Fall Foliage in the Evergreen State

Having the designation as the Evergreen state may be a bit misleading for folks who have never visited Washington.  Yes we have an abundance of conifers and are indeed green the majority of the year, but during fall, the hills and mountains come alive with color.  Recently my family took a trip to Leavenworth, WA  from our home in Olympia, WA.  Olympia has some beautiful fall foliage with numerous oaks, chestnuts, and maples with shades ranging in the brightest yellow to glowing peach, pumpkin orange and the darkest red.  When the leaves start to change it is a kaleidoscope of color covering the city.  But on this trip as we left the city and headed north on I-5 there is a beautiful sight not that far north of home. Entering the Nisqually Valley, there is a view that always reminds me of an oil painting. Fields with the last remaining pumpkins and stalks of corn, beautiful hills covered with a patchwork of green, red, orange and yellow leading up to Mt Rainier framed in blue.  This is my favorite time of year to see that particular vista, the richness of the green makes the bright fall colors stand out and when the sun is shining down on it it glows like a treasure chest full of precious jewels.  Every time I see it I think of trying to capture that ethereal glow in a photo, but so far it is just a picture in my mind.

After this canvas of color there are long stretches of green with spots of color, as we pass through towns along the highways, but once we go over Snoqualmie pass on I-90 and enter Eastern Washington the color starts all over again.  The grasses along the freeway have turned to a golden blond, then you have shrubs that have already shed their leaves but the stems the leaves were hiding are a bright apple red, the sumac with their yellow leaves, conifers with all shades of green and brown bark, vine maples with yellow, orange, red and brown leaves and all off this up against the gray and blue granite of the mountain peaks with just a dusting of snow on top.  If only there was more time to enjoy the scenery, but we have a timeline to meet and we press on.

close up of larch tree branches

Closeup of beautiful Larch tree.

In Eastern Washington we see flat plains of grasses punctuated by stands of trees and hills that are just waiting for their first snowfall, but this is short lived as we turn north again and start making our way north over Blewett Pass.  If you happen to time your trip right you may see one of the most amazing sights, a sight I had never seen after living my whole life in Washington, a hidden secret of the Evergreen State; a conifer that turns a brilliant yellow in the fall and sheds its “leaves”!  It is the Larch, and when you see the first one you may just mistake it for a dead conifer covered with a fuzzy moss, as we have those too.  But as we climb higher there are more and more in stands amongst the green, giving a brilliant display of color.

A Stand of Larches in their fall color.

They are such an amazing sight I almost forget that the scrub brush below those trees are also giving me a feast of fall colors.  The day we traveled was a beautiful fall day, the kind of days you want to hold onto as a remembrance of summer.  Beautiful blue skies, warm sun, glowing fall foliage.  The air was fresh with that fall crispness to it.  The perfect kind of day.  As we neared Leavenworth the air carried with it a scent of apples fresh from the harvest, again reminding us that fall had indeed arrived, as if the trees weren’t tell us that already.  A road-trip to a meeting reminded me that there was no need to travel to the East Coast for fall foliage, there is plenty to be found here in Washington, The Evergreen State.

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