Outdoors

Explosion of fall color adds to joys of Northwest hiking. Where to go

Autumn is here and the leaves are getting ready to fall.

It’s the time of year when the mountain hillsides of the Pacific Northwest are drenched in spectacular colors.

The peak of the color change in Eastern Washington starts in the middle of October and goes through the middle of November.

The leaves of wildflowers, leafy shrubs and herbaceous plants like fireweed and huckleberry plants turn from green to yellow, orange, vivid red and purple and then to shades of brown, gray and black.

The western larch, aspen, poplars and other deciduous trees turn from a bright golden yellow to a tawny orange as the leaves get ready to fall.

There are two types of larches in the Pacific Northwest. The western larch grows up to 170 feet tall and tends to be found on north-facing slopes at elevations between 2,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level.

The alpine larch grows up to 70 feet tall at higher elevations, 5,500 to 7,500 feet. They tend to grow on the east side of the Cascades where they take advantage of the sunlight and the blue skies.

Take a drive for the day

From the Tri-Cities, you can enjoy colorful displays that cover the mountain hillsides just by heading on the main highways into the Cascades, or into the Blue Mountains to the south and east, or north into the mountains near Spokane.

You can get closer to them by then taking the forest roads that lead into the mountains off the valley highways.

Then you can venture off-road on any number of hiking trails.

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Revel in the amazing colors on Pacific Northwest hikes. Courtesy Paul Krupin

Cascades west of Yakima

Larch stands are especially strong on the Naches Ranger District in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. You can find them along Highway 12 from Rim Rock Lake to White Pass and in the Goat Rocks area along Highway 410 on the mountains to the south of the highway.

There are options along Highway 410 side roads and trails along the Little Naches River Valley, Bald Mountain, the Nile Area, Hells Crossing.

Highway 12 options include Bethel Ridge/Cash Prairie, the Burnt Mountain Trail, the MJB Trail and many others.

Blewett Pass area

Larch can be seen along Highway 97 between Cle Elum and Peshastin. Popular destinations for more seasoned hikers include Esmeralda Basin, Lake Ann and Lake Ingalls.

Tronson Ridge offers a reasonably easy eight miles of trail with only 1,000 feet of elevation. It is a beautiful fall hike with spectacular views and lots of larch stands.

Walla Walla area

The northern section of the Umatilla National Forest offers numerous options for larch seekers. From Dayton, you can head south into the mountains along the Kendall Skyline Road or the North Fork Touchet Road.

From Walla Walla, you can take the Mill Creek Road to the Tiger Creek Road, which then turns into Forest Road 65.

The areas on either side of Highway 204 between Tollgate and Anders Prairie or east of Bingham Springs are also great places to explore.

Ukiah Scenic Byway

Another option is to take Highway 396 south to Ukiah to the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. You can then head west and go toward Heppner or east and head toward Sumpter.

Either way, this beautiful road winds and twists through the hills and canyons of the southern section of the Umatilla National Forest. There are dozens of trailheads and camping options to choose from.

Remember to be prepared for the weather. Call the Ranger Districts ahead of leaving to make sure the roads are open.

Paul Krupin is an avid local outdoor enthusiast and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club www.imacnw.org . He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com
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