Best Hikes to See Color Change

Where to enjoy nature in Technicolor.
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Take an easy hike to Technicolor foliage in Heather Meadows near Mount Baker

Heather Meadows
Near Mount Baker

Heather Meadows
Difficulty:
Easy; .5 mile, mostly level and paved 
Location: About two and a half hours from Seattle in the Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, 56 miles east on State Route 542. Nearest town: Glacier, 23 miles. Northwest Forest Pass required; dogs must be on a leash; fs.usda.gov

Long after the wildflowers fade, vivid color reamins on western Washington trails, especially at Heather Meadows, come September or October. Indeed, the handicapped-accessible half-mile path around Picture Lake near the Mount Baker Ski Area affords views not only of towering Mount Shuksan reflected in the water, but also of Technicolor foliage on the mountain heather, alpine blueberries and other plants crowding the trail’s edge. A small viewing platform with benches and interpretive signs serves as a destination on this lollipop trail. Look for blueberries ripening trailside this month. (But keep your eyes peeled for black bears after the same bounty.) Those looking for more can hit the Chain Lakes Trail or any number of world-class backpacking and climbing routes emanating from Artist Ridge, just a little farther up the road.

 

 

 

Washington Park Arboretum
Seattle

Washington Arboretum
Difficulty:
Easy; length varies, no elevation gain 
Location: On the shores of Lake Washington, just east of Madison Valley 

 depts.washington.edu/uwbg

In just a few months, you can take in stunning fall colors—and your in-city cure for nature deficit disorder—on a simple outing to Seattle’s living lung: the Washington Park Arboretum. With 230 acres of wetlands, woodlands and walking trails—and a world-renowned collection of trees—you’ll find fall-color heaven, with fiery Japanese maple, golden-yellow larches and ash, and oak trees replete with acorns (and frantically happy squirrels), along with more than 10,000 other plants and trees from around the world. Admission to all but the Japanese Garden is free; download a trail map at depts.washington.edu/uwbg, or join one of the free guided tours that leave from the Graham Visitors Center every Sunday at 1 p.m., January–November.

 

Lake Ingalls
Alpine Lakes Wilderness 

Lake Ingalls
Difficulty:
Moderate; 9 miles round-trip, 2,500-foot elevation gain 
Location: About a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, via Interstate 90 and Teanaway Road. Nearest town: Cle Elum, 31.5 miles. Northwest Forest Pass required; dogs prohibited; wta.org 

While the hike up to Lake Ingalls, just inside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, is wondrous any time of year, veteran leaf peepers save it for October, when the subalpine larches at the treeline and around the water’s edge glow with golden needles, ideally against a backdrop of freshly fallen snow. The lake itself can exaggerate the day’s mood—sparkling and beckoning under blue skies or foreboding and spooky under dark clouds. Serrated Mount Stuart seems to peek out of nowhere, like a next-door neighbor peering over a fence to keep the lake company. This is the high country indeed; Lake Ingalls itself is above 6,000 feet in elevation, as your thighs will no doubt be reporting after making the climb.

Road Trip: Concrete and East Skagit County

Road Trip: Concrete and East Skagit County

Enjoy a scenic drive and stay out in eagle country
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View the eagles during the Skagit Eagle Festival; snap a pic and enter it by January 15 in the Skagit River Bald Eagle Center’s 20th anniversary photo contest. Go win it!

WHERE: Concrete and east Skagit County.

WHY: Eagles are flocking to their spectacular winter getaway—why not join them? The Skagit Eagle Festival (1/1–1/31; concrete-wa.com) happens every January weekend, and your car makes a perfect blind for snapping pictures without scaring off these magnificent birds. Celebrate along the Skagit River with arts and crafts, wine tasting, photography tours and river rafting for eagle spotters.

NIGHT OWLS: Check out the Concrete Theatre, built in 1923 (45920 Main St.; 360.941.0403; concrete-theatre.com), updated for films, live music and events during the festival. early birds: Stop by 5b’s Bakery (45597 Main St.; 360.853.8700; 5bsbakery.com) for quality gluten-free baked goods and more for breakfast or lunch. For dinner, there’s Annie’s Pizza Station (44568 State Route 20; 360.853.7227; anniespizzastation.net), whose handcrafted cuisine would be a hit even in a town bigger than Concrete, population 753.

RULE THE ROOST: Spend the night in one of Ovenell’s Heritage Inn log cabins, located on a historic ranch across the river (46276 Concrete Sauk Valley Road; 360.853.8494; ovenells-inn.com). Pick up a steak or two—the cows are raised right there on the ranch—and throw them on the provided barbecue. Had enough of eagles? Elk, deer and coyotes are known to roam the ranch on a daily basis.