Where to get the best views of Nature's showOkay, the Pacific Northwest is not New England when it comes to Fall colors, but there is no question that Nature still puts on a spectacular display each autumn as the many of the region’s trees change color and boldly stand out against backdrop of evergreens.
Deciduous trees, such as aspen, cottonwood and several others turn vibrant red and vivid gold as the temperature drops. The best time to see these colors varies every year, but anytime from August to November you’re going to see some color.
The colors offer a great excuse to get out and get some exercise by hiking Northwest trails that are not yet covered with snow. Or just a simple drive through the mountains can be quite spectacular this time of year. One place to find a lot of that color is to take advantage of the North Cascades Highway, which connects the North Central Washington town of Winthrop with cities on the west side of the mountains. It’s impassable in winter, but you can take this route early in the season to enjoy magnificent fall colors.
The North Cascades Highway will take you through North Cascades National Park—a land of towering peaks and wonderful scenic vistas combining the mountains, forests, lakes and streams pictured on popular postcards of the region. The spectacular views take on a different look in the fall season and you really immerse yourself in Nature’s true beauty this time of year. But go early – the highway often closes in late October.
Another favorite is to take a fall drive along the Mt. Baker Highway. This part of Northwest Washington is awe-inspiring any time of year, but it takes on a whole new look as the deciduous trees change to bright reds and golds. The Mount Baker Highway is both a Washington State Scenic Highway and a National Forest Scenic Byway. The route follows Highway 542 from Bellingham, passing through farmland and forest before winding its way up over 5100 feet to Artist Point. Altogether it’s a 116-mile round trip.
Some of the most gorgeous and memorable scenery is located past the Mt. Baker ski area, open during the warm months. And they say the best vistas and hikes along the Mount Baker Highway are at Heather Meadows and Artist Point. You can expect fall color in late September and early October. For maps and information, be sure and stop at the Glacier Public Service Center.
The Columbia Gorge is another great place to see fall color. In particular, the Washington side of the Columbia River and the hills and bluffs overlooking the Columbia River Gorge offer abundant opportunity to see plenty of fall colors, usually in October.
Several state parks along this route offer you the chance to get out of your car and really experience the outdoors. In addition to fall colors you’ll find well-known landmarks like Beacon Rock, a distinctive basalt monolith named and documented by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The rock and the surrounding lands are now Beacon Rock State Park, which extends from the Columbia River up the hills several miles on the north side of Highway 14.
The hiking trails that you can access along Washington State Highway 14 range from flat and easy to steep and strenuous. Some are near the water, others are up in the forested hills where you’ll see plenty of fall colors.
Often times, great fall colors are right down the street. Tacoma residents, for example, have the five mile drive at Point Defiance Park and, if you live in Seattle there are plenty of fall colors to experience at places like the Washington Park Arboretum.
The Arboretum is near the University of Washington campus in Seattle and it is free to visit. It is a large area, 230 acres altogether and offers an amazing assortment of plants and trees. This spectacular park has large paved pedestrian paths that run throughout the park and local residents have caught on that this is an easy way to see the Northwest’s colorful deciduous trees all in one place.
PHOTOS: Washington Park Arboretum
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