A common question that comes up in the autumn is where to hike to see the best fall colors, so I thought I’d write a post about it. The focus of this post will be northwest Oregon and southwest Washington because that’s where I do most of my hiking and is the area I’m most familiar with. I will keep this updated with new information as I continue to hike.
First let’s get this out of the way: fall color displays in the Pacific Northwest are nothing at all like what you see back east. Two reasons: 1) the forests in are mostly coniferous, and 2) many of the deciduous trees don’t turn brilliant colors. Maples are a common source of fall color in the forest, and Tom Kloster has an excellent write-up on his Wyeast Blog about maples in Oregon. You will see more vivid and fiery fall colors in Portland than in the mountains and forests because of the wide variety of trees used in city landscaping that aren’t found out in the wild.
A common question asked in the fall is “Where can I see larches in Oregon?” Unlike other conifers, larches are deciduous so they turn color in the fall and drop their needles. In recent years I’ve noticed an explosion of fall larch photos emerging from Washington’s North Cascades region. Hikers frequently want to know where they can see similar larch displays in Oregon. Those photos from northern Washington are of the subalpine larch, but here in Oregon we have the western larch. It is not widespread but there are larches east of Mt. Hood. The Badger Creek Wilderness is a good place to see them in mid to late October. If you go east to certain parts of the Umatilla National Forest and Malheur National Forest you’ll see a lot more.
Here are some places I’ve found good fall color in the area. I’ve noted the dates I’ve observed good color but it’s important to keep in mind that things can change quite a bit from one year to the next.
Indian Heaven Wilderness
Huckleberries and other shrubs turn brilliant colors here in the fall. There are numerous trails you can pick from, and the mosquitoes that plague this area in summer are long gone.
I’ve observed good color on September 26 and 27.
This is a nice short hike to a very impressive waterfall. The vine maple along the trail looks very nice in the fall. Be aware, though, that this trail is EXTREMELY popular, busy, and crowded. Go on a weekday if you can. (Hike description)
I’ve observed good color on October 1, 9, and 12
The colors here are not grand and widespread, but the huckleberry bushes pop with brilliant red. Go on a clear day for spectacular views of Mt. Hood. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 7 and 13.
Maples turn lovely shades of orange along this hike, which also features several nice waterfalls. (Hike Description)
October 7 was too early one year. October 17 was good another year.
Boulder Lake Area
While the fall color display on this hike is more subtle, it is still very nice and you’re not likely to see nearly as many people on the trail as some of the other trails I list here. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 17.
Cedar Creek Grist Mill
This is not a hike, but it’s a beautiful spot to visit in the fall. The historic grist mill is very photogenic, as is the covered bridge right next to it, and of course Cedar Creek itself. (Website)
I’ve observed good color on October 17.
Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls State Park is a lovely place to visit in the fall, with lots of vine maples and bigleaf maples. It gets VERY busy and crowded on weekends, though. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 18. One year October 14 was too early.
Falls Creek Falls
The vine maple along this trail looks fantastic in the fall. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 20
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there aren’t many larches in the Oregon Cascades, but you’ll find some in the Badger Creek Wilderness. A good way to see them on display is to hike up the Fret Creek Trail to the Divide Trail, head east to Road 200, then road hike to the Flag Point lookout. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 20 and 21. But on a visit on October 17 one year the larches were barely yellow.
There are some beautiful trees along the Salmon River Trail, including some nice bigleaf maple. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 22 and 26
Some of the best fall color can actually be seen in Portland because you’ll see trees that don’t occur naturally out in the forests of Oregon. Hoyt Arboretum is a great spot to see a whole variety of trees, many of which turn beautiful colors in the fall. (You can put together any number of routes using the trail network here, but here is one hike description.)
I’ve observed good color on October 26.
My favorite fall color hikes in the Columbia Gorge burned in the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, but this one did not. In the Starvation Creek area there is a nice hike visiting several small waterfalls. The fall color along Starvation Creek itself is quite nice. (Hike Description)
I’ve observed good color on October 31 and November 6
I recommend checking online for recent reports to see where hikers have been observing good fall color. Here are some suggestions: