The vibrant colors associated with autumn need two main components – sunny days and cool, chilly nights. As the summer heat wanes and the days get shorter the temperature drops, especially at night. And where is the best place to find these yellow, orange and red colors of fall in Skagit County? The North Cascades, with their high elevation, is a good place to start. Here are three trails along the North Cascade Hwy (Hwy 20) to visit for fall leaves in the Skagit Valley.
Ranger Sydney Light from the Sedro Woolley Department of Forestry office suggests Heather-Maple Pass Loop Trail, Blue Lake Trail, and Washington Pass as good hikes to view fall foliage. All three of these trails are located within the North Cascade National Park. A stop at the ranger station in Sedro-Woolley for information and/or hiking advice is always a beneficial stop.
Heather-Maple Pass Loop
This loop trail in the North Cascade National Forest is approximately 7.2 miles roundtrip. The elevation gain is 2,000 feet and, according to the Washington Trails Association website, it is listed as a moderate-hard hike.
Hiking the ridgeline of Heather-Maple Pass Loop offers some stunning views all year long but it is the autumn months when this trail becomes ablaze with color as the larches turn golden. Find larches lining the lakesides with their brilliant yellow.
Beginning at the trailhead hike through several landscapes from dense forest, meadows and the uppermost ridgeline near maple Pass. this part of the trail is known to be steeper and can see snow late into the season.
From Maple Pass, the trail begins its loop back downward with switchbacks along the way. Stunning views continue as you descend toward the parking area.
Blue Lake trailhead sits right off Highway 20, less than a mile before Washington Pass heading east. It is a relatively easy-moderate hike at 4.5 miles roundtrip and only a 1,050 feet elevation gain. This is a splendid trail for a quick and easy jaunt into pristine forest accompanied by mountain lake views. Great for families wishing to take in a little nature as the forest colors turn from summer greens to autumn oranges.
The beginning of this trail hosts several boardwalks leading into the tree-lined areas before it opens into some meadowland. As you get closer to the lake, you may hear bubbling sounds of running water from the overflow streams where there is a makeshift bridge crossing the creek.
Once at the lake, find a rock or a perch and simply soak in the breathtaking beauty of the lake as well as the larches and maples changing color with the season.
Washington Pass Lookout
Continue east on Hwy 20 and just under a mile, Washington Pass Lookout will come into view. This vantage area is a .25-mile paved trail taking you to the lookout, making this accessible to everyone who wishes to drink in the beauty overlooking Liberty Bell Mountain, including wheelchairs. During the autumn months, these peaks appear dotted with color. A great stopover to stretch your legs, good for the kids and dogs are allowed on leashes.
Pro Tip: It is advisable to download and save directions and/or maps from the Washington Trail Association before heading out. Many app-based driving directions are not always accurate and cellular service connections may be unreliable in some areas.
The exact items you pack can be adapted for the hike you take but always consider factors such as weather conditions, the difficulty of the hike, the duration you plan to be gone and distance from help.