It’s fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means it’s time for scenic fall drives. In Washington State, I have three favorite fall drives that are perfect for a fall road trip or a getaway.
And, if you need more inspiration check out my Six Reasons to Visit Washington State in the Fall.
3 Favorite Scenic Fall Drives in Washington State
#1 North Cascades Highway
My top favorite is the North Cascades Highway, which is the northernmost road in the Cascade Mountains. This road is part of the 400-mile Cascade Loop Highway, which goes past a ton of small towns and scenic vistas. If you are coming from Seattle or Vancouver, once you get to Burlington, WA head east on HWY 20. Some points of interest before you get to the mountains is an elk observation area and Wildwood Chapel in Marblemount. Once you pass Marblemount there are no gas stations until you get over the pass an into the Methow Valley, so fill up before you go. It’s also good spot to buy snacks or take a bathroom break.
Once you reach Newhalem the ascent into the mountains begins. I recommend getting out in Newhalem to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, buy some fudge at the store, walk across the suspension bridge and snap a photo of the Gorge Powerhouse or enjoy one of the short trails nearby. From Newhalem, it continues up into the mountains, past deep blue lakes, and rocky mountain passes. There will be plenty of pullouts along the way to take in fall foliage along the mountainsides. Be sure to stop at the Lake Diablo Lookout, and at Washington Pass, the highest point on the highway at 5,477 feet.
From Burlington, the drive is around 3 hours, and that doesn’t take into account any stops. If you want to make a weekend escape out of the drive, I suggest staying in Twisp or the Old West town of Winthrop.
Road Trip Tips
Travel Tip: Once you pass Marblemount there are no gas stations, so fill up before you go.
Travel Tip: Along Highway 20 is an elk observation area and in Marblemount is Wildwood Chapel.
Travel Tip: This portion of the HWY closes in the winter due to snow. Before you go, check here to see if the road is still open.
#2 Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway
I drove this 22-mile stretch of road for the first time last fall and it quickly became one of my favorites. The name describes it perfectly for the road meanders through the canyon next to the Yakima River and along the way you’ll see golden hills, trees near the river changing color, cactus, sagebrush, and basalt cliffs. You can catch the road from Interstate 82 after Ellensburg or Selah. There are no services en route so be sure to fill up with gas before you go.
In the fall, you won’t see much else, except for some campers and hikers and wildlife. During the warmer months, you’ll see rafters, inner tubers, and fly fisherman. There are pullouts along the road and hikes, and if you hit the trails, be rattlesnake aware. If you want to stay near the scenic byway, I suggest Ellensburg, Yakima, or Zillah.
Road Trip Tips
Travel Tip: Fill up with gas before you embark on the byway.
Travel Tip: Along the road, there will be pullouts and places to take in the view or go for a hike.
Travel Tip: Eastern Washington is rattlesnake country so be snake aware.
#3 HWY 101 Between Raymond and Long Beach
My last favorite stretch doesn’t have a name, but it’s part of HWY 101 between Raymond and Long Beach, WA. The 40-mile stretch of road goes along the edge of Willapa Bay and passes through several nature preserves – Bone River, Niawiakum, and Willapa. The drive is around one hour and the times I’ve driven it; it has been a little rainy with lots of birds and fog along the bay.
Road Trip Tips
Travel Tip: I’m prone to motion sickness and have experienced it on this road. If you are sensitive you might want to take Dramamine before you hit the road.
These are my three favorite scenic fall drives in Washington State.
Have you driven any of these scenic roads?