The fall colors in the Pacific Northwest states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington may vary from year to year depending on weather conditions, but you’re always in for a vibrant view on your autumn trip to the region.
Warm, dry falls — which often occur in the Pacific Northwest — produce breathtaking hillside panoramas, but the occasional rainy autumn can cut the foliage season short. The United States Forest Service fall color information guide is your best resource to consult before planning your leaf peeping trip.
The types of trees and shrubs across the region that provide color include vine maples, larch, and aspen. The vine maple, which often lines Pacific Northwest hiking trails, turns to hues of yellow, orange, and red; the larch and aspen leaves transform to gorgeous shades of yellow and gold. Since these trees are often intermingled with evergreens, the fall foliage display is both rich and varied.
Fall Foliage Season by State
Due to the volatile nature of the weather in the Pacific Northwest, the exact dates that leaves are expected to start changing colors and fallings are hard to predict. However, you can generally expect to see bright yellows, reds, and oranges from mid-September through at least mid-October in all four states.
- Idaho: Best viewed while driving down scenic byways from late September through October. Consult the Intermountain Region Forest Service for more exact dates of fall foliage this year.
- Montana: Best viewed while driving through national parks and forests from late September through mid-October. The colors vary depending on elevation, and you’ll need to have a car equipped with four-wheel drive to access some roads.
- Oregon: Best viewed while driving along scenic highways from mid-September through mid-October; however, color conditions vary daily based on humidity and fog density. You can call the free Oregon Fall Foliage Hotline for daily updates on the status of the foliage.
- Washington: Best viewed in the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascade Mountains from mid-September through mid-October. Washington State also offers a free hotline with daily color reports.
Changing daily weather conditions can drastically affect the visibility of fall foliage and even how bright the leaves appear — especially closer to the Oregon and Washington coasts, where thick fog lingers well into the day for much of the season. As a result, some days are better for viewing fall foliage than others; you should check local weather reports for up-to-date information on visibility.
Pend Oreille National Scenic Byway in Idaho
Instead of heading up to the Canadian border from Sandpoint on the Selkirk Loop, you can take a short detour down the Pend Oreille National Scenic Byway for some unique opportunities for leaf peeping. Also known as Idaho Highway 200, this byway runs along the northeastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille and ends at the Clark Fork Recreation area on the Idaho-Montana border.
If you want to get out to stretch your legs or enjoy a particularly warm autumn day, you’ll find a variety of activities along the way including hiking, bird watching, swimming, and kayaking in Lake Pend Oreille and Clark Fork River, and even touring a local fish hatchery. Additionally, you can camp at several sites near Highway 200, including the Sam Owen Campground, but there is usually a small fee for staying overnight.
Teton Scenic Byway in Idaho
To experience one of the most peaceful drives in the state, you can take the Teton Scenic Byway through the tree-covered Teton Mountain Range in southeast Idaho. This 69-mile route takes about two-to-three hours to drive, and there’s also a mountain bike trail that runs along the byway.
Starting at Swan Valley — a small town between Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Jackson, Montana — the Teton Scenic Byway runs north to the mountain towns of Victor, Tetonia, and Driggs before winding through the Targhee National Forest to Ashton. From here, you can continue onto the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, which either takes you southwest to Idaho Falls or northeast to the borders of Montana and Wyoming near Yellowstone National Park.
Selkirk Loop in Idaho
The International Selkirk Loop is an acclaimed 280-mile scenic byway that passes through British Columbia in Canada and Washington and Idaho in the United States, but the stretch that runs through northern Idaho offers some of the best views on the loop.
The Idaho portion of the Selkirk Loop includes both the Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage and the Wild Horse Trail scenic byways. The Panhandle byway starts at the Washington state line in Oldtown and follows the Pend Oreille River to Sandpoint, and the Wild Horse Trail starts on the northwestern shore of Pend Oreille Lake in Sandpoint and continues north through Bonners Ferry up to Porthill on the Canadian border.
To get an up-close view of fall foliage, stop along the way for a hike and wildlife viewing at The Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge. You can also explore a variety of historic attractions along the loop, including the museums in Sandpoint and the famous downtown area of Priest River.
Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana
Connecting the towns of West Glacier and St. Mary, the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers unparalleled views of Glacier National Park in Montana. With gold and yellow hues of late-season larch and aspen leaves dotting the scenery along this mountainous route, you’re sure to enjoy all 50 miles of this unique road.
A free shuttle also provides two-way service along the road between the Apgar and St. Mary Visitor Centers; audio and video tours are also available for your journey. Portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Road may be closed during inclement weather, and snow usually shuts it down for the winter as early as mid-October each year.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon
Located along Interstate 84 in Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area includes over 80 miles of forests rich in bright fall colors from mid-September to mid-October each year. Also known as the Columbia River Highway, this stretch of I-84 was one of the first in the United States specifically designed for scenic tourism.
Plan your trip along the Columbia River Highway to include as many (or few) outdoor adventures and activities as you’d like. Along the way, you can check out spectacular views from the mountaintop Crown Point Vista House in Corbett or stop by the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum at the east end of the gorge in a town called The Dalles.
Read more: https://www.tripsavvy.com/best-places-viewing-fall-foliage-pacific-northwest-4176543