If you are seeking Washington State fall colors, there are many beautiful, scenic drives throughout the counties in the Puget Sound regions. The colorful fall foliage is often set against deep green evergreen trees, with lakes, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains completing the vista. The primary viewing period for Western Washington color is October. The Farmer’s Almanac fall color prediction list estimates peak color in Washington State every year is between October 12-28.
However, foliage color is weather dependent and can change abruptly especially due to heavy rains or wind, as well as unseasonable temperatures (either too warm or too cold). After dry or hot summers, fall foliage in Washington is especially vibrant. But in any year, you can still experience breathtaking hues of red, orange, and yellow, primarily from maple, ash, and aspen trees. In addition, shrubs and ground covers add still more color and texture, such as witch hazel, Oregon grape, dogwoods, spiraea, and native berries.
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2023 Fall Foliage predictions for Washington State
Predictions for the coming season are usually updated in September by the national fall foliage map published SmokeyMountains.com.
As of August 2023, Seattle is expecting warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average precipitation through September, though these extremes are less than we experienced in 2022. Expect a three-week color season starting earlier than average.
- Puget Sound region is estimated to peak between Sept 25-Oct 2, beginning around September 18 and ending around October 9. But our visual check on September 25 indicates we are 1-2 weeks away from significant fall color around the city.
- Western Washington foothills are expected to peak October 2-9, beginning around September 25 and ending around October 16. So we’re guessing this is also off by 1-2 weeks.
But keep an eye out for trees in your neighborhood and prepare to get on the road when change begins.
Scenic drives for Washington State fall color
Our list of suggested routes travel through several western Washington, and some eastern Washington counties, including Whatcom, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Island, King, Chelan, Kittitas, Pierce, Lewis, and Yakima counties. Most of the scenic drives in the lists below are a full day trip (or longer), including travel time from Seattle and return, plus any trail walks. To help you plan, we’ve suggested a minimum roundtrip time. The roundtrip time calculates time using a steady driving speed of 60 miles per hour, trail walks at 20 minutes per mile, and adds 30-minute rest stops or scenic breaks every two hours. Realistically, drive times will be longer, as your drive times may average lower than 60mph or you take more or longer breaks.
Once you’re at the destination (or on the way) we’ve suggested walks on easy to moderate trails. We’ve avoided long or strenuous walks or hikes in the Cascades or Olympic Mountains. For more suggestions on fall hikes, visit Washington Trails Association, or for viewing fall colors in remote areas, visit USDA Forest Service viewing plants page. Or for still more easy walks, check out our 13 best nature walks to see Seattle fall color. And, if hiking is more to your liking, check out Washington Trails Association Hi-Lo Hikes for Fall Colors (wta.org).
In the list of suggested scenic drives below, shorter drives you can complete in one day are listed first, followed by longer drives where you might want to include an overnight stay. The drives in each list are arranged roughly north to south through the region. For an overnight stay, we’ve suggested cities and towns where you can find hotels for around $100 a night, though less expensive options are often available, such as Airbnb or camping if the weather is agreeable.
Washington State fall color drives <6 hours
Listed roughly north to south through the region, the following destinations are shorter scenic drives in Western Washington that you can realistically complete in one day.
Whatcom Falls Park has four miles of rolling trails through mossy forests and meadows along Whatcom Creek. Whatcom Falls Park is about 3 miles east of Bellingham. Minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 5½ hours.
Whidbey Scenic Isle Way meanders from the town of Clinton over Deception Pass. You’ll see mountain and water views among old growth Douglas-fir and bigleaf maple trees. The trip starts from Seattle, includes a 20-minute ferry ride from Mukilteo to Clinton, and loops via I-5 through Mount Vernon. Begin your trip in either Clinton or Mount Vernon. Whidbey Island minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 5½ hours.
Cascade Loop: Stevens Pass Greenway) is a 90-mile scenic byway stretching from Monroe (about 45 minutes northeast of Seattle) in Snohomish County to Peshastin in Chelan County. Follow the Tumwater Canyon (home to amazing Fall foliage, with many photo pull-over spots and spawning salmon) until you come to the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth, WA, which hosts the Autumn Leaf Festival in September. Continue on to the small community of Peshastin, home to some of the best pears and prettiest views in the world. Stevens Pass minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 5½ hours.
Mountains to Sound Greenway and Gold Creek Pond Trail is an easy drive east from Seattle on Interstate 90 to Snoqualmie Pass. The trip begins in Seattle and ends at Snoqualmie Pass, about one-hour drive. Gold Creek Trail is an easy, accessible trail that offers opportunity to see a variety of vegetation. The relatively flat, loop trail around a small lake is just one mile. Mountain to Sound minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 2½ hours.
Snoqualmie Pass Scenic Byway along the Mountains to Sound Greenway continues east along the Mountains to Sound Greenway from Issaquah to the Kittitas Valley. Minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 4 hours. The Snoqualimie Pass Scenic Byway is rated in the Top 140 Fall Foliage Freeways | Gunther Volkswagen of Coconut Creek (gunthervw.net).
Washington State fall color drives >6 hours
Listed roughly north to south through the region, the following list of destinations are longer scenic drives throughout Washington State where you might want to include an overnight stay.
Mount Baker Highway (aka Mt. Baker National Forest Scenic Byway) meanders eastward along the Nooksack River on SR 542, beginning at the town of Glacier (about one hour east of Bellingham) to Nooksack Falls. SR 542 then heads to the Mt. Baker Ski area (elevation 3500 FT) and ends at Artist Point (elevation 5000 FT). Since the road to Artist Point is typically closed from October until June due to snow, be sure to check road conditions before you go. It also recommended that you stop for information at the Glacier Public Service Center, 10091 Mt. Baker Hwy, Glacier, WA 98244. The Center offers 24-hour self-service outdoor information, restrooms, picnic tables, and staffed visitor services on a seasonal schedule. When the center is open, you can buy books, maps, and other sales items including federal recreation passes. Built in 1938, the Center is on the federal register of historic places. Mt. Baker Scenic Highway minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. Suggested overnight: Bellingham, or B&B’s/cabins near Glacier.
Cascade Loop includes the Whidbey Island Scenic Byway from Seattle to La Conner, a trip over SR 20 (aka the North Cascades Highway) to Winthrop, Winthrop to Wenatchee, and loops south to Seattle via US-2 (aka Stevens Pass Scenic Byway). The entire loop is 400 miles; see the Cascade Loop (Google map). Smaller portions of the route can be completed as day trips out of Seattle and return; these trips are listed above in the previous section: Whidbey Island Scenic Byway and Stevens Pass Scenic Byway (each less than six hours). Another portion more than six hours is listed below: SR 20 – North Cascades Highway. Cascade Loop minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. Suggested overnight: Winthrop, Chelan, or Wenatchee. The portion of the Cascade Loop from Winthrop to Pateros (along SR20 and SR153) through the Methow Valley is rated in the Top 140 Fall Foliage Freeways | Gunther Volkswagen of Coconut Creek (gunthervw.net).
SR 20 – North Cascades Highway. State Route 20 is the northernmost route across the Cascade Mountain Range, commonly referred to as the North Cascades Highway. This scenic byway offers travelers a wide array of beautiful vistas. You can travel to the town of Winthrop or Twisp and return the same way, or loop south on US-97 through Chelan and return to Seattle via I-90. North Cascades Highway, either route (return the same way or loop) minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. Suggested overnight: Winthrop, Chelan, or Wenatchee. Rated in the Top 140 Fall Foliage Freeways | Gunther Volkswagen of Coconut Creek (gunthervw.net). Note: North Cascade Hwy SR 20 closes due to snow from mid-fall to mid-spring (November 1 – April 1).
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. The trip begins in Enumclaw, about one-hour drive southeast of Seattle. The byway takes about three hours to drive one-way. Chinook Scenic Byway minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. Suggested overnight: Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, Naches, or Yakima.
Mount Rainier Naches Peak Loop Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Mount Rainier National Park. To get the best views of Mount Rainier, hike the loop in a clockwise direction. Start out along the Pacific Crest Trail at Chinook Pass and head south. Traverses the east side of Naches Peak until intersecting with the Naches Loop Trail. Continue the loop and return to Tipsoo Lake. Then follow the Naches Loop Trail along the west side of Naches Peak. This hike rewards you with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, subalpine meadows, and abundant vegetation. NOTE: Always check current trail conditions before heading out. 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. Mount Rainier Naches Loop minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 7½ hours. Suggested overnight: Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, Naches, or Yakima.
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. The trip begins 100 miles south of Seattle, off I-5 at Exit 68. Then the byway is 240 miles roundtrip. White Pass minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 8½ hours. Suggested overnight: Packwood, White Pass Ski Resort, or Yakima.
Columbia River Gorge. Head south on I-5 and follow either Washington Highway 14 to Beacon Rock State Park or Oregon I-84 to Mutomah falls, then cross the river to the alternate route or return the same way. Alternatively, loop north through Yakima taking I-90 back to Seattle (about 1 to 1½ hours longer). Columbia River Gorge minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 9-10½ hours. Suggested overnight: Washougal or Camas. Hood River, Vancouver, and Portland are typically more expensive, though budget options can be found.
Calendar of fall color walks & tours
The following list of fall color walks and tours is updated beginning in late summer for fall color events in Seattle and the Puget Sound region as well as around Washington State. If nothing is listed, there are no scheduled activities in the next 60 days.
But wait, there’s more!
- Check our list of Home & Garden shows in the Puget Sound region.
- Bookmark our list of home gardening resources and plant sales.
- And here’s a list of 101+ always free things to do for fun.
- More free and cheap things to do every day: Greater Seattle on the Cheap event calendar.
- Still more ideas for frugal fun: Greater Seattle on the Cheap home page.
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Upcoming Garden Tours
Here are more ways to enjoy nature. These are upcoming gardening related events, such as tours and walks around the Puget Sound region.
Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Wednesday, January 3, 2024