GREENWATER — I had promised yellows, oranges and reds, but as we approached Chinook Pass it was clear the only color we’d get was white.
I told a couple of friends that the Naches Peak area on the eastern edge of Mount Rainier National Park is a perfect place for a colorful autumn hike. Most years it is, but this year it seems fall lasted about three days in the mountains.
The Pacific Crest Trail, our destination, was hiding under a nearly 2-foot blanket of snow, the trail likely not to be seen again until late spring. Plan B would have been to hike nearby Shriner Peak or Stevens Canyon, but the partial government shutdown had meant those national park hikes were closed.
It seems the best autumn hike this year will be along lower elevation trails, so we piled back in the car and headed toward Greenwater, where we’d seen the colors of fall splashed along the shoulders of state Route 410.
Let’s just say there’s good reason for names like Greenwater and the Evergreen State. We hiked nearly 10 miles along the White River and mostly encountered various shades of green. But we were rewarded for our efforts with occasional bursts of colors and a beautiful lunch spot where golden leaves lined the far side of Skookum Creek as a waterfall plunged 250 feet from above.
The South Sound offers several opportunities for good trail experiences this fall. Here are few worth exploring:
You’re mostly going to find green along state Route 410 near Greenwater, but there is color and plenty of trails and Forest Service roads both long and short to explore.
We found the most colorful trees right along the highway, but made the roughly 8-mile roundtrip hike from Buck Creek north to Skookum Falls anyway.
While the falls can be seen from a roadside pullout on Route 410, it is considerably more impressive when viewed up close. The trail is mostly flat, and a thick canopy of evergreens sheltered us from the rain and sleet. A faster approach to the falls is from Forest Road 73 south along the river. About 6-miles roundtrip.
Map: Green Trails No. 238-Greenwater.
More info: fs.usda.gov/mbs.
McLane Creek Trail
Capital Forest can be a great place to take in the colors of fall and one of the best trails can be the McLane Creek Trail.
There are several nature walks in the area where visitors are sure to see changing leaves and might also catch a peek at wildlife such as ducks or beavers.
The trail is mostly flat, making it easy enough for hikers of most abilities. Part of the trail uses a boardwalk so be especially careful when it’s wet or covered with slippery leaves.
Fall hikers will also appreciate less traffic on this trail, which can be quite popular in the summer.
Map: A map can be downloaded online.
More info: dnr.wa.gov
Point Defiance Park
You don’t necessarily have to head into the wilderness to enjoy fall colors. Point Defiance Park is a close-to-home getaway that can some color to your hike, run or bike.
Five Mile Drive is closed to auto traffic before 1 p.m. on weekends and will soon start closing weekdays before 11 a.m., creating an ideal place to bike, walk and longboard.
But be sure to get off the road and walk the web of trails that passes vine maples, rhododendrons and ferns as it winds through 500 acres of old-growth forest.
The park is also home to several fall running events including the Metro Parks Tacoma Black Cat Fun Run on Oct. 19 and a weekly free 5K series staged each Saturday morning by Tacoma Runners (tacomarunners.com).
Miles: Half a mile to 4.6 miles off signed trail.
Map: A map can be downloaded online.
More info: metroparkstacoma.org
The Rail Trails
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently circulated a list of 10 “under-the-radar trail adventures” for viewing fall colors. The closest of these trails to Washington: The Boise River Greenbelt.
Apparently they’re saving the Foothills and Western Chehalis trails for their even-further-under-the-radar list.
The South Sound has more than 150 miles of paved multiuse trails and most offer opportunities to experience fall colors.
In the Orting Valley, not only will the leaves continue to turn in the coming weeks, but the Foothills Trail runs past several farms where you can view enormous gourds, walk corn mazes or use a pumpkin slingshot. Cyclists should be alert. As leaves and rain fall on the paved trail, the surface can become slippery.
Miles: A trip on the Foothills Trail can be as long as 30 miles roundtrip.
Map: Trail information is available at trailhead kiosks.
More info: co.pierce.wa.us