Sunrise in the canyon, near Leavenworth.

Washington isn’t known for it’s fall colors but I hope to change that. Most people just don’t know where to look! The east coast tries to steal the show but there are spectacular colors in Washington as well. Here are my favorite spots to catch autumn colors for fall photography in Washington.

If you’re a visual person, jump to the gallery first!

When to go?

Fall colors begin early in Washington. September is when the perennial shrubs like heather start to get colorful. Larches will start to turn late September and can be seen up to November. However this is entirely snow dependent and many of the best places to larch hunt require hiking. For the leafy colors October is the best month to see them. You’ll find more variety of color at lower elevations, while higher elevations primarily are reserved for yellows and oranges.

TLDR: September and October

Where to go?

North Cascades

Not limited to North Cascades National Park – the cascade range has plenty of fall colors (especially larches). The best views will be from moderate-hard trails, although there are plenty of places to see larches for adventurers of all levels. Highway 20 and Highway 542 (to Artist Point) are both great scenic drives.

Heather – Maple Pass Loop

7.2 miles, 2000′ elevation (WTA)

This trail is definitely the MOST popular fall hike in Washington. Enjoy panoramic views of the cascades, overlook a picturesque lake, walk through the rows of larches, this trail perfectly sums of the Pacific North West. Highly recommended for a sunset hike!

Beautiful larches coated with fresh snow in the North Cascades
Beautiful larches coated with fresh snow in the North Cascades [Instagram]
Panoramic Image during a colorful sunset, Maple Pass Trail
Panoramic Image during a colorful sunset

Mt. Baker Ski Area / Artist Point

One of my favorites in the state. Home to the handsome Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker, this area is match made in heaven for photographers. I like to visit anytime in September. Colors here are mostly from shrubs and other smaller plants so it’s best before heavy snow settles in.

Good trails around the area for fall colors:

  • Chain Lakes Loop – 6.5 miles, 1820′ elevation [WTA]
  • Artist Point Loop – 1~ mile [WSDOT]
  • Lake Ann – 8.2 miles, 1900′ elevation [WTA]
Fall and Mt. Shuksan
Fall covered mountain side with Mt. Shuksan in the distance [Instagram]

Washington Pass Overlook

Here’s the first of the easy-access shooting locations I promised! Washington Pass overlook is all the way at the of the Highway 20 segment in the Cascades, right before it exits the mountains. This viewpoint offers 240 degree views of the surrounding mountains and is a great spot to see tons of larches.

Washington Pass in the Fall
Washington Pass in the Fall – Sony A7R II + 16-35F4 @ f/8, ISO200

And if you want to brave the cold – stay for the night!

Winter Skies at Washington Pass
Winter Skies at Washington Pass (notice the larches!)

Highway 2 and Leavenworth

Leavenworth is a Bavarian themed town that’s well known for Christmas markets and Oktoberfest but I know it best for fall colors around the area. One of places in Washington that matches the east coast for a “rainbow” of fall colors, Highway 2 takes you along Tumwater Canyon through the cascades and dumps you at the town of Leavenworth. Plenty of road-side pullouts and photo opportunities all around this area. Best of all, it’s drone friendly!

Sunrise in the canyon, near Leavenworth.
Sunrise in the canyon, near Leavenworth. [Instagram]
If you go further, you can explore the road all the way to Icicle Gorge Canyon. This road offers more imposing mountains on either side and a river as well. There’s less overlook/pullouts but if you are adventurous you find plenty of places to shoot. This area is also one of the trailheads into the Enchantments so there are plenty of opportunities for larches and more.

Fall Colors at Icicle Creek
Fall Colors at Icicle Creek [Instagram]
My favorite part about fall colors around Leavenworth is that there are so many small scenes to capture. A lot of the Cascades are about big things (mountains) but here in the canyons I find there are plenty of intimate scenes. Honestly I could spend the entire fall shooting around this area and not run out of compositions.

Colorful Fall Reflection on the Wenatchee River
Colorful Fall Reflection on the Wenatchee River [Instagram]

Chuckanut Drive

Often mentioned in “Washington Fall Guides” on other websites and resources. I would dismiss it. It’s a great drive for people looking to enjoy a day of eating and drinking while soaking in some coastal scenes but it’s not really a “fall color” wonderland like you can find in more remote areas. I wouldn’t mention it otherwise but the drive is already crowded and I would try to save some time and stick to the game plan!

Bonus: Twin Falls

A short drive from the Seattle area, Twin Falls hike is amazing on a rainy day. The hike is a quick 2.6 mile 500′ [WTA] elevation trail along the forested Snoqualmie river.

Twin Falls on a rainy autumn day
Twin Falls on a rainy autumn day [Instagram]

Conclusion

Where are your favorite spots? Did I miss anything? There’s plenty of amazing places for fall photography in Washington, but these are my favorites. Interested in what I used to capture these images? I mostly shoot with a Sony A7R III and DJI Mavic 2 Pro (more details in my gear list!)

As always, connect with me on Instagram or leave a comment below! Always love to hear your thoughts.

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Fall Colors in Washington - Must See Locations

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