Washington state is an incredible place to travel by van. Its ice-covered volcanoes and densely forested valleys erupt into fiery colors as leaves start to change. It’s one of the hottest places to travel in fall and offers a wide range of picturesque fall foliage routes, all starting from our Seattle hub!
What are our three favorite things about traveling in Washington state?
- Easy access to National Parks like the Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades.
- Stunning diverse landscapes from coastlines, mountains, snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, alpine rivers, lakes and rainforests
- Spectacular scenic drives to see fall foliage – the change of seasons in Washington is stunning. Colors of warm hues of gold will blanket the dramatic mountainous backdrops.
What’s the best time to travel to Washington to see fall colors?
The answer is: VERY SOON!
Start by checking the Smoky Mountains National Fall Foliage Map to help you plan but generally speaking, fall foliage can be seen all over the country between the end of September and mid-October. And YES, call us biased, but we love experiencing it by van.
What are some of our favorite routes to travel?
Take notes, here are some of our favorite trips for stunning views, access to adventure, and stunning fall colors in Washington State.
#1: The North Cascades loop – via State Route 20 and Highway 2
This iconic 400+ mile route traverses the North Cascades National Park, offering breathtaking vistas of colorful alpine meadows and vibrant foliage. Stops like Diablo Lake and Rainy Pass provide fantastic photo opportunities and hiking trails. Make your way through the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth and up and over Stevens Pass. The nearby Deception Falls and Wallace Falls State Park are excellent places to explore.
If you’re a leaf-peeper, you’re probably very familiar with trees like Aspens, Cottonwoods, Scrub Oaks, Poplar, Birch, and Maples that show off their colors in fall. But have you ever heard of a Larch?!
Larches are deciduous pine trees with needles that turn from green to gold before they fall off for winter. These whimsical trees have such showy colors that they inspire “Larch Madness” all over this area of Washington in the fall. If you’d like to partake, one of our favorite hikes is the Blue Lake Trail. You won’t be disappointed.
#2: Mount Rainier National Park – via Chinook & White Pass Scenic Byways
Explore the Paradise area at Mount Rainier, where you can witness brilliant fall colors against the backdrop of the majestic mountain. The Chinook Scenic Byway, also known as State Route 410, is a picturesque and popular route in Washington State that winds through the Cascade Range, offering travelers a stunning display of autumn foliage and breathtaking mountain vistas.
Make sure to stop into Wapiti Outdoors to stock up on gear and delicious treats from their coffee & ice cream shop – their huckleberry milkshake is worth the stop alone! If you still have an appetite, head across the street to the Naches Bar and Grill, an authentic and friendly mountain tavern that has served patrons for nearly 100 years!
One of our favorite options is to cruise up the Mt. Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort, which will take you 2,400 vertical feet to the summit, where you will find breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade Range.
You can combine this with White Pass Scenic Byway, also known as the U.S. Route 12, to traverse westward with plenty of opportunities to adventure.
#3: Olympic Peninsula Loop: via the Pacific Coast Byway
Circle around the Olympic Peninsula on this stunning drive along State Highway 101 and visit the Olympic National Park. Check out Hoh Rainforest and the Quinault Valley as they come alive with rich fall colors, and stop by Peak 6 for some of our favorite Olympic National Park souvenirs. One of the best things to do in this area of Washington, which gets more than 140-200 inches of rainfall per year, is to explore some of its beautiful waterfalls. And if you’re looking for those quintessential coastal Washington views, stop at Ruby Beach for moody coastal and stop by Kalaloch Campground in Forks to see the Sitka Spruce “Tree of Life.”
Washington State is an incredible place to travel by van in the fall. It has plenty of wild places to explore by road, foot, or two wheels. Its ice-covered volcanoes and densely forested valleys make it the most stunning backdrop for one last adventure before the snow starts to fall.
Want help planning? Moterra has you covered!