Seven Fall Hikes in Washington State

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Growing up I never understood the allure of autumn - it simply marked the end of my favourite season. The days grow shorter at an alarming rate, the foliage is dying and falling off of the trees and, if you’re like me and live in the Canadian Rockies, the first snowfall of the year can come before summer is even over. It was not until I moved to the east coast when I was 18 that I had my first real autumn. I watched as the leaves ever so slowly shifted from their summer green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. I was invited on a weekend of apple picking in the valley with good friends and we carved pumpkins a warm evening under a harvest moon. I know this sounds too idyllic to be true - but isn’t that how all first loves are remembered?

After moving back to Alberta I always felt nostalgic about the season, and so this year I hopped on a last minute flight to rekindle that love. I spent six days backpacking, hiking and meandering around Washington State. An (almost) week of hearing the crunch of the leaves beneath my boots, eating far too many blueberries (or was it huckleberries?) fresh off the bushes and even a few final alpine swims.

I have included everything from multi day backpacking trips to pristine glacial lakes to a drive up viewpoint with some of the most breathtaking mountain views in the state and everything in-between.


Jade Lake

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Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area - a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

Distance: 33.8km (21.0 miles) roundtrip

Gain: 1,318 meters (4,324 feet)

Highest Point: 1,341 meters (4,400 ft.)

Time: Two night backpacking trip

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Typically I would save the best for last. But this is, without question, my favourite alpine lake in Washington. With the shrinking glacier that feeds Jade Lake I am thankful to have been able to witness it’s beautiful colour before the glacier feeding Jade Lake is completely gone. The hike in is, in all honesty, heavily wooded and rather uneventful. The first real views come just under three kilometres from Jade Lake at Marmot Lake (where we stopped to eat our lunch). From Marmot Lake you quickly gain the remainder of the elevation via a boulder field - if these rocks were at all wet or icy this would have been unenjoyable. Jade Lake is known for it’s bugs (and from my research this terrified me) but coming into late September we had beautiful fall colours, weather warm enough for a jump or two in the lake and no bugs! The only disappointing part of this hike (aside from having to leave) was that at this late in the season the hike up to Pea Soup Lake would have required a glacial traverse that was not within our wheelhouse ( or the gear we had on hand).


Monogram Lake

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Location: North Cascades National Park - the parking lot is located outside of the National Park and a Northwest Forest Pass or equivalent (including the Interagency Pass) is required for parking at the trailhead.

Distance: 15.8 km (9.8 miles) roundtrip

Gain: 1,425 meters (4,675 ft.)

Highest Point: 1,743 meters (5,719 ft.)

Time: One night backpacking trip, with permits available at no cost on a first come first serve basis from the Marblemount Ranger Station

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Our plan was to camp at the base of the Sahale Glacier. But with the permits in such high demand the ranger at the Marblemount Ranger Station recommended Monogram Lakes as his favourite camping area in all of the North Cascades. With only four tent sites (and only two filled) this more the exceeded our expectations, the trailhead is shared with a fire lookout located just outside of the boundaries of the National Park and therefore the surprisingly steep trail was quite busy, but at the split in the trail we ran into only the other campers spending the night at Monogram Lake. At the recommendation of the ranger we bushwacked up the ridge along the south side of the lake for sunset and were not disappointed. He also recommended the ridge along the north side of the lake for sunrise but we were unable with the time constraint of a flight to catch.

For the sake of transparency, I completed this hike in the fall of 2017 and not on my most recent visit to Washington.


Blanca Lake

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Location: Henry M. Lincoln Wilderness Area - - a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

Distance: 12 km (7.5 miles) roundtrip

Gain: 1,005 meters (3300 ft.)

Highest Point: 1,402 meters (4600 ft.)

Time: One night backpacking trip.

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One of the most vibrant lakes that I have ever seen (and that is saying a lot as someone who calls the Canadian Rockies home) I found it very hard to edit photos of this trip without using the desaturation function. Due to several washouts along the road the trailhead has indefinitely been moved back 2 miles which both adds to your hike in and out as well as constricts the number people on the trail. There also have been restrictions put in place regarding camping along the shoreline of Blanca Lake because of people not treating the area with the respect it deserves. Camping is located at the pass (before dropping in elevation to Blanca Lake) and along Virgin Lake - this is very clearly marked. Our first day the lake was extremely foggy and from images online it was unsurprising. We took it as a rest day and woke up to see sunrise from the Ridgeline above the east edge of Blanca Lake. This trail is not well defined and more of a goat trail than an established route. We also realized in this adventure that in the autumn it is nearly noon before the lake is in the sun and the colour of it truly shines. I am on the fence of it I would do this as a day hike or as a backpacking trip if I come back.


Colchuck Lake - Enchantments

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Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area - - a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

Distance: 12.9 km (8.0 miles) roundtrip

Gain: 695 meters (2,280 ft.)

Highest Point: 1,701 meters (5,580 ft.)

Time: Day hike or one night backpacking trip (note that overnight permits for the Enchantments are a lottery system which begins in Early February and are extremely competitive)

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When a friend had a spot open up on their Core Enchantments permits I jumped on a plane and flew down. Knowing the beauty of this area and the rarity of the permits I do not regret this decision. And, in what will likely be a very unpopular statement, Colchuck Lake was the highlight of The Enchantments for me. With established camping sites along the lake and an impressive rock face on the west end of the lake (and a large rock perfect for jumping in the lake), this is one of my favourite places to spend a warm autumn day in Washington. Also note that in late September and early October the larch trees turn a vibrant yellow around the lake - if you have yet to experience the larches turning in the autumn I highly recommend it.

Bonus: the nearby town of Levenworth is a Bavarian Style town at the entrance to the Enchantments that is well worth a visit.

For the sake of transparency, I completed this hike in the fall of 2017 and not on my most recent visit to Washington.


Winchester Mountain Lookout

Location: Mount Baker Wilderness Area - a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

Distance: 5.5 km (3.4 miles) roundtrip

Gain: 396 meters (1,300 ft.)

Highest Point: 1,987 meters (6,521 ft.)

Time: An easy day hike or one night overnight trip. You are able to sleep inside of the fire lookout but it is first come first serve so ensure that you are atop the mountain early if you would like to ensure your home for the evening. Alternatively there are ten established campsites at the trail head along the shoreline of Twin Lakes and space to camp along the ridge of Winchester Mountain just past the lookout.

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The drive up to Winchester Mountain Lookout is known the be crux of this hike. We took an old Subaru Forester and had no issues whatsoever on the road. There is one spot that a lower clearance vehicle would have to practise caution but I would not call it an impassable road in the vast majority of vehicles. If, however, you choose not to drive the road, there will be an additional 2miles along the road to hike up and down in addition to the hike its self. We went up after sunset and set up camp on one of the ten established campsites along the shoreline of Twin Lakes. We started hiking just under an hour before the sunrise and at a moderate pace made it up with ample time to make a sup of coffee and watch the sun rise. With 360 degree mountain views (Including Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan), views of Twin Lakes and Tomyhoi Lakebelow, the short but sweet hike up under the light from a full moon (as I absentmindedly forgot my headlamp) was one of the most worth while hikes of the trip.


Evergreen Mountain Lookout

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Location: Henry M. Lincoln Wilderness Area - - a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

Distance: 4.5 km (2.8 miles) roundtrip

Gain: 434 meters (1,425 ft.)

Highest Point: 1,702 meters (5,587 ft.)

Time: Day hike or one night overnight trip. This lookout can be booked online here. Alternatively there is camping along the ridge just past the fire lookout.

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As an add-on at the end of our backpacking trip to Blanca Lake (or as I like to call it a post-hike leg stretcher), we hiked up to Evergreen Mountain Lookout for sunset and were greeted by only the sole occupant of the fire lookout. She allowed us to have a look around the lookout which was equipped with everything you need for an overnight trip and nothing more (bring your own sleeping bag and food). This short and well defined trail offers beautiful views of Mount Rainier to the southeast and Glacier Mountain to the northwest and some of the most beautiful fall colours in every direction. The trailhead is not near to very much but with a short hike and a lot of room for tenting this beautiful hike is something I would recommend.


Artist Point

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Location: Mount Baker Wilderness Area - - a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

From the parking area you have beautiful views of Mount Baker and Mount S——. There are, however, trails veering off of nearly every length and difficulty.

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Located above the Mount Baker ski area, this drive up location is one of the “best bang for your buck” in terms of in extremely accessible location to see both Mount Baker as well as Mount Shuksan. I would recommend making the trek for sunrise to see the morning alpenglow light up the east face of Mount Baker. There is an extensive set of trails in nearly every direction but also immaculate views from the parking lot. In the just under two hours we spend meandering around the trails we were greeted with small ponds that offered reflections of Mount Baker, some of the most vibrant fall foliage and the fullest berry bushes of the week. Because lets be honest, I really only hike for the snacks. This is a great location to take in beautiful mountains views without needing to hike.

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Note that the drive up requires chains after November 1, and the last few miles to the parking lot is closed and is snowshoe accessible in the winter.


Did I miss anything? Let me know what I need to add to my autumn hiking list!