Autumn colors in the Pacific Northwest are particularly vibrant after dry or hot summers (such as 2017). The primary viewing for fall color in and around Seattle is the month of October. Fall foliage color can hold for a few weeks if abundant rain doesn’t come too early.
Fall color in the Northwest displays deep hues of red, orange, and gold, primarily from maple, ash, and aspen trees. Fall colors are often set against evergreen trees, abundant along the glacial byways and mountain ranges that carve up Washington State.
In parks and gardens, shrubs and ground covers also contribute rich autumn color and texture, including witch hazel, Oregon grape, dogwoods, spiraea, and native berries.
Following are some of the best walks and drives where you can see vibrant autumn colors in the Seattle metro area. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
We’ve included FREE parks, arboretums, gardens, and natural area, as well as scenic drives across highways in Western Washington offering great fall color views. We chose day trips that are family-friendly.
We don’t include destinations that are too far away for a day trip, or include long or difficult hikes in the the Cascades or Olympic Mountains. For more hike information, pay a visit to the Washington Trails Association or for viewing plants in more remote areas, visit USDA Forest Service viewing plants page.
For each of these parks, gardens, and natural areas, check their website for hours, parking, directions, special activities (or closures), and other visitor information and FAQs. All of the parks are open dawn to dusk (½ hour before sunrise and ½ hour after sunset). Dogs are usually not allowed. So be sure to verify details before you head out.
Best Seattle parks, gardens, and natural areas for fall color
(listed going north to south within the Seattle city limits)
Green Lake Park is one of Seattle’s most beloved parks, located in north Seattle. The park is a natural preserve for hundreds of species of trees and plants, as well as numerous birds and waterfowl. The 2.8-mile pathway around the lake provides an easily accessible nature walk. Or, enjoy the scenery from the water by renting a row boat or kayak ($22/hour) at the Greenlake Boathouse.
Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest park at 534 acres, situated on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. While it may not be the most spectacular site for fall color, the park has plenty to offer autumn visitors: panoramic views of the Cascade Mountains to the east and Olympic Mountains to the west, plus a broad range of natural areas including open meadows, forest groves, thickets, streams, and a walking path to the saltwater beach. It’s a place of quiet and tranquility, moments away from the bustle of the city that is as beautiful in fall as in any other season of the year.
Union Bay Natural Area (aka “Montlake Fill “) on the University of Washington campus is a 74-acre wildlife area stretching for 4-miles on the western shoreline of Lake Washington. It is one of the best bird-watching sites in the city of Seattle. Along the east side of the area, you will find an all-season trail and walking loop on a boardwalk through the Yesler swamp, which takes you to the edge of Lake Washington. The wildlife area is managed by UW Botanic Gardens who also use it as an outdoor laboratory for research, teaching and public service.
Washington Park Arboretum is 230-acres of gardens, natural areas, and wetlands boasting a spectacular living collection of plants, some found nowhere else in the Northwest. Stop by the Graham Visitors Center for self-guided tour information, plus restrooms and a gift shop. During fall, you can view one of the largest collections of Japanese maples in North America displaying vivid fall colors of maples, as well as sour gum, buckeye, witch hazel, and more. The Arboretum is open every day from dawn to dusk and is free of charge. Note that the Japanese Garden, located at the south end of the Arboretum, has an entrance fee.
Lincoln Park in West Seattle, just north of the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal, is situation on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. The park includes many miles of walking paths and bike trails, plus picnic shelters, playfields and an outdoor heated saltwater pool in summer. Lincoln park offers gentle trails, rocky beaches, grassy forests, and meadows. In addition, the Lincoln Park play area features ‘tree house’ elements, a cable ride, play equipment, plaza, accessible play elements, and interactive information on migratory birds found in the park.
Kubota Garden in the south Seattle neighborhood of Rainier Beach offers a 20 stunning acres of Japanese-inspired landscaped park land, including streams, waterfalls, ponds, and rock formations nestled among native Northwest plants. Created by master landscaper Fujitaro Kubota from 1927 until 1987, which was purchased by the City of Seattle. Today, the historic landmark site is maintained by the Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation. The Garden is open dawn to dusk year-round and is free to the public. Kubota Garden is widely known for extraordinary fall color and FREE fall color tours are offered every Saturday in the month of October.
Best Tacoma parks for fall color
(listed going north to south within the Tacoma city limits)
Point Defiance Park Is a 760-acre park containing a natural forest, saltwater beaches, and spectacular views. Five Mile Drive has an outer driving loop and an inner walking loop, both popular for fall color, however there are numerous other walking trails. Note that there are no trails for bicycles in the park.
Wright Park is a 27-acre arboretum in Tacoma’s Stadium District. The park displays a rich collection of more than 600 trees. Before you go, you might like to download the Wright Park Tree Map or the Champion Tree Tour Booklet for a self-guided tree tour.
Swan Creek Park is a 373-acre greenspace nestled on the boundary between East Tacoma and Pierce County with a salmon bearing stream, wooded canyon, upland forest, paved and natural trails, and mountain bike trails. It contains one of Tacoma’s first trail system for mountain bikes. The park is popular for bird watching, hiking, and walking, and other recreational uses.
Best King County parks for fall color
(listed going north to south King county)
Bellevue Botanical Garden is 53-acres of cultivated gardens, restored woodlands, and natural wetlands showcasing plants that thrive in the Pacific Northwest.
Mercer Slough Nature Park is 320-acres of wildlife habitat with seven miles of trails just minutes from Seattle or Bellevue. It is one of the largest remaining fresh water wetland ecosystems, and one of Bellevue’s largest parks.
Olallie State Park is a 2,336-acre day-use park east of Seattle. The park offers 6 miles of moderate hiking trails. The park is located within 45 minutes of Seattle and lies on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, along both sides of I-90. The park has several trailheads and offers a quintessential Washington landscape of powerful falls, lush forest, soaring cliffs, sweeping views and a rushing river. Moderate trails lead to the popular Twin Falls, the smaller Weeks Falls and other cascading water falls, or past the remains of a massive landslide to Cedar Butte.
Cedar River Trail is 17.3 miles in length, paved for the first 12.3 miles. The trail follows the Cedar River up river, along a historic railroad route between the river’s end at Lake Washington in Renton and State Route 169 at Landsburg. The CRT passes through or near Renton, Maplewood, Cedar Mountain, Maple Valley, and Rock Creek.
Getaways: Best Washington State scenic drives for fall color
(listed going north to south in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Lewis counties)
Most of these are a full day trip, including travel time from Seattle to the park or scenic drive, plus any trail walks. To help you plan, we’ve suggested a minimum roundtrip time.
Minimum roundtrip time calculates drive time at a steady 60 miles per hour, trail walks at 20 minutes per mile, and adds 30-minute rest or scenic breaks every two hours. Realistically, drive times will be longer and you may need more or longer breaks. For the longer trips, you may want to plan an overnight stay.
Whatcom Falls Park has four miles of rolling trails through mossy forests and meadows along Whatcom Creek. Whatcom Falls Park minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 5½ hours.
Cascade Loop Scenic Byway (WSDOT). The entire loop is 400 miles. Smaller portions of the route can also be completed as day trips out of Seattle and return (see below: Whidbey Island Scenic Byway and Stevens Pass Scenic Byway). Note: the route over the North Cascade Mountain Pass is closed due to snow from mid-fall to mid-spring. Here’s the Cascade Loop (Google map). Cascade Loop minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. The trip includes the Whidbey Island Scenic Byway from Seattle to La Conner, then a trip over SR 20 (aka the North Cascades Highway) to Winthrop, Winthrop to Wenatchee, and returns to Seattle via US-2 (aka Stevens Pass Scenic Byway).
Whidbey Island Scenic Byway meanders north from Clinton over Deception Pass, and offers mountain and water views among old growth Douglas-fir and bigleaf maple trees. Whidbey Island minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 5½ hours. The trip starts from Seattle, includes a 20-minute ferry ride from Mukilteo to Clinton, and returns via I-5 through Mount Vernon to Seattle.
Steven Pass Scenic Byway ambles along the Skykomish River through the Cascade Mountains, then descends sharply into the charming Bavarian-inspired town of Leavenworth, and ends at US-97 in the town of Wenatchee, amidst Washington State’s infamous fruit orchards. Stevens Pass minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 5½ hours. The trip begins in Monroe, about 45 minutes northeast of Seattle. The Steven Pass Byway is 90 miles one-way.
Mountains to Sound Greenway and Gold Creek Pond Trail is an easy drive east from Seattle on Interstate 90 to Snoqualmie Pass. Gold Creek Trail is an easy, accessible trail that offers opportunity to see a variety of vegetation. Mountain to Sound minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 2½ hours. The trip begins in Seattle and ends at Snoqualmie Pass, about one-hour drive. The relatively flat, loop trail around a small lake is just 1.0 mile.
Chinook Scenic Byway follows the White River from Enumclaw, over Chinook Pass, to the fertile valley of Naches. Spectacular views of Mount Rainier, dense forests, towering peaks, rocky ridges, and river canyons dominate this journey. Pass by the unique basalt flows of the Columbia Plateau, lush sub-alpine meadows, and waterfalls. Chinook Scenic Byway minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. The trip begins in Enumclaw, about one-hour drive southeast of Seattle. The byway takes about three hours to drive one-way.
Mount Rainier Naches Peak Loop Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Rainier National Park. It starts out along the Pacific Crest Trail at Chinook Pass and leads south, traversing the east side of Naches Peak 1.6 miles until intersecting the Naches Loop Trail. To continue the loop and return to Tipsoo Lake in 1.4 miles, follow the Naches Loop Trail along the west side of Naches Peak. To get the best views of Mount Rainier, hike the loop in a clockwise direction. This loop provides the hiker with breathtaking views of the Mountain, a look at beautiful subalpine meadows, and an abundant supply of huckleberries in late summer and early fall. NOTE: Always check current trail conditions before heading out. Log footbridges frequently wash out during the winter or other conditions could be affecting the trail. Mount Rainier Naches Loop minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 7½ hours. The trail begins at Tipsoo Lake off WA-410, about two hours drive southeast of Seattle. The loop trail takes about two hours to walk.
White Pass Scenic Byway (aka Highway 12) in the shadow of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams passes through the Gifford Pinchot and Wenatchee National Forests. The highway winds through coniferous forests, and passes meadows, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. The surrounding landscape can be seen from the car, or at various turnouts and overlooks. White Pass minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 8½ hours. The trip begins 100 miles south of Seattle, off I-5 at Exit 68. Then the byway is 240 miles roundtrip.