Travel

Where to Spot the Most Stunning Fall Foliage in Washington State

As socially distant as fun gets.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest | Lijuan Guo / Shutterstock
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest | Lijuan Guo / Shutterstock

Washington may be known as the Evergreen State, but there’s more to this part of the country than its seemingly endless supply of fir and pine trees. If you’re eager to see the landscape transform with hues of yellow and gold, October is the month to witness it -- and the maple, ash, and aspen trees won’t disappoint. Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best views, hikes, and scenic overlooks in Washington (with a few other activities that don’t involve foliage tucked in there, too). 

One last thing -- keep in mind that trees at high elevations turn first, in early to mid-October, while those at lower elevations are best viewed later in the month.

Monte Cristo 

Why visit: Nestled in the North Cascades to the northwest of Monte Cristo Peak, it should come as no surprise that Monte Cristo has plenty to offer in the way of beautiful foliage. But this spot serves up a history lesson alongside its scenic views: established as a mining town at the turn-of-the-century gold rush, it’s since been almost entirely abandoned, and is now considered a bonafide ghost town. 
Don’t miss: If you’re headed out for a day trip, we recommend taking a hike or bike ride through the Barlow Pass trail, which follows the old mining road traversed by miners over one hundred years ago.

Whidbey Island Scenic Isle Way

Why visit: Whidbey is known for its delectable seafood (pick up some mussels from Penn Cove!), but the island’s real treasure is its scenic highway, which will take you to Whidbey’s best beaches, trailheads, towns, and, of course, coastal views. At 54 miles, this route is much less daunting than some of the others on this list. And as far as foliage is concerned, Whidbey has lots of oak trees, so you’ll see yellow and red hues all over the island.
Don’t miss: The north end of the island is home to Deception Pass State Park; take the Deception Bridge at sunset over to Fidalgo Island for a breathtaking view of the water and cliffside foliage.

Leavenworth 

Why visit: Because Oktoberfest has been canceled this year, it’s tempting to skip out on a trip to Leavenworth… but hear us out. Like Monte Cristo, Leavenworth is tucked away in the North Cascades; unlike Monte Cristo, this town has so much to offer in the way of dining and entertainment. Take a hike on the Old Pipeline Bed Trail, which snakes through the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, for 2.4 miles of stunning views. Nearby Enchantment Park also offers access to a myriad of trails if you’re game for more.
Don’t miss: The drive north from Seattle to Leavenworth via Highway 2 is spectacular; don’t rush it. You’ll get foliage views from your car as good as any on a nature trail.

Chuckanut Drive

Why visit: Washington is full of natural beauty, but Chuckanut Drive -- also known more plainly as highway 11 -- was the *first* scenic drive in the state. If you’re starting at the south end, the first half of this 21-mile drive will take you through the foliage of Larrabee State Park (the oldest state park in Washington); the second half cuts right to the coast where you’ll be able to spot the San Juan Islands. 
Don’t miss: Make sure to stop for a bite at The Oyster Bar, the cozy seafood restaurant that sits cliffside at the north end of the highway; you’ll spend dinner staring out at sweeping views of Samish Bay and the aforementioned San Juan Islands.

North Cascades Highway
North Cascades Highway | Judy Gallagher / flickr

North Cascades Highway

Why visit: The North Cascades Highway is one section of a much larger, multi-day trip called the Cascade Loop. With 400 miles of views, it’s one of the most beautiful drives you can take in all of Washington. It’s also full of history; the highway follows one of the oldest roads in the state, and was once traveled by wagons in the late 19th century. 
Don’t miss: There are plenty of places to pull over and take in the view on this route (as well as a bunch of trailheads nearby), but we recommend the Diablo Lake Overlook -- because of powdery deposits from surrounding glaciers (aka “glacial flour”), the water has an incredible turquoise color that’s a must-see. 

Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Why visit: Nestled in the slopes of the Cascade Mountains between Mt. Rainier and the Canadian border is where you’ll find Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest -- a 2,694-square mile expanse of wildlife and foliage. The aforementioned North Cascades Highway cuts through this national forest, but don’t simply stop to snap a picture; it’s more of a destination than a photo-op. When the leaves turn yellow and orange and the fall air feels extra fresh, you’ll want to stay awhile.
Don’t miss: There are dozens of trails to explore while you’re in Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, so it might prove difficult to choose just one. Consider the Chain Lakes Loop -- a 6.5-mile trail that wraps around a handful of lakes, offers views of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, and, perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this list, boasts stunning colored leaves in the fall. 

Lincoln Park

Why visit: While it’s true that much of Washington’s beauty lies in its wilderness, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t catch some views of semi-urban foliage as well. If you’re in Seattle, check out Lincoln Park -- a short drive southwest from downtown, the park sits right on the Puget Sound with 135 acres of beach and forest, plus man-made attractions like tennis courts and a saltwater pool.
Don’t miss: It probably goes without saying that no matter what you choose to do with your day at Lincoln Park, no visit is complete without ample beachfront time. There’s a trail explicitly for this -- it’s literally called Beach Trail, and once you enter under the little wooden archway, you’ll get your fill of foliage before being met at the other end by sublime Puget Sound views.

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Emma Banks is a contributor for Thrillist.