Leaf-Chasing in the Cascades

Summer at the lake is glorious, with the thrill of spending long days and evenings outdoors. But fall has its own charms. Our gardens transform, with leaves on the vine maples turning crimson and gold, and hydrangea leaves flashing brilliant red and magenta or sepia-tone colors. With the intensity of these colors against the blue of the lake, it’s just really lovely. With cooler evenings it’s also time to enjoy the coziness indoors.

One of the best parts of fall here at Blue Heron Lakehouse, though, is the fact that we are ideally situated for drives to see the fall colors. We’re at the foot of Cascade Range foothills and two of our state’s most-spectacular mountain passes, where hillsides burst with colors in the fall. Mind you, this isn’t New England, where everywhere you look at spells FALL in capital letters. We’re not that flamboyant, here. We allow excitement to build as you drive up into the mountains, passing endless waves of green fir trees with the occasional brilliant flash of yellow or orange leaves on a maple or grove of alders. But once you get above tree line, all that changes.

“You’ll see the most-intense colors spreading across the flanks of mountains as you wind up to the pass.”


Carpets of vine maples cling to hillsides, glowing in hues of red and orange on Snoqualmie Pass, just 35 minutes from our house. You’ll see the most-intense colors spreading across the flanks of mountains on your left as you wind up to the pass. Along the route you’ll encounter several trailheads that offer a chance to get out and into nature for a full-on sensory experience of the sights, sounds and smells of autumn.

Once you get to the top, check out Gold Creek Pond, a paved loop hike around a small lake fringed by deciduous trees. Since it’s paved, it’s an easy loop for kids in strollers or those who are challenged by varied terrain.

On your way back down, treat yourselves to a stop at North Bend Bakery for beautifully crafted pastries, including their popular cronuts, or for a slice of pumpkin or pecan pie (available seasonally). Then point your car north for a 4-mile drive to the dramatic setting of Snoqualmie Falls, where the Snoqualmie River plummets 280 feet, its spray sending up clouds of spray so immense that they reach the top of the cliffs, coating you and everyone else on the viewing platform with mist.

“The road follows the tumbling Wenatchee River as the canyon walls close in, bringing fall colors right down close to the highway.


Stevens Pass, to the north, is the highest pass in the state, at 4,061 feet. Taking a fall drive across Stevens and back to the lake is a 4.5-hour trip without stops, but you’ll want to make a number of stop-offs on a fall driving loop here, since there are so many diversions to enjoy on this route. Stevens Pass offers some of the best fall colors in the state. The 90-mile scenic route that starts in Monroe, 40 minutes north of the lake, and continues to the tiny town of Peshastin, on the other side of the Cascades, is called the Mountains to Sound Greenway.

You’ll see fantastic fall foliage in blazing colors as you drive through Tumwater Canyon, which is really one of the most gorgeous spots anywhere. The road follows the tumbling Wenatchee River as the canyon walls close in, bringing fall colors right down close to the highway.

Once you pop out of the canyon, you’ll find yourself in Leavenworth, a picturesque faux Bavarian village that’s filled with charm. Situated in a valley surrounded by Cascade mountains, this sweet little spot is the home of festivals throughout the year. In the fall, the Autumn Leaves Festival and Oktoberfest draws fans from around the country to the town’s beer halls and shop-lined streets. (Please note that these and other annual festivals have been postponed until 2021, due to coronavirus). Over several blocks you’ll find craft galleries, boutiques, sausage-and-beer gardens and tourist shops housed in cheerily painted and stenciled chalets.

This is a good spot to stop and enjoy the sights. There are lots of options for treats or a meal, ranging from ice cream and baked goods to bratwurst and weiner schnitzel.


Continuing on your loop drive, just a mile east of Leavenworth, swing by Prey’s Fruit Barn in the small town of Peshastin, known for its pear orchards. The fruit stand sells more than 40 varieties of grown-right-here pears and apples.

To complete the loop, drive south on I-97 through pine forests until you reach Cle Elum and I-90. Then continue west through a scenic valley dotted by farms and cottonwood trees that turn butterscotch colors. Finally, you’ll climb up to Snoqualmie Pass. On the downhill, western slope, enjoy a final hurrah of crimson and pumpkin-colored foliage before you re-enter the cool green forests of lower altitudes.

You Might Also Like