Essential Guide to the Golden Larch Hikes of Washington State

October 11, 2019

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larches enchantments
Photo credit: Preeti Suri

There's something about golden larch trees dotted across high mountain slopes and encircling frigid alpine lakes that lures hikers in.  For just a few weeks each fall, hundreds in Washington state go hunting for the deciduous conifers in an experience affectionately dubbed the "Larch March."  The window shifts every year but your best bet is usually late September to mid-October. That's when larch needles turn a fiery yellow before dropping and going out in a blaze of gold.

Autumn is already prime time to hit the trails in the Pacific Northwest. The air turns crisp, the foliage colorful, the crowds thin out and larch love takes over.  It often requires a bit of a drive and a lot of sweat to reach the higher elevations where the trees live and where the seasonal color shift is most obvious.  Whether you're jonesing for a short jaunt or a long day, below are some of the best places to revel in larches.

Cutthroat Pass
Photo Credit: Stacia Glenn

Cutthroat Pass

  • Location: North Cascades

  • Round trip mileage: 11.4

  • Elevation gain: 2,300 feet 

This pleasant trail winds you through a lovely forest to start, featuring peak-a-boo views of rocky ridges and the gentle burbling of a nearby creek before swinging you by a lake in under two miles. It's tempting to stop here and enjoy the alpine scenery, but keep pushing for the pass. Brace yourself for a few switchbacks and prepare to say hello to a few Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers on your trek.

Maple Loop Pass
Photo credit: Kelly Donna

Maple Loop Pass

  • Location: North Cascades

  • Round trip mileage: 7.2

  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet

This gem has a bit of everything -- sweeping meadows, forests and larches ringing the always-beautiful Lake Ann. If you want to visit the lake up close, take the roughly half-mile detour down to the water. Otherwise, traverse above it and soak up the views of mountains stretching from nearby Black Peak to Glacier Peak in the distance. The trail is a loop so you get to decide if you want to tackle the steep section right off the bat by going clockwise, or save it for the end.

Carne Mountain
Photo Credit: Preeti Suri

Carne Mountain

  • Location: Central Cascades

  • Round trip mileage: 8

  • Elevation gain: 3,600 feet

This is steeper terrain but the views from the top will make you grateful you kept on. You'll reach a golden basin of larches in about 3.5 miles and with dashes of orange and red on the ground. Bear left at a junction and in a quarter mile, you'll reach the summit.

Lake Ingalls
Photo Credit: Stacia Glenn

Lake Ingalls

  • Location: Snoqualmie region, Teanaway

  • Round trip mileage: 9

  • Elevation gain: 2,500

This is a classic autumn hike, and a popular one. Trudge through dusty trail until you skirt around a basin below filled with grassy meadows and more larches than you can count. From Ingalls Pass, you'll take a somewhat rough trail up a few rocky feet to the lake with Mount Stuart towering overhead. Bonus: it's almost a guarantee to see mountain goats frolicking in this area!

Enchantments
Photo Credit: Preeti Suri

Enchantment Lakes

  • Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

  • Round trip mileage: 10 to 18 

  • Elevation gain: Up to 4,500 feet

Think of this as a choose-your-own-adventure. You can hike to the top of Aasgard Pass in search of the glorious larches, but why stop there? Spend the day wandering the plethora of lakes and tarns in the Core and be rewarded with golden displays and adorable mountain goats. Either return the way you came via Colchuck Lake or make it thru-hike and exit at Snow Lakes. Be sure to check conditions before you go since it's not uncommon for snow to blanket the area in fall, and if you do the thru-hike, line up two cars or a shuttle.

Blue Lake
Photo credit: Rachel Jitabebe Robert

Blue Lake

  • Location: North Cascades

  • Round trip mileage: 4.4

  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet

Just off Highway 20, this pristine jewel attracts hikers and travelers just wanting to stretch their legs. It's nestled in a 6,254-foot basin beneath craggy granite peaks (see if you can spot any climbers above!) and passes through meadows and over a creek.

Eagle Lake
Photo credit: Krystian Win

Eagle Lakes

  • Location: North Cascades

  • Round trip mileage: 12

  • Elevation gain: 2,480 gain

Follow the trail through endless forests, up switchbacks and past a camping area to your first overlook at 5.5 miles. A bridge will lead you across Eagle Creek and you'll pass through across a rockslide area, rewarded along the way with larches. There are tons of trails out there but a junction at 5.7 miles will lead you to Upper Eagle Lake and a path 6.3 miles in will take you to Lower Eagle Lake. This is a multipurpose trail so prepare to see horses and motorcycles as well.

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