and other Northwest cities can be brilliant.  For example, at the peak of color in later October, just drive down Holman Road from Greenwood Avenue to Crown Hill in Seattle when the trees lining the street are crimson red. Stunning!

Ornamental maple leaves, Joseph, Oregon

In Seattle's Carkeek Park in late October, these two trees pictured below near the salmon slide are at their peak. You'll no doubt find other colorful trees around our cities and towns.

In Seattle's Carkeek Park

Our formal Japanese gardens are splendid  in the fall when the Japanese maples turn:  Try the Seattle Japanese Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum, the Portland Japanese Garden in Washington Park above downtown, and the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island.

Bloedel Reserve

Big-leaf maples (the "king of the Northwest woodland") predominate here west of the Cascade Mountains. I remember driving past what looked like a wall of brilliant gold big-leaf maples on a crisp fall day in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland on I-84.

There's a reason this tree is named big leaf.  Some of the leaves can get huge, upwards 10 inches in diameter.  When they fall, they really carpet a trail.

Big-leaf maples along a trail in Carkeek Park

On another trip along the Columbia River on State Route 4,  part of the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway, the abundant big-leaf maples made an otherwise gray Northwest day bright with hues of yellow and gold. This route in southwest Washington just across the river from Oregon is lovely any time of year as it winds past charming and historic places like sea kayaking destination Skamokawa.

Big-leaf maples, Joseph, Oregon
Where our fall color really shines is at higher elevations in the mountains.  Native vine maples are a highlight, turning scarlet orange in late September into October.

Along the Snow Lake Trail, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
If you can catch a dry day in the fall, go hiking in the Cascades or Olympics for brilliant fall color at shrub level.  Native huckleberry plants leave slashes of vivid gold, scarlet, and orange all over meadows and slopes.  A particular favorite hike of mine (and many others) is the stunning Naches Peak Loop Trail at Chinook Pass in Washington, which also offers breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier just to the south.

Along the Naches Loop Trail

For a uniquely Northwest twist on fall colors, continue east of the Cascade crest for spectacular views of golden larches in mid to late October.  According to trail guide book author Craig Romano, who grew up in New Hampshire, "The larches are the next best thing to New England hardwoods when it comes to autumn foliage.”

Golden larches along the road to Hell's Canyon overlook, Wallowa Mountains, OR

Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a great place to see these deciduous conifers from the trail, but you can also enjoy them from the car on a drive over Chinook Pass and other parts of the region, such as in the Blue and Wallowa Mountains of southeast Washington and northeast Oregon.

Golden larches starting to turn, east of Chinook Pass

In the eastern crest of the Cascades and high and dry country of eastern Oregon and Washington, quaking aspen also turn shimmery gold in the fall.  If you can take the time, try heading to the remote Steens Mountain area in southeast Oregon for a good aspen show. I've also enjoyed seeing them in the Pasayten Wilderness in northern Washington.

Along the Naches River, late October
These are just a few of many, many places to enjoy our fall color here in the Northwest.  Where are your favorite places or hikes to enjoy the peak of autumn as the leaves turn? Jump in with a Comment below!

Happy Trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

Fall is here! September 26, 2013, in Seattle.



Ron Mitchell said...

Gorgeous, Jill! We will be posting some colors from "the other end" soon. Ron

martha said...

Just beautiful.

jill said...

Thanks Ron, look forward to seeing your photos from New England.

Martha, thanks! Do you get much fall color down your way?

Lisa said...

I love fall too Jill. Thanks for the trip ideas.