When summer heat starts to dissipate and all eyes turn toward the Seahawks, back to school events and pumpkin spice, the Pacific Northwest becomes wrapped in autumn beauty. As rivers welcome back salmon runs and the first rains of the season fill the streams and waterfalls, those who explore the wilds of the region discover explosions of fall colors, breathtaking views and incredible nature adventures.
Full of mushrooms and color drenched maples, autumn in the upper left corner of the US is unlike anywhere else in the country. While the trails and nature areas have been packed all summer, the fall months bring solace, solitude and wonder to those heading outdoors. Below are some of our favorite places to see fall colors, salmon and the autumn splendor that we love about our home.
From quick drives to local parks to longer journeys, these adventures will reward you with stunning beauty, unique Pacific Northwest scenes and a perfect way to enjoy the day while the kids are in school or with them in tow on the weekends. Explore any or all of these destinations and “fall” in love with autumn’s wonders.
1. Woodard Bay and the Blue Heron Rookery
If you haven’t seen the fall colors at, you are missing out on one of the autumn gems of the Olympia area. Surrounded by maples, the trails in the region burst in color and are incredibly easy to walk. While Woodard Bay itself is gorgeous in the fall, make sure you head over to the Blue Heron Rookery at the end of the Chehalis Western Trail, too. Walking along this short trail lets you see great colors, as well as walk under hundreds of blue heron nests. The combo makes for a truly beautiful day, possibly capped off with seal, otter and eagle sightings.
2. Tolmie State Park
Located right on the Puget Sound, with a view of Mount Rainier in the distance,is yet another gorgeous destination for the sights and sounds of fall. As blue herons squawk while wading in the shallows and eagles chirp in the trees above, the few deciduous trees in the park reflect off the waters of the Sound in tranquil beauty. Best seen with moody skies, the miles of trails at Tolmie will lead you through some gorgeous terrain. However, the best fall colors will be found along the waterfront, giving you a soothing sound of waves as you gaze at the colorful leaves. The best part of Tolmie, besides the beauty, is that during the week, it is rarely visited.
3. McLane Creek
is one of the most underrated fall destinations in the Puget Sound. As soon as the crisp air returns, the ponds and creek turn into a hotbed of activity and beauty. Around the trails, maples turn amazing colors and reflect off the slow moving waters, contrasting against the deep greens of the conifers. Migrating birds also start to visit the ponds, using this as a base for their journey south. However, both the birds and the autumn colors can’t hold a candle to the amazing salmon run that frequents this small creek each fall. The colors start in September, while the salmon watching gets good in October and November. Visit McLane Creek often as it is ever changing.
4. Point Defiance
While you will need to battle Tacoma traffic to get here, the fall colors found atwill recenter your soul and get you excited for the changing seasons. Offering miles of driving and trails, exploring Point Defiance during the autumn months is a quintessential Puget Sound experience. As eagles soar overhead and seals and sea lions cruise the waters below, the fall colors on the trees stand out starkly against the heavy mosses and dark fir trees. The roads of Five Mile Drive are incredible enough that you don’t even need to leave your car to see the beauty of fall in full force. If you haven’t been here during the fall months, make the trip and be wowed.
If you haven’t, do not miss this chance. While the Quinault and Hoh Rainforests are downright mesmerizing during the fall months, the Staircase region, just 90 minutes from Olympia, puts on a dazzling display of fall colors and mushroom growth. Tucked up in the Skokomish River Valley, the handful of deciduous trees put out such vivid colors that you’ll want to spend hours walking around this wilderness wonderland. The two trails you should take are the Shady Lane Trail and the , both found by crossing the river from the main parking lot. Here, you’ll see an eruption of mushrooms on logs, beautiful greens from the ferns and conifers and brilliant colors from the maples. For more Olympic National Park fall adventures, .