October is the greatest month for hiking. A hike on a beautiful fall day in the Pacific Northwest is the payoff for all the summer hikes leading up to it, and the incentive that keeps you dreaming all winter of getting back on the trail, if you’re not into the snowy and cold variety of hikes. You’ve got all the gorgeous scenery and vistas of those beautiful summer Cascades hikes, but now the wow factor has been turned up to eleven, with the addition of the fiery reds and vibrant yellows of fall foliage. What’s beautiful in July is absolutely stunning in October—just be prepared for changing weather!
Granite Mountain is the dream October hike—it’s a tough climb, but a great swan song for the general hiking season, and showcases both views and changing flora. Pick a clear day for incredible summit views. The 8.6 miles has about 3800 feet of elevation gain by the end, so you’ll feel it, but the views are worth it. You’ll keep stopping to take photos, as each section brings even more breathtaking views.
The trailhead is just about an hour out of Seattle, just a minute off I-90, which means you will hear some road noise for much of the hike. Since the hike is in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, you’ll need your Northwest Forest Pass for this one. The trail starts off in the woods, a steady and consistent climb under the canopy of evergreens. After a little over a mile, you’ll come to the fork for the Pratt Lake trail—head right, up the switchbacks which will eventually lead out of the trees and through a rocky avalanche chute (one of the reasons you don’t want to do this one in winter, when the snow is heavy!), where you’ll be able to look south, with I-90 below and more peaks in the distance.
The trail will continue switchbacking, taking you up, up, up! This is definitely the most strenuous part and you quads will feel it. Eventually, you’ll break out into the high rocky meadow portion, which is a rolling alpine hill landscape dotted with the massive granite boulders that give the mountain its name. The huckleberry bushes still have some berries, but the leaves are all bright red in October. There are a few photo-worthy ponds and streams as you make your way along this wonderland landscape, with some small evergreens and interesting rock formations. One short final push, and you’re at the summit, dominated by a lookout tower (it’s closed right now, but sometimes a ranger will be there to open it). You’re above the treeline now, so expect some brisk winds, but if it’s clear—the views are unmatched! If it’s not clear, it’s still exhilarating to be up in the clouds, and your sense of accomplishment is undiminished.
The lookout tower at the top of the Granite Mountain trail
As always, always carry your Ten Essentials—especially important in this shoulder season between summer and winter. Extra clothing is a must, and always be prepared for a quick change in the weather, especially at elevation. On this recent hike, I experienced everything from sun, drizzle, clouds and a brief snow/hail flurry in the final ascent that was gone by the time I descended. Granite Mountain is a classic hike that every Seattle hiker must do—and October is the perfect time.