City Cast

Best Fall Hikes for Distinctly Pacific Northwest Foliage

Rachel Monahan
Posted on October 10   |   Updated on October 12
Yellow trees against a rocky mountainside in the North Cascades, Washington State

Subalpine larch turn yellow in the autumn in the North Cascades, Washington. (Alan Majchrowicz / Getty Images)

A smiley-faced forest is the last thing you’d expect to see on timber industry land. It’s cheerful and fun, and the smile draws attention to a distinctive northwest tree: the larch. 

The larch looks like an evergreen, but it’s not. Most trees are either deciduous (like maples, which turn a brilliant shade of red), or conifers (like firs, which have needles and popularly are known as evergreens). But here in the Northwest we have some trees that are both, like the larch-filled smiley face in rural Polk County.

instagram post of a yellow smiley face of trees against a green wooded hillshide

Hampton Lumber planted larch trees to make a fall smiley face. (euronewsgreen)

“What is really cool is that we have deciduous conifers here in the Pacific Northwest," says Norther Emily of Wild Solitude Guiding.

Larch trees, she says, are “really cool. They turn a really beautiful golden color.”

Where else can you catch a larch tree? Here are some hikes that Emily recommends:

Day Expedition: Indian Heaven (Gifford Pinchot)

“Indian Heaven is a really good example of a place where they have some larches that are turning golden, and then the huckleberries are turning purple, and the deciduous leaves, like the maples and stuff, are doing their like orange, yellow, red thing. It's pretty great.”

In the City: Kenilworth Park (Portland)

Oregon has the Western larch, which turn color later in October or early November.

“If you really aren't going to make it to the mountains this fall, but you want to see a larch and you want to know about the deciduous conifers, you could just go to this little park off Holgate.”

Multi-Day Expedition — North Cascades (Washington)

In Washington, it’s known in some quarters as Larch Madness. Emily says she’d be there if she had five days to spare right now:

“In northern Washington, go see the subalpine larches, which we don't really have down here in Oregon. They are a smaller larch that grows at a higher elevation and they are especially bright golden. They look really cool against the backdrop of the granite mountains that they have in Washington, which we also don't have.”

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