In an average year, the best time to see Seattle fall color is the first two to three weeks of October. Fall foliage in Seattle is particularly vibrant after dry, hot summers. In 2020, most of Washington State is experiencing “neutral” conditions with average rainfall and temperatures, which means we’ve had some hot dry days but nothing unusual.
During autumn, a Seattle nature walk can reward you with colorful vistas in rich hues of red, orange, and gold from deciduous trees (primarily maple, ash, and aspen), often set against a backdrop of deep green evergreen trees. In addition, many shrubs and ground covers also contribute more fall colors and interesting texture, including witch hazel, Oregon grape, dogwoods, spiraea, and native berries.
Depending on weather conditions, the fall season in Seattle can begin earlier, in mid to late September and last until Thanksgiving. If the nighttime temperatures drop below average in September, then the Seattle autumn season starts early. But, if the region gets heavy rains or wind, the opportunity to enjoy fall foliage ends earlier.
- In 2021, expect peak color to occur between October 11-24, but could begin as early as October 4 and last as late as October 31.
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Best nature walks for Seattle fall color
The list below includes some of the best walks in Seattle where you can see colorful autumn foliage. This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, we’ve chosen free, easy, family-friendly strolls located in parks, arboretums, gardens, and natural areas in Seattle as well as south in Tacoma and surrounding areas in King County. You might also want to check out these 10 scenic drives for Washington State fall color.
For each location, be sure to visit their website for hours, parking, directions, special activities, closures, and other visitor information and FAQs. Most city, state, and federal parks are open dawn to dusk (½ hour before sunrise and ½ hour after sunset. Dogs on or off leash may or may not be allowed depending on the location. So be sure to verify details before you head out.
(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 at the Greenlake Boathouse. Note: closed for the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Estimated to re-open April 2021.
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 Seattle 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 foliage 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. Find download self-guided seasonal tour maps or check their calendar for free guided public tours (pending for the 2020 season).
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 autumn color.
Best nature walks for Tacoma 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 foliage 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. 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, download the Wright Park 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 nature walks for fall color in King County
(listed going north to south in King county)
Downtown Bellevue Park across from Bellevue Square Mall is 21-acres providing an easily accessible urban stroll. You’re guaranteed to find color.
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.
2020 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.