Deciduous means that the tree grows new leaves each year in the spring and then sheds them in the fall. The chlorophyll in the needles is drawn back into the tree which leaves the yellow color.
In Washington State, larches are generally found on the east slopes of the Cascade Crest north of Snoqualmie Pass and above 3000 feet of elevation, going up to around 7000 feet of elevation. They are also abundant throughout other parts of the Pacific Northwest and Mountain west, including British Columbia, Alberta, Idaho and Montana.
Larch season is late September through mid October in Washington State. Heavy wind or snow can bring an early end to larch season, while sunnier and drier weather can sometimes extend the season till late in October.
To filter the results, you can put in the name of a specific hike, or you can go to “advanced options” and enter larch into the search line. In addition to telling you if the larches are at or near their peak, you can also determine how crowded a specific trail is, and you can learn other important information such as if there is snow on the trail, which is common during larch season, especially at higher elevations.
Early morning and late afternoon light can often make the larches look even more incredible! When heading out on one of these amazing larch hikes in Washington, it’s imperative to be prepared for winter conditions, including extra layers, extra food (consider bringing hot food, YUM) and a wonderful rain jacket.
Larches frame Mt Stuart from Headlight Basin on the way to Lake In galls Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington : Lake In galls is in my top 3 for sure, because of it’s relatively proximity to Seattle, it’s beautiful larches, dramatic views of Mt Stuart and the spectacular lake at the end! Follow Tearaway Road until it dead ends at the trailhead in about 23 miles.
Elevation Gain : 2500 feet Backpacking Options : Headlight Basin is a fantastic place to backpack among the larches and see amazing dark skies at night as well as gorgeous afterglow at sunset on Mt Stuart and beautiful sunrises. Where to Stop after : Grab a beer in Roslyn or CLE Elm, coffee at Pioneer Coffee (also great breakfast options) or grab a bigger meal at the Roslyn Café.
Where to Stop after : If you’re heading back south, Grab a beer in Roslyn or CLE Elm, coffee at Pioneer Coffee (also great breakfast options) or grab a bigger meal at the Roslyn Café. Hills covered in larches surround the Tron sen Ridge and Gluiest Pass area Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington : Located in an uncrowded area, accessed by a challenging unpaved road (high clearance vehicle recommended), this area feels remote but isn’t as far from Seattle as some.
It also starts and stays high, giving great views without too much climbing. Instead of parking at the pass, head up forest road 9716 for 3.5 miles and then turn left on 9712 (sign for Haney Meadow).
A mile past Haney Meadow, you’ll be at Nahum Creek and you can park and start here. Passes Needed : Northwest Forest Pass Dog Friendly : yes, on leash Length of Hike : up to 8 miles round trip Elevation Gain : up to 1000 feet Backpacking Options : There are several places in this area to backpack or dispersed camp with your car.
Where to Stop after : If you’re heading back south, Grab a beer in Roslyn or CLE Elm, coffee at Pioneer Coffee (also great breakfast options) or grab a bigger meal at the Roslyn Café. You’ll also find difficult parking and many, many people during the peak larch season.
How to get there : Just west of Leavenworth, turn south on Icicle Creek Road. Note that this trailhead also serves the Lake Stuart trail and the Enchantments and is extremely busy.
It’s a lovely forest walk to a small lake surrounded by golden larches! How to get there : The trail starts in the parking lot for Mission Ridge Ski Area near Wenatchee.
Passes Needed : None Dog Friendly : yes, on leash Length of Hike : 3.5 miles round trip Elevation Gain : 900 feet Backpacking Options : Nowhere to Stop after : Lemon Café and Deli in Wenatchee is right downtown and has amazing sandwiches, coffee and more. How to get there : Turn towards Lake Wenatchee off Highway 2 between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass.
Turn right on Phelps Creek Road, about 11 miles after the pavement ends. Passes Needed : Northwest Forest Pass Dog Friendly : yes, on leash Length of Hike : 7.5 miles round trip Elevation Gain : 3600 feet Backpacking Options : backpacking is allowed in this area of the Flanagan Wenatchee National Forest Where to Stop after : Head for Icicle Creek Brewing or the Munches Has in Leavenworth.
Larch trees and mountains around Cutthroat Lake Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington : A gorgeous and less crowded than Maple Pass (across the street) option along the well maintained Pacific Crest Trail. You have the option here to start on the Pacific Crest Trail and do a one way hike to Cutthroat Lake if you have two vehicles.
Passes Needed : Northwest Forest Pass Dog Friendly : yes, on leash Length of Hike : 4.5 miles round trip Elevation Gain : 1000 feet Backpacking Options : Nowhere to Stop after : In Winthrop, check out the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for beer and the Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee, soups and sandwiches! You could walk a mile on this section of the Pacific Crest Trail, and it would still be amazing.
To get there, turn on Lost River Road in Mazama from the North Cascades Highway. Leaving Mazama on Lost River Road, expect the next 15 miles to the trailhead to take close to an hour.
Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington : In the rarely visited corner of northeastern Washington, the Sherman Pass Loop is a place to find solitude, expansive views and larches! How to get there : Sherman Pass is located on Highway 20 in Northeastern Washington, 17 miles east of the town of Republic.
I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low-key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada! It was a multi-page story with jaw-dropping full-page photos that include lakes nestled between snowy peaks and dotted with something I’d never seen before: golden pine trees.
Being from the east coast, I was missing fall colors in Washington state. Washington is one of the few places in the world to find larches, the name of these needle-bearing trees that turn gold in the fall.
When larches are at their peak, they make for a breathtaking view of fall foliage in Washington state, particularly when alongside fiery reds and oranges from other colorful plants. They are found in cold climates in the Northern Hemisphere, mostly in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana and British Columbia, Canada.
The U.S. Forest Service explains that the reason larches change colors is that their saving up nutrients for the winter. The chemical process that happens in these trees is what causes the needles to turn gold.
Starting mid-September, either open up the larch hikes listed below in separate tabs or go to WTA’s advanced search for their trip reports (what they call hikers’ comments). If I’m on the page of a specific hike, I’ll scroll down to the trip reports and expand the most recent.
Once these trip reports start mentioning the larches, I’ll pay attention. Hikers on this website tend to use verbiage like, “They’re starting to turn,” or “They’re ready.” Use this information to narrow down which hike you go on and when.
I find it challenging to prioritize larch hikes in one day, since most take at least 3 hours to drive to from Seattle… each way. It’s doable, but the best option is to stay near the hike you want to take, so you can get an early start the following day.
However, since the elevation isn’t as high as in other areas, most people don’t talk about these hikes when referencing going on a larch march. When in full bloom the larches are a deep golden color, almost looking fake against a clear blue sky.
There’s also a blue lake at the summit and if you’re lucky, curious mountain goats who will pause for a picture while they check you out. Don’t do what we did and finish the trail in pitch black only to have to drive the desolate bumpy road out.
The Esmeralda Basin trail is popular in spring thanks to its meadows and seemingly endless amounts of wildflowers. You may start wondering if this is actually a larch hike, but you’ll be rewarded if you take the intersection to a pass overlooking Lake Ann.
Leavenworth is about a 2 to 2.5-hour drive from Seattle and is located pretty much in the middle of Washington state. These Leavenworth hikes include larches and are the perfect driving distance for going leaf-peeping in Washington.
Golden larches dot the blue lake at the summit, sometimes covered in snow, for a magical experience. I’ve read it’s a mostly moderate hike with some more difficult parts as you get close to the lake summit.
One important thing to note is that they’ve apparently changed the parking situation here. I read reports that you need to arrive before 6:30 am during high season to secure a spot in their shrunken lot, as rangers are actively there monitoring and turning people away.
When I get a chance to go, I’ll update this section with details on the accuracy of this but wanted to mention in case you get there before me! It’s made up of a series of trails that weave between what is called the lower and upper Enchantments.
While you can day hike The Enchantments in about 7 miles, most people know it as an overnight backpacking experience. It’s accessible via the Mission Ridge Ski Resort parking lot, making it easy to get to year round.
Some trip reports say it’s difficult in some parts, but overall it looks like a pretty moderate hike. It’s not the most difficult hike I’ve ever done, but I had to take several breaks to catch my breath and stretch my screaming calves.
You can also continue up a very short trail that takes you to a cliff overlook Thesis Lake from above. When it’s clear you’ll see mountain peaks far in the distance behind the glistening blue lake.
Second, Google messed up when we were driving there and didn’t say anything on the GPS about bearing left on the main road it takes you on to get to the hike. Since it didn’t speak up, we continued on what looked like the main road because it was large and paved.
Follow along on the GPS and make sure to bear left at the major fork you’ll encounter. Consider bringing gloves if you take this larch hike in the fall, so you can grab onto trees to support yourself without getting your hands dirty.
The North Cascades region is, as its name suggest, in northern Washington closer to the Canadian border. Here are larch hikes in the area known for finding the best fall colors in Washington state.
It’s near Winthrop in the Method Valley, a popular winter getaway in Washington for cross-country skiing and a hot air balloon festival. You can go either direction since it’s a loop, but it seems the consensus is to start clockwise, so you can get the steep part out of the way.
I haven’t been on this larch hike yet, but I read you should continue past the pass toward Fisher Creek for spectacular meadow views. It’s one of the shortest and easiest larch hikes you’ll find on this list, which also means you can expect to see a lot of people on it.
Be careful of loose footing as you get closer to the lake thanks to shifting rocks and roots. If you have time, stop at the Washington Pass Lookout less than a mile away from the trailhead.
It offers a viewpoint of the Liberty Mountains from the side opposite Blue Lake. It also sounds like you’ll need to cross more than 10 creeks to make it across, though most hikers report it’s easy enough with rocks.
It’s 1900 feet lower than Cutthroat Pass, so it doesn’t offer as breathtaking of views, but it’s a great hike for larches if you want an easier option. The trail has a gradual, but persistent uphill climb there and the path is shared with bikers and horseback riders.