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, so abundant along our highways and up the mountain slopes.
After dry or hot summers, fall foliage in Washington will be especially vibrant. Most parts of Washington State are experiencing drought conditions in 2019, though generally not in the Cascade foothills.
You can 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.
The primary viewing period for Western Washington color is October. Early to mid-October is best to see colorful foliage at higher elevations, and a later in the month at lower elevations. 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).
Most of the scenic drives in the lists below are a full day trip, including travel time from Seattle and return, plus any trail walks. To help you plan, we’ve suggested a minimum roundtrip time. The 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 stops or scenic breaks every two hours. Realistically, drive times will be longer, as your drive times may average lower, or you want more or longer breaks. So, for the longest trips, you may want to plan an overnight stay. Suggested stays are in places where you can find hotels for around $100 a night, though less expensive options are often an option, such as Airbnb or camping.
The suggested walks primarily easy to moderate trail walks. 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.
To put you in the mood, enjoy the following video “It’s All Yours” produced in partnership with the National Forest Foundation. The Foundation invites Americans to go play, go discover, and go beyond in their National Forests.
Scenic drives for Washington State fall color
We divided the list into shorter drives you can complete in one day, and longer drives where you might want to include an overnight stay.
The drives are listed roughly north to south through the region. The various routes pass through several western Washington, and some eastern Washington counties, including Whatcom, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Island, King, Chelan, Kittitas, Pierce, Lewis, and Yakima counties.
Washington State fall color drives <6 hours
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 Island Scenic Byway 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.
Steven Pass Scenic Byway ambles along the Skykomish River over the Cascade Mountains to the charming Bavarian-inspired town of Leavenworth. The Steven Pass Byway is 90 miles one-way. The trip begins in Monroe, about 45 minutes northeast of Seattle. The trip ends at US-97 in the town of Wenatchee, amidst Washington State’s infamous fruit orchards. If you want to add a side trip, consider Autumn Leaf Festival every September in Leavenworth, WA. The annual fall festival features local art, live entertainment, and food booths.
- 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.
Washington State fall color drives >6 hours
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; here’s 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 separately. Listed above, Whidbey Island Scenic Byway and Stevens Pass Scenic Byway are less than six hours. Listed below, the North Cascades Highway is more than six hours.
- Cascade Loop minimum roundtrip travel time from Seattle: 10 hours. Suggested overnight: Winthrop, Chelan, or Wenatchee.
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. Note: the North Cascade Mountain Pass closes due to snow from mid-fall to mid-spring. 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.
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.
2019 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.
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Saturday, October 24, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Thursday, November 5, 2020