Washington State is known for its gloomy and rainy weather. While a lot of people want to avoid going outdoors during autumn, I think it’s the best time of the year to explore. The fall footage and the moody, foggy Pacific Northwest vibes make everything look enchanting.
Driving North Cascades Highway
Whether you want to go on a scenic road trip or go on a hike, the North Cascades offers a variety of activities. If you just want to take a scenic drive, the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) offers beautiful views of the North Cascades’ jagged peaks — also referred to as the “American Alps”. One of the must-see locations along the way is Diablo Lake Overlook which overlooks Diablo Lake right from the parking lot.
Continuing east on Hwy 20, there is another overlook at Washington Pass which overlooks the iconic Liberty Bell Mountain. After taking in the views from the overlook, take the 20-minute drive east from Washington Pass to The Mazama Store for some tasty sandwiches and good coffee.
See our Weekend in the North Cascades story for more ideas!
Hiking in the North Cascades
If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are plenty of trails along the route to hike. A couple of my favorites for fall footage are Maple Pass Loop and Blue Lake which have a vast amount of colors and breathtaking views, as well as larch trees that turn golden in the fall.
The Maple Pass Loop trail starts from the Rainy Pass parking lot and can be hiked clockwise or counterclockwise. I’ve done both and prefer going counterclockwise, as there is more revealing scenery and as you turn each corner, the mountains open up in front of your eyes. If you have extra time, take the detour to Lake Ann on the way up. Make sure to get to the parking lot early enough. It fills up quickly — especially on weekends.
Blue Lake Trail is shorter and easier than Maple Pass. As you’re walking up and taking in the views, you arrive at the lake before you know it. You can continue up past Blue Lake along a short tarn loop for a better view of the lake from above.
Maple Pass and Blue Lake are only hikeable for a short window each year — usually July through October — until snow makes the trails inaccessible again. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park at these trailheads. Always do your homework before setting out and see our tips below for planning.
Planning Your Trip
Getting outdoors in the fall can be intimidating, with harsh weather and unpredictable conditions. This is especially true in the mountains, which is why research and planning are so important. Things to consider when planning your trip include:
It’s also important to consider that some places might be closed for various reasons or may not have restrooms, facilities or garbage containers. North Cascades Highway closes seasonally each winter, generally between November and April/May. Always do your research.
Finally, pack out what you pack in and dress appropriately for the weather. Recreate responsibly, plan all of your stops ahead of time and enjoy exploring our beautiful state.
Featured image: Brandon Fralic. Additional photos by the author.