Ahhh … Fall! The autumn air is crisp, the bugs (and crowds) are at a minimum, and the natural world is at its jewel-toned peak. It’s time for a hike!
A brisk stroll through the cool air and colorful leaves is one of autumn’s most divine and invigorating rituals. Pulling on a sweater and hiking boots, pouring a mug of hot coffee and setting out for your favorite trail is enough to inspire giddiness.
Fall also is a time when conditions can change in a hurry. So before you hit the trail, here are a few tips hiking safety tips!
Whoa there! Do you know how to yield when you are out hiking? Brush up on your trail etiquette before you go! Photo by Anya 1986
Tell someone where you are going:Knowing where you were headed, whether alone or with friends, lets others know where to start looking if you don’t make it back. Be specific. Give coordinates if you can, especially for longer-distance trails. Use maps and internet resources to plot your trip. And make sure to take your cell phone with you. Tracking its signal can mean a quick rescue. Even better, pack along a GPS and/or a good map.
Take water, food and mini-survival kit. This is a no-brainer. Always be prepared for the worst, and pack food, medical supplies or ways to shelter yourself in an emergency. Supplies are light and affordable these days. Have a kit ready to go and stowed where you’ll remember it. This includes clothing. Dress in layers and have something that will keep you dry in a pinch. Check out the Washington Trails Association‘s ten essentials for need-to-pack items.
Watch the weather. It’s like they say: Don’t like the weather in the Pacific Northwest? Wait five minutes. Our lickety-split climactic changes can work for or against you. Have emergency protection ready to go, and watch out for slides or other hazards that inclement weather can bring. If you feel like you are getting in over your head, don’t be embarrassed to call for help.
Here, there be bears. And moose, and cougars, oh my! Fauna are as much a part of the hiking world as the picturesque flora. Most of them stay well hidden, but some wildlife may be looking to add a few pounds before hibernation. Bone up on bear safety and wildlife viewing ethics. Carry a whistle and bells, especially if you are headed into bear territory.
Know when to hold up. Do you know the how to yield when you are on the trail? Practicing proper trail etiquette is not just gracious, it’s imperative to your safety and those around you. Follow this link to brush up on how to know when to go and when to slide to the side.
Ready to go? Need a destination? All right, there’s a list for that, too!
Look closely…beautiful colors are not all you will find on a fall hike. Keep your eyes open and you may see amazing things like these swallows nests built into the rocks walls on the Iron Horse Trail. Photo by Gene Bisbee.
Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail (formerly known as Iron Horse State Park Trail)
One-hundred miles of stunning views, railroad tunnels and trestles, wildflowers and fall colors galore! Over hills, dales, creeks, rivers and streams this trail cuts a path across North Central Washington from North Bend to Vantage along the old Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad bed. During this time of year, the western end of the trail in the Cascades will be the most scenic. With multiple trailheads, camping stops and—yes!—bathrooms, you’ll find something and somewhere for everyone to enjoy this hike.
Wallace Falls State Park
Waterfall, lake and river views are the big draws at this park near the town of Gold Bar, west of Stevens Pass. Hikes through changing alder and maple are a hiker’s paradise. Take the Greg Ball Trail out to Wallace Lake, or head west on Woody Trail to viewpoints of Lower, Middle and Upper falls.
Maple you’ll notice some of the amazing waterfalls too! Wallace Falls State Park is a fall feast for the senses!
At just 15 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass in Cle Elum, the park is a little over an hour from the hustle and bustle of Seattle. Lake Easton State Park turns into a winter wonderland during the snowy season. But fall? Wildlife and vibrant foliage dazzle. Hike on the six and a half miles of trail along the Yakima River and Lake Easton to truly experience fall. For a back-country hike, US Forest Service trails on Easton Ridge are popular for viewing wildlife big and small.
Grab some friends and get out for hike, like this one in the deep forest of Rockport State Park!
Dosewallips State Park
Elk, salmon runs and a backdrop of Hood Canal and Olympic Mountains: A trip to Dosewallips State Park, and fall will be your new favorite season. Mighty elk pass through this rustic park for a spectacular seasonal wildlife view in October and November. For a hike, take the Steam Donkey Loop Trail. It’s a favorite with fall hikers—and great for hiking newbies. The trail traces through an autumn paradise of trees, connecting to the Maple Valley Trail along the Dosewallips River.
Beacon Rock State Park
Beacon Rock State Park is known for great camping and top-notch rock climbing. But did you know it also has some sizzling fall color hikes? The rich reds, oranges and yellows of changing alder and maple leaves set the scenery aglow with colors. See them up close while hiking multiple trails that scurry over creeks and up ridges to heights like Hamilton Mountain Summit—and even the top of Beacon Rock. Be sure to sit still along the river banks and watch for deer in search of berries among the fall leaves. Travel tip: The Hamilton Mountain Trail is closed until Nov. 12 for maintenance. It can still be accessed from the Equestrian Trailhead, however.
Inspired yet? This is by no means an exhaustive list of wonderful fall hikes out there across the state! For a few more, search fall and winter hikes on this site, and be sure to check out the Washington Trails Association website at for more great tips and hikes.
New to hiking? Read the Washington Trails Association guides…
They have a number of hiking basics articles to get you started, plus hiker trip reports for the latest trail updates.
Give us the scoop on your favorite hiking spots! Share your Washington state park hiking photos and stories with us.
Feature photo courtesy of Gene Bisbee (Iron Horse photo).