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Best Larch Hikes in Washington State

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For a few short weeks a year, as the summer comes to an end and fall comes rapidly, a glorious lime green then bright gold then orange tree covers the high eastern slopes of the Cascade mountains. This is the time of year for larch hikes in Washington State!

A born and raised Washingtonian, I didn’t know about larches until college, when one of my good friends shared his love of them with me. Once I knew about them, I was hooked! Once you start larch hiking, it will fast become an annual tradition.

What are Larches?

close up golden larch needles against an evergreen tree and a blue sky
Golden Larches and Evergreen trees often mix together in the fall

Larches are an unusual tree as they are a deciduous conifer. Deciduous means that the tree grows new leaves each year in the spring and then sheds them in the fall. Larches have needles instead of leaves, but they work the same way. The larch tree grows new needles that are bright green in spring, and then in the fall they turn color just like many other trees that lose their leaves. The chlorophyll in the needles is drawn back into the tree which leaves the yellow color. Eventually, the needles fall off before winter, like other deciduous trees.

Most conifers are evergreen trees so this is one of the things that makes the larch tree so amazing. There are a couple different species of larches that are native to Washington State, the Subalpine Larch and the Western Larch. I’ll be honest, I can’t easily tell them apart! Usually I just tell them apart by the elevation they’re at (subalpine larches are at higher elevations)

Where are Larches in Washington?

In Washington State, larches are generally found on the east slopes of the Cascade Crest north of Snoqualmie Pass and above 3000 feet of elevation, going up to around 7000 feet of elevation.

They are also abundant throughout other parts of the Pacific Northwest and Mountain west, including British Columbia, Alberta, Idaho and Montana.

When is the best time for Larch hikes in Washington?

Larch season is late September through mid October in Washington State. The peak of larches varies a bit from year to year, and it varies with elevation. The highest elevation larches turn before the lower elevation ones. Heavy wind or snow can bring an early end to larch season, while sunnier and drier weather can sometimes extend the season till late in October.

The best way to determine the conditions for larch hikes in Washington is to utilize the Washington Trails Association trip reports. Other hikers will often note how close the larches are to their peak. To filter the results, you can put in the name of a specific hike or you can go to “advanced options” and enter larch into the search line. You can also filter by month.

In addition to telling you if the larches are at or near their peak, you can also determine how crowded a specific trail is and you can learn other important information such as if there is snow on the trail, which is common during larch season, especially at higher elevations.

If you’re looking to get beautiful larch photos, look for a sunny day when the larches show up dramatically against the blue sky. Early morning and late afternoon light can often make the larches look even more incredible!

a close up of a the end of a golden larch branch

If you’re a backpacker, backpacking in larch country can make for an incredible photography opportunity catching the larches at sunrise and sunset. Trails with backpacking opportunities are listed below.

What to bring for larch hiking

a hiker enjoys one of the best larch hikes in washington, maple pass. there is a bit of snow on the ground and a mixture of evergreen and golden larch trees in the foreground and distant mountains. The hiker is wearing an orange hat, a purple long sleeved shirt and a blue backpack

When heading out on one of these amazing larch hikes in Washington, it’s imperative to be prepared for winter conditions, including extra layers, extra food (consider bringing hot food, YUM) and a really good rainjacket.

Being extra prepared is important with rapidly changing weather, shorter days and very cold nights. Read more here about what I wear for a day hike throughout the year as well as what I bring on a day hike.

Top 12 Larch Hikes in Washington State

There are many other larch hikes in Washington, but these are the ones I recommend as the best for various reasons. They’re listed in order of their driving time from Seattle. I’ve written in more depth about many of these and those articles are linked below.

Lake Ingalls and Headlight Basin – Teanaway (2 hours from Seattle)

A high granite mountain against a blue sky. Golden larch trees frame the mountain in the foreground on one of the best larch hikes in washington, Lake Ingalls
Larches frame Mt Stuart from Headlight Basin on the way to Lake Ingalls
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: Lake Ingalls is in my top 3 for sure, because of it’s relatively close proximity to Seattle, it’s beautiful larches, dramatic views of Mt Stuart and the spectacular lake at the end! The only downside to this hike is that it is extremely crowded on fall weekends. If possible, do this hike on a weekday (it’s worth a vacation day!) and if not get there extremely early.
  • How to get there: From I-90 just east of Cle Elum, take Highway 970 towards Blewett Pass. Turn left on Teanaway Road about 9 miles from the freeway. Follow Teanaway Road until it dead ends at the trailhead in about 23 miles.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: Partially – dogs are allowed on leash as far as Ingalls Pass, but not beyond into Headlight Basin or at Lake Ingalls.
  • Length of Hike: 9 miles to Lake Ingalls round trip, 8 miles round trip to Headlight Basin, 7 miles round trip to the pass (where the larches start).
  • Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
  • Backpacking Options: Headlight Basin is a fantastic place to backpack among the larches and see amazing dark skies at night as well as gorgeous alpenglow at sunset on Mt Stuart and beautiful sunrises. Camping is not allowed at the lake. There are also several campgrounds along the Teanaway Road.
  • Where to Stop after: Grab a beer in Roslyn or Cle Elum, coffee at Pioneer Coffee (also great breakfast options) or grab a bigger meal at the Roslyn Cafe.

Swauk Forest Discovery Trail – Blewett Pass (2 hours from Seattle)

  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: This is a great place to stop and stretch your legs driving over Blewett Pass any time of year! When the golden larches are out, this becomes a truly magical loop through the forest with lots of interpretive signs! It also doesn’t require a long drive on a gravel road!
  • How to get there: The trail head has a sign at Blewett Pass, turn at the sign at the summit and park. To get to Blewett pass, follow Highway 97 north from I-90 or south from Highway 2.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: 2.5 mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 600 feet
  • Backpacking Options: No, although several campgrounds are nearby and there are lots of opportunities for dispersed camping near Blewett Pass.
  • Where to Stop after: If you’re heading back south, Grab a beer in Roslyn or Cle Elum, coffee at Pioneer Coffee (also great breakfast options) or grab a bigger meal at the Roslyn Cafe. If you’re heading north towards Wenatchee, try the Lemolo Cafe in downtown Wenatchee (delicious sandwiches, salads and calzones) or Wenatchee Valley Brewing.

Tronsen Ridge – Blewett Pass (2.5 hours from Seattle)

Golden larches mixed with evergreen trees cover a hillside. In the distance are mountains.
Hills covered in larches surround the Tronsen Ridge and Blewett Pass area
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: Located in an uncrowded area, accessed by a challenging unpaved road (high clearance vehicle recommended), this area feels remote but isn’t as far from Seattle as some. It also starts and stays high, giving great views without too much climbing. You can start at either end of the trail and go as far as you like before returning.
  • How to get there: Head to Blewett Pass the same as the Swauk Forest loop. Instead of parking at the pass, head up forest road 9716 for 3.5 miles and then turn left on 9712 (sign for Haney Meadow). A mile past Haney Meadow, you’ll be at Naneum Creek and you can park and start here.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: up to 8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: up to 1000 feet
  • Backpacking Options: There are several places in this area to backpack or dispersed camp with your car.
  • Where to Stop after: If you’re heading back south, Grab a beer in Roslyn or Cle Elum, coffee at Pioneer Coffee (also great breakfast options) or grab a bigger meal at the Roslyn Cafe. If you’re heading north towards Wenatchee, try the Lemolo Cafe in downtown Wenatchee (delicious sandwiches, salads and calzones) or Wenatchee Valley Brewing.

Colchuck Lake – Leavenworth area (3 hours from Seattle)

  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: A spectacular alpine lake, perfectly blue and ringed by golden larches and towering mountains? That’s what you’ll find at Colchuck Lake! You’ll also find difficult parking and many, many people during the peak larch season.
  • How to get there: Just west of Leavenworth, turn south on Icicle Creek Road. After 6.5 miles, turn sharp left onto Forest road 76, which dead ends at the trailhead in about 4 miles. Note that this trailhead also serves the Lake Stuart trail and the Enchantments and is extremely busy.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: No
  • Length of Hike: 8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 2300 feet
  • Backpacking options: Backpacking at Lake Colchuck is managed under the Enchantments permit system. You can only camp here if you have obtained a permit.
  • Where to Stop after: The popular and wonderful Icicle Creek Brewing is a nearly mandatory stop after a hike in this area! I also recommend the Munchen Haus for sausages of every kind (including vegetarian) with every imaginable kind of mustard served in an outdoor setting year round (with heaters).

The Enchantments – Leavenworth area (3 hours from Seattle)

  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: I struggled with whether to include this because the Enchantments really isn’t a day hike! It’s also extremely strenuous. However, this is one of the most amazing places in Washington and needs to be on this list. There are people who can day hike it but I’m certainly not one of them! This is better done as a backpacking trip and is managed under the Enchantments lottery. I’ve entered the lottery every year and haven’t won (yet!).
  • How to get there: The Enchantments is the same trailhead as Colchuck Lake above. There is another trailhead on the other side of the trail system for those doing a through hike.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass (and Enchantments permit if backpacking)
  • Dog Friendly: No
  • Length of Hike: 18 miles one way
  • Elevation Gain: 4500 feet
  • Backpacking Options: This is one of the premiere backpacking locations in Washington State! You can only backpack here with a permit from the lottery.
  • Where to Stop after: Similar to Lake Colchuck, head to Icicle Creek Brewing or the Munchen Haus!

Lake Clara – Wenatchee area (3 hours from Seattle)

Frozen lake clara in fall surrounded by golden larch trees on a sunny day
Lake Clara surrounded by larches after an early snow in late September
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: Lake Clara is a perfect destination if you want to see some larches on a shorter hike with less climbing than some. It’s a lovely forest walk to a small lake surrounded by golden larches! This is a particularly good larch hike for kids.
  • How to get there: The trail starts in the parking lot for Mission Ridge Ski Area near Wenatchee.
  • Passes Needed: None
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: 3.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 900 feet
  • Backpacking Options: No
  • Where to Stop after: Lemolo Cafe and Deli in Wenatchee is right downtown and has amazing sandwiches, coffee and more. If you’re looking for a classic brewpub, give Wenatchee Valley Brewing or Badger Mountain Brewing a try!

Carne Mountain – Leavenworth area (3+ hours from Seattle)

  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: This is the best larch hike for those who really want a tough workout! It’s long and steep and also has spectacular larches and scenery. It’s also a long drive on a challenging road that is unpaved for the last 14 miles.
  • How to get there: Turn towards Lake Wenatchee off Highway 2 between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass. 4 miles from Highway 2, head right on the Chiwawa Loop Road. Half a mile later turn right on County road 22. In just under a mile, turn left on Chiwawa River Road. In just over 10 miles the pavement ends and becomes more rough as you go. Turn right on Phelps Creek Road, about 11 miles after the pavement ends. In just over 2 more miles, arrive at the the trailhead.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: 7.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3600 feet
  • Backpacking Options: backpacking is allowed in this area of the Okanagan Wenatchee National Forest
  • Where to Stop after: Head for Icicle Creek Brewing or the Munchen Haus in Leavenworth.

Maple Pass Loop – North Cascades (3.5 hours from Seattle)

Golden larch trees in the foreground frame an alpine lake below. The lake is surrounded by high mountains with a dusting of snow. It's an overcast day along the Maple Pass trail, one of the best larch hikes in Washington
Larches between Heather Pass and Maple Pass on the Maple Pass loop
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: Maple Pass is my personal second favorite larch hike! It has amazing mountain scenery, incredible larches and it’s a loop. Unfortunately it’s super massively crowded in larch season. It’s fully worth a vacation day to do this amazing trail (even on a weekday though there will be plenty of other people at this time of year).
  • How to get there: The Maple Pass Loop starts at the Rainy Pass Trailhead on the south side of the North Cascades Highway. It’s about 52 miles east of Marblemount and 35 miles west of Winthrop.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: Just over 7 mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
  • Backpacking Options: No
  • Where to Stop after: In Winthrop, check out the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for beer and the Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee, soups and sandwiches! Looking for pizza? Check out East 20 Pizza. The Mazama Store is also an excellent stop.

Cutthroat Lake and Cutthroat Pass – North Cascades (3.5 hours from Seattle)

A single golden larch is surrounded by evergreen trees and more larches in the distance against the mountains
Larch trees and mountains around Cutthroat Lake
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: A gorgeous and less crowded than Maple Pass (across the street) option along the well maintained Pacific Crest Trail. You have the option here to start on the Pacific Crest Trail and do a one way hike to Cutthroat Lake if you have two vehicles. You can learn more about how to do that in this article from Wet Boots Dry Hops.
  • How to get there: The Pacific Crest Trail north from Rainy Pass is just east of and almost across the road from Maple Pass. To do Cutthroat Lake only, the trailhead is a few miles east.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: 10 miles round trip to Cutthroat Pass and back, 11 miles one way from the Pacific Crest Trail to Cutthroat Lake, 4 miles round trip to the lake and back
  • Elevation Gain: 2000 feet to Cutthroat Pass, 400 feet to Cutthroat Lake only
  • Backpacking Options: You can camp in various places along the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Where to Stop after: In Winthrop, check out the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for beer and the Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee, soups and sandwiches! Looking for pizza? Check out East 20 Pizza. The Mazama Store is also an excellent stop.

Blue Lake – North Cascades (3.5 hours from Seattle)

Golden larch trees and still green larch trees line a steep hillside against mountains on the trail to Blue Lake in the North Cascades
Larches line the way to Blue Lake as well as the lake itself
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: One of the shorter and less steep larch hikes out there, Blue Lake includes an alpine lake and incredible mountains towering around it!
  • How to get there: The Blue Lake Trailhead is four miles east of Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway, approximately 56 miles east of Marblemount and 31 miles west of Winthrop.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: 4.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1000 feet
  • Backpacking Options: No
  • Where to Stop after: In Winthrop, check out the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for beer and the Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee, soups and sandwiches! Looking for pizza? Check out East 20 Pizza. The Mazama Store is also an excellent stop.

Grasshopper Pass – North Cascades (4.5 hours from Seattle)

Golden larch trees with distant mountains and blue skies with some clouds in the background along the Pacific Crest trail, one of the best larch hikes in washington
My favorite larch hike!
  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: GRASSHOPPER PASS IS MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE LARCH HIKE IN WASHINGTON STATE! It’s very remote and the road to get there is long and challenging. Once you get there, this hike is never steep and every single step is spectacular. You could walk a mile on this section of the Pacific Crest Trail and it would still be amazing. There are larches upon larches, views upon views and it’s just amazing and no crowds.
  • How to get there: Grasshopper Pass is in a remote area of the North Cascades. To get there, turn on Lost River Road in Mazama from the North Cascades Highway. Leaving Mazama on Lost River Road, expect the next 15 miles to the trailhead to take close to an hour. It’s a narrow road! After a bit of pavement past some houses and a campground (and several dispersed camping options), continue on the Lost River Road which later is just called Forest Road 50.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: Up to 9.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Up to 1500 feet
  • Backpacking Options: There are multiple options for places to camp along the Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Where to Stop after: The Mazama Store as well as the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for beer and the Rocking Horse Bakery for coffee, soups and sandwiches! Looking for pizza? Check out East 20 Pizza

Sherman Pass Loop – Northeast Washington (6 hours from Seattle)

  • Why it’s one of the best larch hikes in Washington: In the rarely visited corner of northeastern Washington, the Sherman Pass Loop is a place to find solitude, expansive views and larches!
  • How to get there: Sherman Pass is located on Highway 20 in Northeastern Washington, 17 miles east of the town of Republic. Look for the trailhead on the south side of the highway just east of the pass.
  • Passes Needed: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dog Friendly: yes, on leash
  • Length of Hike: 6 mile loop
  • Elevation Gain: 1800 feet
  • Backpacking Options: There are numerous backpacking options in the area around Sherman Pass.
  • Where to Stop after: Grab pizza at the Republic Pizza Company and don’t miss the wonderful Republic Brewing Company!
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite who lived in Alaska for 7 years. I've been a tour guide in both Alaska and Washington and I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you along on the journey to experience your best low key adventure in Washington, Alaska and Western Canada!