5 great fall hikes in the North Cascades

Until they’re snowed in or the highway closes, now is your chance to hike some of the most beautiful trails in Washington.

Mountain blueberries ripen as their leaves turn a bright red near Cutthroat Pass. (John Nelson / Special to The Seattle Times)

The gold rush is on in the North Cascades. And let’s not forget red and orange, too.

Fall colors will peak in the next few weeks on mountain trails, and the clock is ticking before snow closes State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway. It’s arguably the best time of year to access some of the most beautiful trails in the state.

“Fall is my favorite time of the year to hike,” said Rosemary Seifried, Wilderness Information Center supervisor at North Cascades National Park. “You get the colors, the weather gets cooler and the bugs die off.”

Along the spine of the North Cascades toward Central Washington, you’ll find a bonus too — large stands of alpine larch trees, which have needles like evergreens that turn a stunning gold in the fall.

“They only grow at higher elevations on the East Side,” Seifried said. Early season snow adds to the beauty of the turning larch trees, she added.

“If you can hit the larches with a little bit of snowfall — that’s the Holy Grail,” Seifried said.

State Route 20 “usually closes by Thanksgiving,” said Andrea Petrich of the Washington State Department of Transportation. The closure shuts down access to the trailheads between mileposts 134 just east of Diablo Lake, and 171, 14 miles west of Mazama.

Now’s your last chance to hit the following, scenic trails before they close.

Easy Pass

7.4 miles round-trip. Elevation gain: 2,900 feet.

“Easy Pass is my favorite hike off Highway 20,” Seifried said. And it’s easy to see why — this not-so-easy day hike tops out at 6,500 feet and offers gorgeous views of the Fisher Basin. While other trails off the North Cascades Highway can be popular, you might find yourself alone on this high-mountain route.

Trailhead: Milepost 151.5.

The hike: Starting at 3,700 feet, the trail crosses sometimes-rushing Granite Creek and climbs through a lovely forest, past a few small creeks, eventually popping out into the open at 2.3 miles. After that, it’s time to really work, ascending rocky slopes steeply to the pass, where killer…

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