9 Scenic Drives to See Autumn’s Amazing Colors

a car drives along a road between fall trees
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Autumn’s vibrant colors are the perfect excuse to hit the road with the kids.

The days are getting shorter and there is a refreshing nip in the air. Welcome to fall! It’s time for everyone’s favorite season in the PNW—complete with cider and apple picking, pumpkin patches, Seahawks’ wins, a Mariners pennant chase (we can hope), and the glorious colors of autumn. Locals know Washington state rivals New England for fall foliage fireworks, with eruptions of bright red, orange, and gold from the Olympics to the Cascades. Here are nine dazzling drives to see fall colors near Seattle that will mesmerize the family, along with delightful detours for your little ones.

Bright orange leaves of autumn on a tree over a pond at Bloedel Reserve
Bloedel Reserve

Bainbridge Island

Distance: 15 miles from Seattle, with a scenic ferry ride.

Best foliage spotting: Bloedel Reserve

“Nature can do without man, but man cannot do without nature,” said Prentice Bloedel, whose former residence is now Bainbridge Island’s Bloedel Reserve. Fall is a magical time at Bloedel. The larch trees change color and provide a perfect photographic backdrop filled with deep crimson and gold. Another autumnal surprise is the sweet scent that drifts off the Katsura trees in the Japanese garden. The fragrance comes from the leaves themselves as they turn colors and float to the ground. Take a moment with your littles to enjoy this sensory experience. Your family can explore the collection of 12 gardens, over 150 acres, for hours and discover diverse environments such as their award-winning Japanese Garden and their lush, green moss garden. Timed entry tickets must be purchased in advance. Food, pets, and beverages (other than water) are not allowed in the garden so be sure to feed the troops before you go.

Don’t-miss detours: After walking through Bloedel Reserve bring the pack to Via Rosa 11, where it feels like you’re in Italy from the very first bite. Savor their homemade gnocchi, secret pesto sauce, bruschetta with Genovese basil, pasta, and pizza. Via Rosa 11 is family-run so they understand that kids have great taste too – all pasta dishes can be ordered in smaller portions. Keep the little explorers happy and head to Battle Point Park – 90 acres of play space to frolic and play. A new all-abilities kid’s structure provides hours of amusement, plus roller hockey, pickleball, and more. If the night skies are clear, consider attending the programming at Battle Point Astronomical Society home to the PNW’s largest public observatory.

Pumpkin picking is always fun for the fam, so stop by Suyematsu Farm to grab your gourds, as well as berries, flowers, and organic squash.

Extend the fun: Stay at the elegant Inn at Pleasant Beach. We recommend the townhouse suite for families with views of gilded leaves reflected on the water. Check pool hours for swimming, fall hours TBD. Another lovely option to stay on island is Dahlia Bluff Cottage with water views, an expansive deck, and a hot tub.

Find out more: visitbainbridgeisland.org

Related: 3 Ways to Spend the Day (& Stay) on Bainbridge Island

Drives to see fall colors outside of leavenworth washington with a river, bridge and trees
Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce

Leavenworth & Highway 2

Distance: 135 miles from Seattle.

Best foliage spotting:  Blackbird Island in Leavenworth, Carne Mountain, Tronsen Ridge and along Highway 2.

The drive along Highway 2 to Leavenworth is an astounding display of neon red, gold, and orange. The colors seem to cascade down the hills and mountains like flowing streams. Have your camera ready and be prepared to stop frequently to take it all in. Carne Mountain just north of Leavenworth has a plethora of larches. Here, you’ll find incredible forest color bursts along the eight-mile-round-trip trail but note—this hike is for advanced trekkers. We recommend strolling around Blackbird Island, a small piece of land surrounded by the river in the middle of the town. It’s a perfect place to take wee ones to commune with nature and enjoy the fall kaleidoscope.

Don’t-miss detours: Take a drive along scenic Icicle Road or head to Waterfront Park for more foliage views. Budding X-Games athletes will get psyched at Leavenworth Bike Pump Park nearby. For more adrenaline highs go rock climbing or ziplining 200 feet above the forest floor for an aerial view of golden and crimson leaves. Horseback riding through the Cascades is a treat or take it slow with a leisurely horse carriage ride through town.

This year’s Oktoberfest will be better than ever, with a bigger emphasis on family-friendly fun. So after all that activity, raise a stein with a divine slice of pizza at Blewett Brewing. Icicle Brewing Company and Doghaus Brewery also serve up enough pilsen and kölsch to pretend you’re in Bavaria. Lederhosen and dirndl not included.

Don’t forget the sweets! New to town, Crepe Café Sisters offers savory and sweet mouthwatering crepes, or celebrate the season with baked yummies at The Gingerbread Factory.

Extend the fun: Leave the kiddos at home and treat yourself to a stay at Posthotel, a gorgeous alpine resort with scrumptious spa services and pools. It’s nestled next to Blackbird Island so you can enjoy the fall foliage from your balcony with a champagne toast. Families love Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort with fun loft or bunk beds for kids and cabins next to a roaring river. The pool is open through October 15, but the hot tub is open year-round for outdoor soaking and splash play.

Find out more: leavenworth.org

Related: The Unforgettable Reindeer Experience You Need to Book Now

a car drives along a road between fall trees
Hans Isaacson via unsplash

Port Townsend

Distance: 60 miles from Seattle, including a ferry.

Best foliage spotting: Fort Worden Historical State Park

Port Townsend is a welcoming escape from the city with its preserved Victorian architecture and slow-paced nautical lifestyle. The charming town is fun to peruse and explore, but for fall leaves head straight to Fort Worden Historical State Park. Once a U.S. Army base, it is now a beautiful getaway with camping, cafés, and curving beaches after it was donated to the state. The former barracks once provided the setting to a famous film.

Don’t-miss detours: The čičməhán Trail (also Anglicized as Chetzemoka) features 16 sites organized into three loops to educate visitors on the Jamestown S’Klallam people who lived in the area for hundreds of years. Walk to a few easy monuments or bike around to see more. 

Port Townsend is packed with options for hungry little eaters. Doc’s Marina Grill has all the yummy fish, chips, and chowder one would expect from the aquatic surroundings. Water Street is chock-full of choices, including must-lick local institution Elevated Ice Cream Company.

Further afield, Finnriver Cidery in nearby Chimacum makes for a perfect fall experience. The kids will love the simple, satisfying menu (burgers, pretzels, and brats) and the lawn games (cornhole tournament, anyone?) will keep them running around for hours. Adults will appreciate the lovingly crafted hard cider from the local orchard. Finnriver is all about connecting with the land, engaging with the community, and empowering the local growers on the Olympic Peninsula. Take a tour of the orchards to feel the fall vibes of our state’s proudest export: the apple.

Extend the fun: Stay in town at Port Townsend Inn, with an indoor pool and hot tub the whole family will enjoy. A possibly spookier option is Manresa Castle, with epic views of Port Townsend Bay. Some say the rooms on the top floor are haunted.

Find out more: enjoypt.com

Related: Your Guide to Visiting Port Townsend with Kids

Whidbey & Camano Islands

Whidbey & Camano Islands

Distance: 35-64 miles from Seattle by car or ferry.

Best foliage spotting: Camano Island’s Iverson Spit Preserve and Barnum Point, or North Whidbey Island.

For a fall escape that mixes in magical hauntings with a taste of New England, consider a trip to Whidbey and Camano Islands. Coupeville was the actual setting for the movie Practical Magic, about two sisters who use their magical powers against evil in a small New England town. Coupeville embraces Halloween and the town’s “spooky” past. Enjoy the local businesses’ scarecrow contest as you walk around town—have the kids pick their favorite stuffed friend.

Don’t-miss detours: The Haunted Fort at Fort Casey runs October 22-23 and 29-30. There are two sections—Battery Kingsbury for those who love a good scare, and Battery Valleau with smaller spooks for kids of all ages. We recommend a trip to the Coupeville Visitor’s Center for friendly tips and a variety of helpful brochures. Grab the 24 Trails Off The Beaten Path guide to frolic among the foliage. Barnum Point on page 6, Iverson Spit Reserve on page 18, and Garry Oak Tree Tour on page 32 are good fall trails. Don’t leave without also acquiring the Practical Magic Walking Tour of Coupeville and A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Historic Coupeville.

Whidbey Island has wonderful parks and charming towns like Coupeville and Langley to explore. Deception Pass State Park and Bridge, Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, and Fort Casey Historical State Park and Admiralty Head Lighthouse are all highlights. Sightseeing tots will need sustenance—Callen’s is scenically situated with views of Keystone Ferry, Ciao has Italian imports and gourmet grinds, and Little Red Hen Bakery provides sweets and snacks. Then embrace the kitsch, with lotions and potions from Praktical Magik the store.

Camano Island embraces island life. Don’t miss Cama Beach State Park and the Center for Wooden Boats, which houses a build your own boat workshop on Saturdays for kids. Kristoferson Farm is a kids haven with zip-lining, a pumpkin patch, and farm dinners. For more nosh try Tapped Camano—with local cider, beer and wine, and yummy food. The bakery at Camano Commons Marketplace has the most sinful pastries and cookies; also good shopping and an art gallery upstairs. Brunch at the Cama Beach Café usually ends with families bringing home a whole pie.

Extend the fun: Stay at historic Fort Casey Inn, once the officer quarters. Request the Doctor’s House and don’t forget the scary story books to read aloud by candlelight on the porch. Captain Whidbey Inn has cabins and lodge rooms but the real draw is their lobby and restaurant, where guests feel as if they are sitting down with old friends in simpler times. The cabins at Cama Beach State Park are historic and great for families as they are located right on the water.

Find out more: whidbeycamanoislands.com

Related: 10 Movies Starring Seattle to Watch with Kids

Hans Isaacson via unsplash

Olympic Peninsula: Sequim to Lake Crescent

Distance: 70 miles from Seattle, including a ferry to Kingston or Bainbridge Island.

Best foliage spotting: The Olympic Peninsula is one big fall foliage tapestry. It’s hard to go wrong when the entire drive along the Elwha River between Highway 101 and the Olympic Park entrance is renowned for fall color explosions. From Hurricane Ridge, with its magnificent mile-high, 360-degree views, visitors can spy Mount Baker, Victoria BC, the San Juan Islands and what seems like millions of trees. Once on top, hiking trails and picnic spots are yours for the taking. There is a café with food but we suggest bringing a picnic or snacks to enjoy the day at your leisure—the drive takes about 40 minutes to get to the top.

Lake Crescent looks like an alpine postcard, fed by glacial water famous for its clarity and cerulean glow. Grab a kayak or canoe and tuck in the whole family for a lake view of the golden and copper color show. Lake Crescent Lodge has an elegance reminiscent of the golden age of travel. Stop in to feel a part of the decadence – enjoy drinks on the sun porch or savor delicious PNW fare in the Singer Tavern Lounge or the lakefront dining room. Littles will love the gift shop with plushies, books, and games to take home.

Don’t-miss detours: Grab the bikes for a lazy afternoon on the Olympic Discovery Trail. Once completed, the route will span 130 miles of non-motorized transit, from Port Townsend to La Push, now open to non-tribal members. In Sequim, bike to Railroad Bridge Park. The historic bridge was rebuilt in 2015, which means it’s safe and sturdy. Then roll through Sequim’s legendary lavender farms and check out the 5.5-mile Dungeness Spit, home of the tasty namesake crab.

Locals love the drive into Sol Duc for prime maple tree gawking along the roadway. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has simple but comfortable rooms. Stay the night and enjoy the natural hot springs pumped into convenient pools, free for hotel guests. Kids love the shallow, temperate pool and the larger cold pool for splashing (the cold pool closes sporadically, check ahead). The sundries shop has excellent wine, cider, and beer to-go and the café serves up yummy nosh.

Extend the fun: We highly recommend staying at Lake Crescent Lodge. The lodge has many accommodations but we prefer the Roosevelt Fireplace Cabins, available only on weekends in the winter. The unmatched view plus fireplace equals cozy family time—mix in games and hot chocolate for maximum hygge. Or groups can stay at Holiday Inn Express in Sequim. It is perfectly located for enjoying the region, well-suited for families, and has some of the most comfortable beds around.

Find out more: olympicpeninsula.org

Related: 11 Easy Road Trips to Take This Fall

Allison Sutcliffe

Olympic Peninsula: Hoh Rainforest to Lake Quinault

Distance: 147 miles from Seattle to Lake Quinault. The rainforest is another 71 miles away.

Best foliage spotting: Surrounding Lake Quinault & inside Hoh National Rain Forest.

Lake Quinault is a majestic, glacially carved lake where families flock yearly for summer fun, but locals know the best time to visit is in October. The air is crisp, the fire’s blazing and the trees around the lake reflect crimson and gold in the glassy water. Miles of hiking trails serpent and crystal waterfalls cascade just feet from the winding main road.

The Hoh Rain Forest is part of the Olympic National Park and requires a park pass to enter. The drive to the entrance is magical, conjuring images of woodland creatures and fairy tales. A variety of hikes inside the park suit even the tiniest hiking shoe (a three-year-old could crush the Mini Trail, which is 0.2 miles long and flat). The friendly rangers will assist with choosing the right trail for your group. Be sure to ask which trails have the most maples and alders for prime fall foliage photos. Bring food and water or stock up at the Hard Rain Café—there are no provisions inside the park for hangry hikers. Of note, Hard Rain Café has campsites as well, if your group wishes to sleep within the trees.

Don’t-miss detours: The Quinault Valley is also known as the Valley of the Rainforest Giants, with six world champion trees to admire. Some, such as the world’s largest Sitka Spruce (191 feet tall!) or Western Red Cedar, are easily accessible on foot from the main road. The 31-mile Quinault Rain Forest Loop Drive makes for a lovely day, to stop and leaf peep along the way.

Ruby Beach will not provide as many rust-colored snapshots, but the magnificent Pacific Ocean never disappoints. The wild surf and jagged rocks are well worth the drive. Sit on a driftwood bench and watch the rock cairns struggle to withstand the tides, then build your own family rock stack. Numbered beaches along the way (Beaches 1–5) offer picture-perfect picnicking. Bring a bottle of wine and enjoy the rare (for Seattle) sight of the sun setting over the Pacific.

Extend the fun: Lake Quinault Lodge is a true gem. We recommend staying here and taking a mini-vacation to welcome autumn’s arrival. Kiddos splash in the indoor pool and play in the game room while adults steam in the sauna. The lodge is part of the Historic National Park Lodges and was built in only 53 days, with crews working around the clock. The windows are mainly the original glass and the Totem Pole Rain Gauge was made by a master carver, positioned perfectly to watch over the property. The Roosevelt Dining Room serves delectable fare, named after the president who enjoyed lunch in that room in 1937. After a meal, repose on the stunning front lawn in one of the many Adirondack chairs and enjoy the lake and forest views.

Find out more: nps.gov

two girls sit in a pumpkin patch squinting against the sun
Greg Freitas

Thurston Bountiful Byway

Distance: 60 miles from Seattle.

Best foliage spotting:  Anywhere along the byway.

The Thurston Bountiful Byway is a U-shaped drive that extends from Olympia to the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, looping around on small roads and state highways 12, 507 and 510. All along the drive, gold, red, and copper leaves line the roadway, as well as a plethora of activities and charming stops. In the refuge try some bird watching along with leaf peeping to see songbirds, peregrine falcons and bald eagles. Another fall color explosion is at Tolmie State Park with a view of Mount Rainier.

Don’t-miss detours: Bundle up and enjoy fall activities, like getting lost in the Rutledge Corn Maze, wandering the Monarch Sculpture Park, or snacking on cider doughnuts at Schilter Family Farm. Biking along the Byway and trails is a relaxing way to take in the fall colors. Most trails are flat, such as the Chehalis Western trail that runs 22 scenic miles south of Olympia. Don’t miss a unique PNW nature show—the Chinook Salmon Migration—as the Chinook aka king salmon return to their spawning grounds along the Deschutes River.

Craft beer, wine, and spirits abound in this region. Farms and farmer’s markets provide apple cider and other goodies to sustain your group. Hunter Family Farm is the place for fall treats and fall-themed activities for the whole family. At Pigman’s Produce the littles will love to pick their own pumpkins. And Lattin’s Country Cider Mill & Farm hosts the Pumpkin Festival in October with games, wagon rides, and award winning cider.

Extend the fun: Stay at the Prairie Hotel, a charming and hospitable place. It’s also close to the some of the best pizza in the state, Pizzeria La Gitana, which is a bonus. Another option is the Swantown Inn and Spa for unique, cozy rooms and spa services.

Find out more: experienceolympia.com

Greg Freitas

Winthrop & the North Cascades Highway

Distance: 186 miles from Seattle. Plan for frequent foliage detours.

Best foliage spotting: Cutthroat Lake, Diablo Lake, Washington Pass, Methow River & Patterson Lake

The North Cascades Highway is an iconic drive and each autumn the trees put on a natural fireworks show. The east side of the Cascades provides the native habitat for the elusive larch tree, the deciduous conifer that turns electric gold for a few short weeks every year. For aficionados, Cutthroat Pass and its namesake lake are the holy grail of Larch Madness. The hike to Cutthroat Lake from the highway is surprisingly doable, even for smaller children, at less than four flat miles round trip.

“Adventure In the Air, With a Certain Western Flair,” sums up Winthrop’s appeal. Designed from necessity, the town was dwindling in size and importance when the highway was completed in 1972. Building on their rugged mining past, the town decided to go full steam ahead on the rodeo theme to entice tourists to saddle up and ride in. Today it is a Wild West fantasy come to life with wooden sidewalks and saloon-style store fronts. So put on your ten-gallon hats, hook your pony to the hitching post and get ready to explore.

Don’t-miss detours: You won’t want to rush through the vistas, so bring provisions. East20 Pizza makes out-of-this-world yummy pies. Bring one along for lunch or dine onsite after a day of leaf collecting. Methow Valley Cider House serves BBQ and burgers, and their refreshing cider should be sipped on their outdoor picnic tables to properly enjoy the fall views.

Get your sugar rush at Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe. This old-fashioned candy shop is almost impossible to avoid, your nose will lead you there with its sweet temptations and sugary aroma. The Old Schoolhouse Brewery is family friendly, with a relaxing location by the river. Trail’s End Bookstore is a gem filled with books, games, and locals. The shiny, new Winthrop Public Library welcomes young pardners and families, so trot on in!

Don’t forget your giddy-up! Horseback riding is a quintessential Winthrop experience. Sun Mountain Lodge has an arena and trail rides available through mid-October, with some of the best views in the valley.

Extend the fun: Sun Mountain Lodge sits perched high above the valley, with stunning views and sunsets. The rooms are decorated with just the right touch of dude ranch, and the main lobby opens to even more tree gawking possibilities. With over 40 miles of trails on property, hikers and mountain bikers of all skills will find thrills. The restaurant serves delicious fixin’s for all tastes. Kids of all ages love the year-round outdoor hot tub and indoor game room with pool table and foosball. We recommend the Patterson Lake cabins with full kitchens for families. The trees surrounding the lake will glimmer and turn colors outside the windows. This is a special place to unwind and connect with your inner Walden Pond.

Find out more: winthropwashington.com

fall colors over Green Lake in Seattle with the lake reflecting
Kathy Compagno

Seattle

Distance: You’re already here.

Best foliage spotting: Washington Park Arboretum, Kubota Garden, Ravenna Park, Woodland Park, Discovery Park, Green Lake  

Seattle is known for its surprisingly diverse and welcoming parks. The fall season brings more surprises with our city parks’ foliage grand finale! The Arboretum’s Seattle Japanese Garden has a stunning collection of Japanese maples which produce a dramatic palette of reds and oranges to delight the entire family. The garden is open every day except Monday, children under five are free, and this fall they welcome their Garden Tours back at 12:30pm daily. In Rainier Beach, Kubota Garden possesses 140 different varieties of maple—filling each fall with fireworks of foliage.

Finding your fall favorite is as easy as a walk in the park. Ravenna Park and Woodland Park contain several highly prized larch trees, with the glowing golden needles beloved of leaf peepers everywhere. Discovery Park—Seattle’s largest—contains 11 miles of scenic tree-topped trails with ocean views. Walk the easy three-mile path around Green Lake surrounded by natural urban beauty. Or check out the well-kept secret that is Gasworks Park parking lot. The surrounding trees burst into flame each fall. After taking a few Insta-worthy pics walk into the park for the famous skyline and Space Needle view.

Related: The Best Places to See Fall Colors around Seattle

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