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Blue Lake and the Liberty Bell Spires.

October is one of my favorite months to hike. I love the cool nights—warm days—and vibrant foliage. But this is the Evergreen State, where Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, and western red cedars make up most of the vast forests of western Washington. I pine for the deciduous forests of the northern Appalachians where the hillsides turn into heaps of fruit loops this time of year. Fortunately—whenever I get homesick for an autumn walk in the woods in my native New England—I think larch. Western Washington may lack the maples, ashes, beeches and birches that set eastern hills afire in color—but there is nothing back east like Washington’s larch madness!

October here means that the eastern slopes of the Cascades are screaming there’s gold in them thar hills! And in Eastern Washington’s Blue, Selkirk, and Kettle River Ranges, western larches with a little help from aspen clusters are streaking those lonely emerald slopes bright yellow. Add blueberry bushes dousing the forest floor crimson, and it’s safe to say that Washington’s larch forests— rival the northern hardwoods of the east for brilliant autumn color. So, let me help you place your hiking bracket for this year’s Larch Madness. Here are five of my favorite Washington Larch hikes. Check them out—and soon—for October only comes once a year.

 

Blue Lake

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

North Cascades Highway

4.4 mile round trip

Elevation gain: 800 feet

A short and easy hike to a beautiful lake set in a rocky basin within the shadows of the Liberty Bell Spires. An old trapper’s cabin adds some mystique to the golden hillsides.

 

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Cooney Lake.

Cooney Lake

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Sawtooth Roadless Area

16.0 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 3800 feet

A remote lake on the eastern edge of the lofty and serrated Sawtooth Ridge; Cooney is just one highlight in an area Manning and Spring dubbed the Golden Lakes for its prolific larch forests.

 

Columbia Mountain

Colville National Forest

Sherman Pass

8.0 miles round trip

Elevation gain: 1360 feet

Stand on the top of this gentle Kettle River Range summit and admire a 100 year old fire lookout and ridge upon ridge of western larch cloaked mountains.

 

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The Kettles overflow in gold!

Larch Lake

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

12 miles round trip from Scottish Lakes

Elevation gain: 2450 feet

The name says it all! A long backpacking destination via Chiwaukum Creek—or a satisfying day hike from a base at the Scottish Lakes High Camps—this lake and valley in the Chiwaukum Mountains is magical when the golden aura is cast.

 

Lake Ingalls

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Alpine Lakes Wilderness

9.2 mile round trip

Elevation gain: 2600 feet

The only thing more stunning than the golden larches here—are the jaw-dropping views of Mount Stuart across the rippling lake set in a stark rocky bowl. Expect lots of company here including furry white four-legged ones and their kids!

 

What are your five favorite larch marches?

 

For full details on these hikes (and many others in larch country), consult the following books:

Blue Lake: Day Hiking North Cascades

Cooney Lake: Backpacking Washington

Columbia Peak: Day Hiking Eastern Washington

Larch Lake: Day Hiking Central Cascades

Lake Ingalls: 100 Classic Hikes Washington (coming in 2016)Day Hiking titles

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