By Penny Fox
As summer starts to fade and the air changes to crisp and cool, many people love to step out into nature and enjoy the new beauty of the fall season. The golden honey tones, fiery reds, and lingering shadows are just part of the allure of hiking in Washington State, where the bustle of summer is replaced by the more mellow enchantment of autumn. Below are five of the most stunning foliage hikes in Washington State that will satisfy your yearning to experience nature’s paintbrush.
One of the most spectacular trails in this part of Washington State is the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail which starts at the Chain Lakes Trail near Glacier, Washington. The trail is rocky and challenging and there is snow on the mountain year-round, so hikers should always have a compass and appropriate gear with them when taking this journey. While on the trail, you’ll see stunning panoramic views from creeks and lakes, and you may be fortunate enough to see some of the local wildlife. After a few miles, you’ll come to a lava field and from here you’ll be able to see the gem of the forest, Mt. Baker, part of the Snoqualmie National Forest. There are many ups and downs along the trail and you’ll encounter places where you have to cross water flowing down the side of the mountain. You’ll see breathtaking views of majestic lupines and sedges with occasional blueberry patches along the trail. The rugged ridges of the mountain peaks are often hidden by a dense fog that eventually lifts on good days.
No area in Washington State is more interesting than Mount St. Helens. Thirty years ago, the quiet volcano boasted a dense growth of flora and old growth forests. All that changed drastically and forever with the violent and historic eruption of the volcano in 1980, when there was a massive avalanche and earthquake that left a one-mile wide crater on the side of the mountain, sent ash, mud, and lava down, and buried the landscape as it was known until then. What exists now is nature reborn. There are new lakes, valleys, and even a glacier that formed the first winter after the explosion. There are also over 200 miles of trails that can be explored and they provide excellent opportunities for novice and experienced hikers to see the amazing landscape. Every season is a special treat with wildflowers and new forest growth, but fall may be the best time to discover Mount St. Helens. There are three points of access and all provide a different perspective and view. Permits are required and animals are not permitted due to the fragile ecosystem. Hikers should always take plenty of water with them, too, since there is little available on the trails.
Each season brings something special in color and beauty, but there’s something unique about fall at Larch Lake. Located near Entiat, Washington, the 3.5-mile trail meanders up and down along the Entiat River. The golden needles of the larch trees practically glow in the reflection of Myrtle Lake on the way up to Larch Lakes Trail. Just when you think you’ve seen all there is to see, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by an age-old waterfall cascading down rocks and boulders. Once over the next hill, you’ll encounter a small alpine lake, only to be amazed by a larger one a little further up the trail. You’ll think you’re in another time and place in these surreal surroundings, but after a rest and swim in the brisk lake water, you’ll be able to head down and enjoy the sights again.
The area surrounding Sullivan Lake near Metaline Falls, Washington, is full of densely populated trees and undergrowth where hikers along the numerous trails may see elk, moose, deer, and caribou from the last herd in the U.S. Part of the Colville Forest Reserve created in 1907 by then-President Theodore Roosevelt and just north of the Colville Indian Reservation, the present forest offers over one million acres of the most amazing rivers, mountain ranges, and natural wooded areas in the state, 486 acres of which are used for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, camping, and fishing. Although there are abundant and photographic scenes of beautiful flowers unique to this area, fall is especially a wondrous time around the lake when the blue sky and fluffy white clouds are reflected in the lake.
Part of Olympic National Park near Amanda Park in the furthest northwestern part of Washington, Quinault River Valley is a 69-mile river that flows through the Enchanted Valley to the Pacific Ocean. With hiking trails available for any level of participant, you’ll be surrounded by the amazing colors of silver fir, cedar, and alder trees, different varieties of ferns and other vegetation and wildflowers common to this area of the country. You will think you’re actually in a fairytale with the tall mountains of the park in the background and hundreds of waterfalls trickling down the mountain sides earning it the name of “The Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls.” If you’re lucky, you may see bear, elk, eagles, deer, and coyotes on the trail, although caution should always be used when in the wild. Salmon can be found running upstream in the fall, and if you’re a photographer, you’ll find no lack of scenic and mind-blowing places to capture. Whether you want a great place to hike for the day or longer, you can’t go wrong at Quinault River Valley and Enchanted Valley.