NOTE: This post was updated October 2020. Due to COVID-19, be prepared to wear a mask during portions of your hike where physical distancing is not an option. To reduce crowds, consider hiking during a time where foot traffic is lighter, like early in the morning or on weekdays.
With an abundance of evergreen trees, the Pacific Northwest is often thought to not have as much fall foliage as other regions possessing more deciduous trees. However, we certainly have plenty of fall colors in our midst — you just have to know where to look! In fact, we happen to think that the contrast of dark green with brilliant pops of yellow, orange and red creates a more colorful and interesting display during the fall.
Let’s embark on an adventure to encounter the best fall foliage throughout the region — including hikes in and around the Portland Metro, Central Oregon, and Southwest Washington. Each of these hikes provides beautiful scenery, including mountaintop views, waterfalls, rivers, evergreen trees — and of course, plenty of yellow, orange, red, and sometimes even purple leaves.
Looking for more hikes in the area? Check out some of the best hikes under 5 miles in the Pacific Northwest.
Portland Metro Area
Distance: 4.7 Miles
Photo Courtesy of Hoyt Arboretum
The stunning Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park provides one of the most breathtaking displays of fall foliage. And the best part? Portland residents don’t have to travel far at all to be immersed in nature — as this living museum of trees is situated just west of the city. The arboretum hosts 12 miles of hiking trails to explore, but some of the best fall foliage can be seen along the Hoyt Arboretum Loop Hike, an easy 4.7-mile loop passing through groves of deciduous trees. This particular loop offers one of the city’s best collection of trees changing colors during the fall, as the arboretum is home to an extremely diverse population of trees!
Maple-Wildwood Loop Hike at Forest Park
Distance: 8.4 Miles
For another nearby escape from city life — head to Forest Park, a massive 5,000-acre park bordering the Willamette River northwest of the city. With miles and miles of trails worth exploring, you may be overwhelmed. But during the fall, the Maple-Wildwood Loop Hike is unbeatable. Here, you’ll find an abundance of bigleaf maples putting on a show throughout the fall — in addition to other species turning from green to gold to orange to red. The beauty of a walk through Forest Park (besides the beautiful foliage!) is the ability to make your journey as long as you wish. You can simply wander nearly anywhere in the park and turn around when your heart desires. But the 8.4-mile Maple-Wildwood Loop is a well-traveled loop providing one of Portland’s best destinations for fall foliage.
Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park
Distance: 8.7 Miles
Photo Courtesy of Ian Sane
Not only is the Trail of Ten Falls home to some of the best waterfalls in Oregon and Southwest Washington, but it’s also one of the best fall hikes in the region. Considered the largest state park in Oregon, Silver Falls State Park is dotted with an unbelievable number of spectacular waterfalls. Traveling along the Trail of Ten Falls is one of the best ways to sample the best of these natural wonders. Plus, during the fall, the waterfalls are surrounded by beautiful fall colors on a variety of deciduous trees, especially red alder and vine maple trees. Begin your 7.8-mile journey at North Falls Trailhead and travel west on the Rim Trail toward the popular 177-foot South Falls. Continue along Canyon Trail to discover the remaining falls and various swimming holes. You’ll end up at the 136-foot North Falls, which features a unique undercut cliff that dramatically amplifies the roaring sound of rushing water. Less foot traffic, more brilliant colors, and 10 sparkling waterfalls make the Trail of Ten Falls one of the best nearby trails during the fall.
Distance: 8.5 Miles
The mighty Deschutes River is one of Bend’s most well-known features. The upper portion of the river emerges from the Cascades descending through lava fields and forests of stunning ponderosa pines. The trail winding alongside the river is highly accessible and open to hikers, runners, horseback riders, and mountain bikers. Experience a large portion of this section by hiking from the Meadow Camp picnic area to Benham Falls along the Upper Deschutes River Trail, a 8.5-mile journey filled with aspen groves and a myriad of gorgeous views — including the refreshing Deschutes River running alongside the trail.
Distance: 4.6 Miles
Situated just north of Redmond in the Cove Palisades State Park lies the West Metolius River Trail. This relatively easy trail is perfect for families, as kids love to see the fish hatchery at the start of the trail and the terrain is quite manageable throughout. In fact, the trail is mostly flat as it follows the river, which provides a scenic and serene backdrop for your hike. And if you take the upper part of the trail, you’ll reach a gorgeous waterfall at the end of the hike! While you’ll be surrounded by an abundance of coniferous trees throughout the hike, you’ll also encounter pops of color as leaves change and begin to fall from the many deciduous trees!
Distance: 4.7 Miles
This is an ideal option for those who don’t want to travel far from Bend but still want to see spectacular fall colors. Located just west of the city, Shevlin Park is a 981-acre preserve with an extensive trail and pathway system winding throughout. While the park has three developed picnic sites, a paved road, and a few other attractions, most of the park remains undeveloped, which makes for a peaceful adventure through nature. Much of the park is flat, which provides an easy route for hiking with kids. See a myriad of fall hues in this scenic urban oasis, especially if you visit in October when fall colors are at their peak. Although the whole trail is 10 miles long, there are several ways to shorten your route — like the Shevlin Park Loop Trail, which travels along the canyon rim and offers views of Tumalo Creek with aspens and ponderosa pines all around.
Distance: 7.1 Miles
This relatively new trail offers exceptional views, rocky crags, a number of streams, and even waterfalls. Plus, Cape Horn Loop is considered one of the best fall hikes in the region! This hike begins in a thick forest, which has plenty of fall colors from bigleaf maples. The entirety of the trail takes you through some diverse terrain, including switchbacks, rocks, a paved road, and more. When the trail turns into a country road near the end, you can see some of the best fall colors around! Get a play-by-play about this beautiful hike from Paul Gerald, a well-known author and hiker based in Portland.
Distance: 11 Miles
Photo Courtesy of Paul Gerald
One of the best vantage points of the majestic Mount St. Helens exists along Ape Canyon Trail, an 11-mile out-and-back round trip in Cougar, Washington. While views are enhanced with beautiful warm colors in the fall and vibrant flowers in the spring, the trail is breathtaking no matter what foliage is in season. But in September and October, you will be immersed in vine maples with red and orange hues contrasting with evergreen trees, the bright blue sky, and the vibrant white snow atop Mount St. Helens. This is a bit more challenging hike than others listed, due to the length and elevation gain of 2,485 feet! But the views are well worth the climb.
Distance: 2 Miles
Photo Courtesy of Samantha Zeiner via Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
The Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge is a popular destination for residents of Ridgefield and other Southwest Washington cities — especially during the fall. It’s a great place for hiking, bird-watching, picnicking, and taking in fall colors. The best way to explore the refuge (and see the best fall colors) is by traveling along the Oaks to Wetlands Trail, a 2-mile trail weaving through colorful old growth Oregon white oaks and a myriad of plants changing colors during the fall. The daily entrance fee for the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge is $3.
What hikes in the area do you frequent each fall? Let us know in the comments below!