Best Hikes to See Color Change

Where to enjoy nature in Technicolor.

By Kristen Russell & Roddy Scheer


June 15, 2012

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Heather Meadows
Near Mount Baker

Heather Meadows
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;

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

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

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, 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
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; 

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.

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