Monday, October 21, 2013

Great Northwest Fall Hikes: A Few Favorites

Before the snow flies in earnest here in the Pacific Northwest mountains, autumn offers some of the best hiking of the year. With patches of crimson and gold glowing on slopes and brisk mountain fresh air, fall in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains is my favorite time. 
There's something especially invigorating about hiking on the outer edge of winter, when sometimes you can even smell the coming snows. (Don't ask me what snow smells like, but it's fresh and cold and wintery.)

Here are a few of my favorite fall hikes with easily accessible trailheads.

Mt. Pilchuck
As I wrote a couple years ago, Mt. Pilchuck was the very first peak I ever climbed. Back then, when I was only 9, the mountainside on Pilchuck hadn't been clearcut all the way to the trail's edge.  But it's growing back nicely now.

Above the clouds, looking northwest from summit of Mt. Pilchuck.
I dashed up and down Pilchuck last weekend on a sunny but cool Sunday afternoon.  I went alone but ended up hiking with several other friendly hikers, including three from the East Coast who were visiting or recently moved here.

Pilchuck is a mere 20 miles east of Everett, Washington, and the Interstate 5 corridor on the Mountain Loop Scenic Byway, but it's a spectacular alpine hike with stunning views from the old fire lookout lashed to boulders at the summit. If you can, go during the week and avoid the weekend crowds.

This 6-mile hike gains a little over 2,200 feet in elevation over often rough and rocky trail.

Looking north from Pilchuck summit ridge.

Snow Lake
This extremely popular hike, which starts at the Alpental Ski Area parking lot at Snoqualmie Pass, is a favorite because it also delivers striking alpine beauty while being easy to access.  As with Mt. Pilchuck, go during a weekday if at all possible, or go very early on a weekend. At only about 50 miles southeast of Seattle right off Interstate 90, lots of urban hikers make the trip to the Pass for this hike.

Angle up a scenic valley past boulder fields until switchbacking up to a ridge with a great view down to Snow Lake.  Many hikers stop at the huge boulder atop the ridge for lunch and turn around, making it about a 6-mile (one source says 7-mile) roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. 

Snow Lake

Descending the Snow Lake Trail in October.
Naches Peak Loop Trail
Another relatively easy but very scenic trail on the north edge of Mt. Rainier National Park is the Naches Peak Loop Trail at Chinook Pass just above Tipsoo Lake, along the Chinook Scenic Byway.  By mid-October the crowds should be dissipating although still likely heavy on a nice weekend day.

In October the low-lying shrubs on the hillside along the trail glow vivid scarlet.  And the view of Mt. Rainier is nothing less than magnificent. This loop is only 3.5 miles and gains a total of just 500 feet in elevation, although it starts at over 5,400 feet, so you might feel the altitude.

Along the way you'll pass a few lovely alpine lakes.

Colorful shrubs along the Naches Peak Loop Trail.

Mt. Rainier from Chinook Pass
Lake Ann, Maple Pass Loop off North Cascades Highway
While the North Cascades Highway closes each winter due to heavy snow and high avalanche potential, if you can sneak up soon before the snows really hit hard you'll be rewarded with views of golden larches and fabulous craggy peaks.

Liberty Bell from North Cascades Highway

There's already significant snow on the Maple Pass Loop trail, but hikers are out there doing it with their snow shoes or Yaxtrax strapped to their boots.  With dry weather predicted for another week or more, I say it's worth a trip out there, even if you don't make it all the way to the 7,000 foot high point on the trail. Heck, even a drive along the Cascade Loop is a fantastic day.

Looking down at Lake Ann along the Maple Pass Loop
Ramona Falls
It's been a long time since I hiked past Ramona Falls on the west side of Mt. Hood in Mt. Hood National Forest as part of backpack trip on the Timberline Trail.  But I have friends who just did this hike today in brilliant sunshine.


I'm told the foliage is past its peak as of this writing, but it's still a lovely hike less than 50 miles east of Portland, Oregon.  You can make it a 7-mile loop with a gain of about 1,100 feet or continue on up to Yocum Ridge for a longer hike with spectacular close-up views of Mt. Hood.

I've just scratched the surface here (and partly wrote about hikes that I have photos to accompany).  Many more come to mind, like Granite Mountain just west of Snoqualmie Pass (and Bandera Mountain/Mt. Defiance/Mason Lake along the Ira Spring Memorial Trail that I just blogged about).

These hikes are all popular and easily accessed. There are also many great less known, longer hikes out there, too. For a longer, more remote trailhead hike, a friend just hiked up Carne Mountain north of Lake Wenatchee this past weekend, with golden larches and snow.  As one said, this is an Oh My God hike for its splendor.

 To find more hikes, try the Washington Trails Association or websites.

What are you favorite autumn hikes in the Pacific Northwest? What have you done recently? We'd love to read your comments below.

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Ingunn said...

My husband and I hiked to Headlight Basin last weekend and it was BEAUTIFUL. The golden larches were at their peak on top of fresh snow. Amazing.

In later fall (November/December), Tiger Mountain can be really pretty, when the orange leaves have fallen off and line the trails. Unfortunately that also means that the trails are *really* slick! :)

jill said...

Hey Ingunn, you always inspire me by how much you get out and explore different hikes, like I did when I was probably around your age. I was supposed to hike to Lake Ingalls weekend before last with the Washington Native Plant Society folks to see the larches but the hike got cancelled due to snow on the trail. So we did Mason Lake instead. Yea, Tiger can be nice but I like views more too.

@onewhohikes said...

You've certainly hit on some of the best. May I suggest Rampart Ridge as a supreme fall color hike. And, oh, those views...

Posting a link to your blog on twitter @onewhohikes.

See you on the trail. :)

jill said...

Thanks for the link share onewhohikes! Rampart Ridge, excellent suggestion! I bet right now it's fantastic (and above the dreary low-lying clouds and fog). Happy trail.

Anonymous said...

Ramona Falls is an award winning pic. love it

Viola said...

Such magnificent Beauty above the clouds! Thank you for sharing, Jill.