9 Gorgeous Places to See Fall Colors in Washington State

Posted by
Jacklyn Grambush
October 05, 2022
Updated September 01, 2023

where to see fall colors in washington state
Fall colors along the banks of the Snoqualmie River in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Photo: Shutterstock

Despite the nickname of the Evergreen state, the state of Washington still charms onlookers with those famous autumn colors as temperatures start to drop in September.

October is typically the best time to catch the changing of the leaves, but every location can vary thanks to the state’s diverse ecosystems.

The most extraordinary places for fall foliage are also spots that are beautiful year round, such as national forests, botanical gardens, and bodies of water that reflect surrounding tree lines.

Since those types of places make up most of the state, fall foliage in Washington won’t be hard to find. Here’s a guide to narrow down the best places from the extensive list of options the state offers.

1. Leavenworth

Leavenworth washington in fall
Photo: Kirk Fisher

Why you should go: A Bavarian-themed town set between Tumwater Mountain and the Wenatchee River.

  • Nearest town: Leavenworth
  • Peak foliage: Late September through October

In addition to fall favorites like the local Farmer’s Market, the Autumn Leaf Festival, and the ever-popular Oktoberfest, the surrounding landscape of Leavenworth appears to catch on fire with the turning of the leaves.

With the stunning surrounding outdoor spaces, you can hike, bike, rock climb, zip line, or horseback ride through the breathtaking colors that abound. Though there are trails of varying difficulty, one of the hardest hikes also offers some of the most staggering views: the 21-mile, 12-hour hike through the golden larches of the aptly named Enchantments.

If you’re looking for something more relaxing, consider a drive along Icicle Road or even a horse carriage ride around town! You can travel to nearby Lake Wenatchee to wonder at the reflection of fall colors along the 12,000 feet of waterfront.

Alternatively, stay closer to town, exploring Tumwater Canyon for views of fall colors mixed with cliffs rising up from the Wenatchee River. Better yet, no need to leave town at all; simply stroll through Waterfront Park.

Related read: 9 Best Hikes in Washington State for Epic Outdoor Adventures

2. Columbia River Gorge

Multnomah Falls autumn
Photo: Bill Perry

Why you should go: More than 60 miles of trees mixed with waterfalls along the glorious river that separates Washington from Oregon.

  • Nearest town: Lyle to Bingen
  • Peak foliage: Late September through October

Flowing along most of the border between Washington and Oregon, the Columbia River is a magnificent force carving through the gorge of the same name. Lined for miles upon miles by deciduous trees like oak and maple, it’s a beautiful place for fall colors.

Hikes along the Columbia River Gorge like Klickitat Trail in Central Washington will offer some heavy breathing of that crisp fall air among autumnal colors. A little farther west, Hamilton Mountain Trail offers not one, but two waterfalls to go with those fall leaves.

If you only have time for one hike along the Columbia River Gorge though, make it the Cape Horn Trail: six miles of ruby, russet, and gold leaves, dotted with waterfalls and overlooks to give you that perfect view of the fall season.

Alternatively, consider changing your perspective and take to the water for a unique view of the fall colors on both sides of the river.

Related read: 15+ Must-See Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls

3. Washington Park Arboretum

Washington Park Arboretum
Photo: Claudia Cooper

Why you should go: a curated collection of trees on Lake Washington that doesn’t require leaving the city.

  • Nearest town: Seattle
  • Peak foliage: Mid to late October

We’re talking 230 acres of trees nurtured and enjoyed since 1934 along Lake Washington in the city of Seattle – for free. That’s a solid choice for fall foliage.

With all the colors you can expect in autumn, from gold to purple, you can drive through the arboretum, park and walk its paths, or even get in the water and kayak to it from Lake Washington. As one might expect, the arboretum has a remarkable collection of trees from the witch hazel family to sassafras as well as North America’s largest collection of Japanese maples.

Speaking of which, there is one section of the arboretum that requires a fee ($8 for adults) – the Japanese Garden – but it’s arguably the most colorful in autumn, exploding with fall’s fireworks.

Related read: 10 Enchantingly Romantic Getaways Near Seattle, Washington

4. North Cascades National Park

Mount Shuksan in North Cascades National Park
Mount Shuksan in North Cascades National Park. Photo: Nadia Yong

Why you should go: Fall colors here pop against the snowy peaks of the Cascade Mountains, its alpine lakes, and the evergreen trees for which Washington state is famous.

  • Nearest town: Concrete, WA
  • Peak foliage: Early to mid-October

A drive through the North Cascades National Park is feasible along the North Cascades Highway. Though the higher elevation of the area definitely provides for some unique landscapes, it also comes with safety precautions. The North Cascades Highway becomes impassable and closes during winter, so make sure to keep track of the weather before you go; snow in October is not unheard of.

For those hoping to explore outside a vehicle, Heather Maple Pass Loop comes highly recommended – even though it is technically just on the outskirts of the national park.

Still, it offers the same stunning scenery with head to toe colors from shrubs and grasses to Western Larch and maple trees set against those snowy peaks and alpine lakes. The better views are enjoyed when hiking the loop counter-clock wise. Incredible views like these attract crowds, so plan accordingly.

There are an abundance of hikes within the boundaries of the National Park as well. For those seeking a quieter hike, consider the East Bank Trail along Ross Lake, or for an easier hike, enjoy the golden larches of Blue Lake.

Related read: 13 Best Hikes in North Cascades National Park, Washington

5. Kubota Garden

Kubota Garden seattle
Photo: Claudia Cooper

Why you should go: Pacific Northwest flora with a Japanese-inspired design.

  • Nearest town: Seattle
  • Peak foliage: Late September through October

That’s right, Seattle has a second garden in the city proper, this one just toward the south end of the city. Completely free, the Kubota Garden offers 20 acres with over 140 varieties of maple trees, 11 ponds, a couple red bridges, and even waterfalls!

In conjunction with those vibrant autumn shades, this space is made special by its history. Though eventually sold to the City of Seattle in 1987, the oasis was originally the personal property of Fujitaro Kubota who spent decades designing and building it.

Related read: The Ultimate Portland to Seattle Road Trip Itinerary

6. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Photo: Dirk Wierenga

Why you should go: Fall foliage along the Cascade Mountains in one of the state’s most stunning national forests.

  • Nearest town: Sedro-Woolley
  • Peak foliage: October

It only makes sense that a national forest would have some beautiful options for peaking at our favorite fall colors. Extending 140 miles (2,694 square miles) from the Canadian border to Mount Rainier National Park along the Cascade Mountains, there is no shortage of breathtaking scenery at Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

By car, autumn’s stunning spectrum of colors can be enjoyed on either the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway or the North Cascades Highway. Keep an eye on weather, as both close during winter months.

On foot, consider these three trails: the Chain Lakes Loop to spy fall foliage as you meander around lakes with views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan in the background, Yellow Aster Butte for that full fall palette spanning slopes of surrounding jagged peaks, or Skyline Divide for colorful alpine meadows.

Whatever you choose, the sprawling forest will delight with splashes of autumn hues among the evergreens.

Related read: 10 Scenic Drives in Washington State That’ll Blow Your Mind

7. Mount Rainier National Park

Rainier National Park
Edith Creek, Mount Rainier National Park. Photo: Ian Dewar

Why you should go: Visit the tallest volcanic peak in the contiguous U.S. as it poses among the season’s finest shades.

  • Nearest town: Buckley
  • Peak foliage: October

Mount Rainier is one of Washington’s gem. On a clear day, you can see her all the way from Canada! The queen of the Cascades is wondrous to visit any time of year, but autumn brings amber, gold, scarlet, and sometimes even magenta to pop against the white slopes of her glaciated peak. Though there are evergreens in the area as well, they only add to the exciting contrast of color.

Chinook Scenic Byway and White Pass Scenic Byway will keep you warm while you drive along picture-worthy roads bursting with fall colors. For those who want to walk among the dazzling hues, almost any hike will do.

Top picks for the best views of vine maple, huckleberry bushes, larch, cottonwoods, willows, and aspen include Reflection Lakes, Naches Peak Loop, Skyline Trail, and Grove of the Patriarchs.

Weather varies from year to year, but snow in late October is not uncommon, so stay informed and stay ahead of the weather.

Related read: 14 Jaw-Dropping Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park

8. Olympic Peninsula

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park
Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park. Photo: Jakapong Paoprapat

Why you should go: Marvel at bright yellow, orange, and red ornamenting the evergreens of a rainforest.

  • Nearest town: Port Angeles
  • Peak foliage: Mid-September through October

Autumn is the rainy season, which for Washington is saying something, and in a rainforest, increases exponentially. Combined with the mist coming in from the coast, the Olympic Peninsula during the fall is its very own mood. This performance from Mother Nature can be enjoyed on the road, a hike, a bike, or even a kayak!

Via car, wind along Hurricane Ridge Road or the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (101), especially between Forks and Lake Crescent. Lake Crescent itself is an idyllic location to drive around, hike by, or kayak in with fall foliage reflecting in the azure lake. Olympic Discovery Trail along the Strait of Juan de Fuca will provide fall’s finest paired with the smell of that salty ocean water.

Of course, the number one suggestion for fall foliage on the Olympic Peninsula is the Hoh Rainforest. Follow the orange and yellow maples along the Hoh River or explore the Hall of Mosses trails. In addition to big leaf and vine maples, keep a lookout for mushrooms, bald eagles, and elk during this less crowded season.

Related read: A Winter Guide to Visiting Olympic National Park

9. Walla Walla Vineyards

Walla Walla Vineyards
Photo: Danita Delimont

Why you should go: Indulge in the changing of the leaves in Washington’s wine country.

  • Nearest town: Walla Walla
  • Peak foliage: October through November

With over 120 vineyards, Walla Walla is home not only to great wine tasting, but also to acres upon acres of grapes (among other fruit farms) that are ablaze as the air turns from heavy to crisp.

Along with row after row of fiery, golden, and amber flora, elegantly nurtured as if just for your enjoyment, the area also boasts maples, dogwoods, and cottonwood that catch the eye in an otherwise mostly desert landscape.

Other than exploring vineyards, wine country’s changing of the leaves can be enjoyed driving or hiking through the Blue Mountains, walking along numerous rivers or Bennington Lake, or learning local history at Whitman Mission. As for the wine, consider Fall Release Weekend!

Related read: 10 Marvelously Unique Places to Stay in Washington State

Explore Washington

Get epic travel ideas delivered to your inbox with Weekend Wanderer, our newsletter inspiring thousands of readers every week.

Seen in: Fall Colors, Washington, West

Find your next adventure

Sign up for Weekend Wanderer and join thousands of readers getting epic travel ideas weekly.

Related Posts