October 2019 Hike of the Month: Granite Mountain

This hike is a tough climb, but a great swan song for the general hiking season

By Hilary Meyerson October 1, 2019


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.

Join The Must List

Seattle's best events delivered to your inbox

Follow Us

Hiking Tips from a Peak Performer

Hiking Tips from a Peak Performer

Eighty-six-year-old David Birkner has an unparalleled passion for hiking and climbing

David Birkner has been a Wharton economics student, a naval officer stationed at Pearl Harbor, a travel agent, a freelance writer, a pioneering environmental activist, an outdoor guide, an elementary school teacher and a successful entrepreneur. But mostly, the 86-year-old walks – on all five continents, from the southernmost tip of South America to North Africa to…

Respect New Social Norms While Hiking

Respect New Social Norms While Hiking

Hiking these days requires more thoughtful planning

This story appears in the July-August combo issue of Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine. Subscription information is here. The pandemic threw a lot of plans off course, but it didn’t cancel alpine wildflower season, bright yellow autumn larches or mountain waterfalls. Despite social distancing guidelines, there’s no better time to escape to nature. Studies show…

Go Take a Hike at One of These Five Hidden Gems

Go Take a Hike at One of These Five Hidden Gems

Experts suggest their favorite socially distant escapes

Snoquera Falls; Cutthroat Lake in the North Cascades; A biker on the Olympic Discovery Trail at Olympic National Park

Chasing Waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula

Chasing Waterfalls on the Olympic Peninsula

Tour some of the state’s most scenic falls on a weekend jaunt full of mist, moss and spruced-up photo ops

This article appears in print in the March 2020 issue. Click here to subscribe. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many of the restaurants and places mentioned will be closed and/or offering to-go only. Turn this weekender into a day-trip by leaving early, packing your own food, picking a waterfall and staying safe by following health guidelines as recommended by WA-DOH….