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Here are four fall hikes in North Cascades to add color to your life

Easy Pass Trail in the North Cascades offers bursts of autumn hue including the bright gold yellow of larches, the only conifers with needles that change color.
Easy Pass Trail in the North Cascades offers bursts of autumn hue including the bright gold yellow of larches, the only conifers with needles that change color. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

For hikers who love autumn colors, this is the time of the year to head up to the North Cascades.

There you’ll find waves of colorful vine maple, blueberry and huckleberry bushes and larches. Additional seasonal splendor comes courtesy of mountain ash, sedge and false hellebore.

“The most predominant colors come from the blueberry bushes – red, orange and purple,” said Magenta Widner, forestry technician for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mountain ash and false hellebore contribute yellow, while fireweed provides a rich red in the mountains, if there’s enough of it.

“The colors change because the plants are not producing chlorophyll, so they get brighter as fall progresses,” Widner said. “The brightest colors, or the peak, are typically the end of September or beginning of October, the day before the first storm with significant wind and precipitation.”

Popular trails for fall colors include Cascade Pass in North Cascades National Park and Lake Ann via Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Where else should you go? Rangers suggest these other day hikes for those craving autumn colors, Pacific Northwest-style.

Easy Pass

Round trip: 7 miles.

Elevation gain: 2,800 feet.

Getting there: Take Interstate 5 south to North Cascades Highway and then go east to milepost 151, where the trailhead is on the south side of the highway.

Rewards: You’ll sweat on this strenuous outing, but it will be worth it when you get an eyeful of the bright golden yellow of larches, the only native deciduous conifer.

If that’s not enough, the panoramic views of Fisher Basin and Logan, Fisher and Arriva mountains will take your breath away.

Maps: Trails Illustrated Map: North Cascades. Green Trails Mount Logan No. 49.

Vehicle parking permit: A Northwest Forest Pass is required; $5 for the day or $30 annually. An Interagency Pass – at a cost of $80 a year, unless you’re 62 years or older and then it’s a one-time fee of $10 – also can be used.

Information: nps.gov/noca; Wilderness Information Center at 360-854-7245.

Thunder Knob

Round trip: 3.6 miles.

Elevation gain: 425 feet.

Getting there: Take Interstate 5 to North Cascades Highway and then go east to milepost 130 to the Colonial Creek Campground. Park at the signed trailhead at the entrance to the campground.

Rewards: This is a moderately easy route that’s great for children and those who want to enjoy mountain views without hard hiking. You’ll enjoy views of Colonial Peak and Pyramid Peak above and Diablo Lake below. The fall colors here are the work of vine maple.

“Vine maple can be really beautiful red, orange, some yellow,” Seifried said.

Maps: Green Trails Diablo No. 48

Vehicle parking permit: None needed.

Bagley Lakes/Wild Goose

Round trip: 2-mile loop.

Elevation gain: 200 feet.

Getting there: Go east on Mount Baker Highway until the Heather Meadows parking lot, where you’ll find the Bagley Lakes trailhead.

Rewards: This is an easy and short hike at Heather Meadows that combines two trails to form a loop. Take in views of wild blueberry shrubs, a stone bridge, pretty lakes, flat-topped Table Mountain and Mount Herman.

Maps: Green Trails Mount Shuksan No. 14.

Vehicle parking permit: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass is required.

Goat Mountain

Round trip: 6.5 miles

Elevation gain: 2,800 feet.

Getting there: Go east on Mount Baker Highway to Hannegan Pass Road, which is also Forest Service Road 32. Turn left and follow the road 2.1 miles to the trailhead.

Rewards: This strenuous hike combines the reds and golds of fall with stunning panoramic alpine vistas, once you scramble to the top of Goat Mountain. You’ll dreamily gaze at Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and Mount Sefrit from the top – once you catch your breath, that is. On a clear day, you can see Price Lake at the base of Price Glacier on Mount Shuksan.

Also, keep in mind that black bears are known to frequent the area.

Maps: Green Trails Mount Shuksan No. 14; USGS Mount Larrabee; USFS Mount Baker Ranger District and Mount Baker Wilderness.

Vehicle parking permit: Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass is required.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Trail Info

Fall outings into the mountains have their challenges in the form of fickle weather – temperatures that can plunge, cold rain and even snow. So it’s important to dress in layers, including rain gear, and to check road and trail conditions and weather forecasts before you head out.

▪ Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Online: Go to fs.fed.us/r6/mbs and click on “Road/Trail Conditions” on the upper right.

Phone: For trails accessed from Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542), call the Glacier Public Service Center at 360-599-2714. Otherwise call 360-856-5700, ext. 515.

▪ North Cascades National Park

Online: Go to nps.gov/noca and type “Current Conditions” into the search window.

Phone: Wilderness Information Center at 360-854-7245 is the best contact for trail and road conditions. Or call Visitor Information at 360-854-7200.

▪ National Weather Service

Online: weather.gov.

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