It’s the Northeast that often gets so much buzz during the fall with its rolling hills filled with the colorful fall foliage of hundreds of oak and maple trees. But don’t underestimate the fall leaves of the Northwest. True, we have a lot of evergreens and evergreens aren’t exactly known for their fall colors, but the Northwest is also home to a fabulous number of maple trees (and a respectable number of oaks and birch and other trees that change with the seasons). Rest assured, if you want to take a drive to go leaf peeping through the Northwest, you shant be disappointed.
Here are some solid bets in the different parts of the Northwest, but rest assured that you will find fall foliage in many parks, most forests, state parks, and national parks in the Northwest.
Located in Tacoma, Point Defiance Park is the largest urban park in the area and one of the largest in the country at 760 acres. The park is easy to walk, bike, or drive through on Five Mile Drive, a loop path and street that traces the perimeter of the park. The shady pathway is surrounded by old growth forests the entire way, and you’ll find fall leaves aplenty here. Bonus, hang out at Owen Beach, explore the walking trails through the center of the park, or stop by the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium while you’re here.
Like Point Defiance, Discovery Park is an urban park as it’s located right in Seattle. It’s not quite as large as Point Defiance at 534 acres, but still has miles of trails, some shoreline, and several wooded areas where you can admire the fall colors changing. Don’t miss the lighthouse on the beach at the park either.
Highway 2 Between Monroe and Leavenworth
If what you seek is a drive outside of town, Highway 2 is an excellent way to go as this stretch of road is lined with aspens, maples, and other trees that turn all kinds of colorful in the autumn. Leavenworth is along this route, too, and few things feel as autumny as enjoying some hot German food in this cute Bavarian town.
Like Discovery Park and Point Defiance, Washington Arboretum in Seattle is an expansive botanical garden filled with many types of trees large and small. The park is also home to the Seattle Japanese Garden and you can bet that where there are maples (and there are maples there), there are bright red beautiful fall leaves. Visiting this garden in the fall is just straight-up beautiful. The rest of the arboretum is also filled with all manner of trees and walking trails galore. Bring a picnic and make a day of it.
Started in 1927 by a Japanese immigrant (who was not officially a gardener, but you’d never know it from the beauty of this place), Kubota Gardens is a Japanese-style garden that is filled with color throughout the autumn. But while you can see colorful autumn foliage in many places in the Northwest, it’s tough to top the sheer beauty of Kubota Garden.
Mt. Rainier National Park
Mt. Rainier is home to gorgeous stretches of roadway and forested trails alike, and both yield plenty of beauty in the autumn. While most of the trees in the park are solidly evergreen, you’ll see patches of fall color here and there. And there can also be surprising places to spot autumn colors, too – like the bushes along the Skyline Trail, which create a colorful display and a pretty amazing photo op with the mountain in the background.
Columbia River Gorge
First and foremost, the Columbia River Gorge is just gorgeous anytime of year. In the fall, it ups the ante on its beauty. Drive along the Washington or Oregon side and leaf peep from your car, or jump off onto almost any given hiking trail to enjoy the foliage up close. Of course, you can also stop by one of the waterfalls in the area too as waterfalls + fall leaves = a whole lotta pretty. Multnomah Falls is the most known of this area’s falls, but it’s hardly the only one. For a triple whammy, approach Multnomah Falls from the east via the Historic Columbia River Highway. Stop at Horseshoe Falls, enjoy a trail or two, admire some leaves. Drive another few minutes and you’ll be at Multnomah Falls. Take a short walk up to Benson Bridge, or follow trails a little farther afoot to Wahkeena Falls, enjoying quality time with fall leaves all the way.
McKenzie-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway
This loop-drive just northwest of Bend, Oregon, offers 82 miles of sheer natural beauty. One of the most scenic drives in the state, you’ll see a bit of everything – snowy mountain tops, black lava fields, grasslands, and forests included. Among the stunning scenery are fall leaves in the autumn months that will take your breath away, but hit this drive in later September or early October as snow levels might be an issue after that (or even before depending on the year. Check before you go).
Home to more than 2,000 species of trees and shrubs, you can count on plenty of fall foliage at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland. Wander the trails on your own, or join up with a guided tour if you want to learn a bit about the grounds and trees. There are many trails to choose from and you can’t really go wrong, but the Maple Trail is a good starting point as it guarantees you some bright red maple leaves.
Also in Portland is a unique forest – a 5,200-acre wild forest located right within the city limits. And where there is forest, there are leaves. You might think Forest Park is mostly evergreen and it would be a fair assumption as this is a Northwest forest, but it turns out only 20% of the trees are evergreen. Just about half the trees here are maples so fall brings with it tons of color here. Since there are so many trails, if you need help with where to start, head for the 8.2-mile Maple Trail loop hike and you won’t be disappointed.
Silver Falls State Park
Waterfalls and fall leaves are just a wonderful combo and there is more than one spot to find this stunning combo in Oregon. Silver Falls State Park is one of Oregon’s most beautiful state parks…and that’s saying a lot. Anytime of year, it’s a great place to hike, visit waterfalls, or have a barbecue. In the autumn, it’s filled with colorful leaves. Bring your cameras and be prepared to be dazzled. And don’t miss the Trail of Ten Falls, which is about eight miles long and home to – that’s right – ten waterfalls!
Butchart Gardens in Victoria is pretty most of the year, but in the fall, the pathways are brightened by colorful maple leaves. It’s also a quieter time of year for the Gardens overall so it’s a fine time to go on greenhouse tours and learn more about how things work behind the scenes.
Vancouver’s expansive Stanley Park, located right in the city but filled with nature galore, miles and miles of trails, as well as attractions (you can go to the beach, dine at a restaurant, take a train…all at this park). The park is also filled with cedars, maples, and fir trees, creating a nice mix of evergreen and color in the autumn. Of course, you can hit the trails and walk on your own, but one of the perks of viewing leaves here is that you can do so in style. Take a tour of the park in a horse-drawn carriage, on the shuttle trolley, or via tour bus.