Monday, October 5, 2015

North Cascades's Autumn Larches: Pure Gold

If you only do one essential Northwest outdoors experience (besides climbing a volcano) this fall, do this:

Call in sick tomorrow, hop in your car, and drive up the North Cascades Highway to Rainy Pass or Washington Pass*. Throw your Northwest Forest Pass on the dashboard, lace on some good trail shoes/boots, and hike up to Blue Lake, Lake Ann, or the Maple Pass Loop to revel in the golden larches at their glowiest, brilliant peak.

Pure magic.

The Rockies have their golden aspen, New England has all those gaudy maples, but in a narrow band of elevation, north-central Washington and southern B.C. have golden larches each October.

Set against a scoured glacial valley, towering cliffs, or alpine lake, they shimmer in the sun, glow in the foggy mist, and spin gold before your eyes.

A uniquely stunning tree, a deciduous conifer, the Lyall's larch (also called alpine larch) light up an October alpine landscape in their limited growing range

According to a University of Washington botany course, "Alpine larch occupies a remote and rigorous environment, growing in and near the timberline on high mountains of the inland Pacific Northwest."

So that means generally you have to hit the trail and climb to see them up close, to stand amongst a forest of gold far above the lowland maples.

*While Ingall's Lake in the Teanaway area of central Washington Cascades, the Enchantments near Leavenworth, and around Hart's Pass are epic larch destinations, they aren't as easily accessible as the hikes mentioned above along the North Cascades Highway.

I just hiked up to Blue Lake (one of the easiest larch hikes at 2.2 miles up and just over 1,000 feet elevation gain) yesterday for a stellar larch display. Generally the second week in October is when they peak, so you're probably good for another few weeks.

But don't wait too long.

Blue Lake

Because this is a sight that's truly enchanting and otherworldly to behold. It's sort of like seeing the unicorn of the conifer world.

I hope you can make it out there and catch this marvelous display. And if you can't, I hope my photos give you a vicarious sense of this gorgeousness.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! And I'd love to hear in the comments below about your larch experiences.

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Lainey Piland said...

I hiked up to Blue Lake week before last, and got to see larches up close and in person for the first time! Even though we had rainy, misty, foggy weather, those glowing golden trees still lit up the scenery and made it feel like a wonderland. Love all your larch photos (those yellow branches against the blue sky are amazing!), and it's nice to see what Blue Lake looks like on a clear sunny day! :)I'd take our PNW fall colors over those of New England any day...

jill said...

Hey Lainey, Congrats on hiking to more alpine lakes since you're no longer a "virgin" after Snow Lake. glad you got to see the larches and I think the weather doesn't matter as you say, still a wonderland feeling. Yea, I'll take PNW colors because we also have those spectacular craggy peak backdrops. thanks for the comment and feedback!

Tom said...

Thanks so much for the Cascade Larches pictures. I especially love the shots over or along side Blue Lake. Looking over Blue Lake into the mountain larches is such a beautiful scene.

Colleen said...

Jill....looks like a stunning hike. I so wished our visit last weekend was hiking with you on this beautiful hike. Next time for sure.

jill said...

Hey Colleen, yes would have been great to show you the North Cascades and the beautiful hike last weekend. Yes, next time!

ashley g said...

Ahh, those larch trees! There is just something about them. Beautiful photos!