As the golden leaves prepare to shed from the branches above, the trees become a sight to see. Miles of autumn colors blot the landscape of our community. While Thurston County has beautiful scenery this time of year, the shores of the Hood Canal provide a breathtaking view of this seasonal change.

Here are a few ways to enjoy autumn to its fullest at the Hood Canal—and a few ways to get there.

Hike

Strap on your hiking boots and head out into the forests surrounding the canal to take in the brisk air and the fall foliage. First stop, Skokomish Park Lake Cushman. Notable for its incredibly cold, blue waters, Lake Cushman is the perfect spot to enjoy the serene beauty of the lake and the changing colors of the leaves. Skokomish Park has nine miles of maintained hiking and mountain biking trails at a variety of skill levels. Head down to the park’s marina to rent a kayak and enjoy the view from the lake for a more relaxing option.

The popular Lower South Fork Skokomish Trail takes hikers through old growth cedar along the river’s edge. This moderate hike through the changing colors of fall provides beautiful views with the sound of a rushing river as a backdrop. This trail is known for elk sightings so keep your eyes open to all of the sights and sounds.

Lake Cushman
Skokomish Park Lake Cushman allows visitors to enjoy the fall foliage on a boat or on the trails. Photo credit: Byden McGrath

Finally, Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve brings birders and wildlife enthusiasts alike to where the shores of the Union River meet the Hood Canal. Only 3.5 miles roundtrip, this is a doable hike for all members of the family. Nearly 140 acres of protected salt marsh and estuary wetlands are located here. Amongst the rust and gold of fall, visitors may spot a wide variety of birds, including heron, kingfishers, and red-winged blackbirds along the walking trails.

Boat

Looking for a different perspective? Set sail to the Hood Canal for a landscape of fall foliage. Cruise the to the Alderbrook Resort & Spa in Union. Their docks have spectacular views and a variety of pleasure craft to enjoy from the marina. Hydrobikes, tandem seacycles, and kayaks are available at an hourly rate. Visitors can bundle up and paddle the shore searching for the beautiful changing leaves.

Alternately, after a hike near the shores of Lake Cushman, rent a kayak and enjoy the view from the lake. Skokomish Park Lake Cushman offers single and double kayak rentals along with stand up paddle boards for day use. Skokomish Park is the perfect stop for the whole family to spot the changing colors of the season on foot or by boat.

Fall leaves
Lace up your boots and put on a cozy sweater to explore the fall colors on the Hood Canal. Photo credit: Jenna Simek

Drive

A scenic drive is a great way to explore the Hood Canal and take in the sights of fall. Start with a drive up the canal and through the forest to the High Steel Bridge. Drivers zig zag up the side of the foothills deep into the Olympics in search of the ultimate view. The rugged terrain and surrounding trees create a backdrop a beautiful autumn color. Once at the top, walk on the bridge and look down 430 feet to the river below. It’s the ultimate spot to watch the leaves fall to the icy waters below.

Take a turn off Highway 101 to Highway 106 W through Union. This drive gives the best view of the Olympic Mountain Range along the fjord of the canal. Along with the beauty, there are some interesting attractions along the way, including the historic Dalby Water Wheel. Built in 1923, it was the first hydroelectric plant on the Hood Canal. There is also a German-style castle and at the end of the drive; look for it as you pass the canal. Twanoh State Park appears at the end of the drive as well and is a perfect stop for the weary traveler.

Drive farther north along the canal on Highway 101 and cruise through the town of Hoodsport. The quaint town spans the shores of the canal for just shy of two miles with plenty to see along the way. There is plenty to do here if you’re looking for a one-stop shop after the drive from Thurston County.

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