How to See Larches in Fall Colors in Washington

How to See Larches in Fall Colors in Washington
The larch trees of the American West are rare among conifers in that they aren't evergreen; they shed their needles to conserve energy during the fierce winters of their mountain abode. Shortly before the leaves drop, they turn blazing orange-yellow, setting fire to the uplands in a beautiful display not unlike the autumn show of the quaking aspen in the Rockies. Whether intermixed with green pines, firs, and spruces along ridges or set amidst boulders and ice lakes at timberline, Washington's larches become a destination unto themselves in the crisp, shortening days of autumn.

Instructions

Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • No specialized equipment required
  • No specialized equipment required
Step 1
Look for the western larch---the larger of the two closely related species, and the most fire-resistant conifer in the West---in mid- to upper-elevation forests in Washington, as well as in British Columbia, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. In Washington, the western larch is widely distributed: Seek it out on the east face of the state's central and southern Cascades, in the northeastern highlands (like the Okanogan), and in the Northern Blue Mountains of the far southeast, on the Oregon border.
Step 2
Reach the alpine larch at higher elevations. Its seasonal barrenness confers a resistance to winter drought, and thus this larch may be found more than 7000 feet at timberline. In Washington, the alpine larch ranges as far south as the Wenatchee Mountains, but is most prevalent in the North Cascades.
Step 3
Bet on a zenith of larch turning golden in October, although alpine larches often will begin turning in the latter part of September. The first major winter storms often strip the trees of their needles, thus capping this autumn spectacle.
Step 4
Drive Highway 20 to get a low-effort view of the larch show. Rainy and Washington passes on the eastern slopes offer particularly fine vistas. Seek out any larch-appropriate mountain highway in October for a good chance at auto-touring the color display.
Step 5
Strap on your hiking boots for a full exploration of larch country. Lower-elevation trails can provide prospects upslope. Just off Highway 20 at Washington Pass, a short, paved trail and overlook afford a sweeping panorama. Longer backcountry routes, however, can take you right into the heart of larch groves. The Enchantment Lakes basin in the Cascades near Leavenworth may offer some of the best larch viewing anywhere, but check out other corners of the state as well.

Tips & Warnings

 
Mountain weather is notoriously fickle, so bring plenty of warm clothing and extra food in case an early-season blizzard descends. Be cognizant of hunters sharing the mountains with you.
 
Mountain weather is notoriously fickle, so bring plenty of warm clothing and extra food in case an early-season blizzard descends.
 
Be cognizant of hunters sharing the mountains with you.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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