Stretching along the Oregon Coast to the Washington Mountains and inland into the wilderness of Idaho, the PNW region is irreplicable to experience at least once in your life. Waking up one day in the fall with untamed wilderness through beating ocean waves and the next with stark scenery and views for days under the clear skies is a real emotional rollercoaster.
These nine destination getaways in the Pacific Northwest are full of shareable memories of adventuring and unwinding in the fall foliage of the region. From adventurous hikes and natural landmarks for epic photoshoots to idyllic cabins, lustrous grape vines, and lush riverside, Lake Chelan kicks off this list as a charming lakeside town.
Three hours from the Oregon Coast and two hours from Crater Lake National Park, this town is as epic of a road trip stop as a pursuit of a visit in itself. Ashland, home to the magical Oregon Shakespeare Festival—a destination for die-hard literary fans—transforms in the fall in the enchanting embrace of the state's southern mountains. A little rainy but still warmer than the north side, the outdoors beckon with trails to explore through lovely fall colors that reflect in the droplets and paint the mountainsides that you can spot even over a java from a cozy cafe.
The Historic Lithia Park downtown features a scenic one-mile trail with a duck pond, a rose garden, and a playground area, while Main Street is strewn with browsable small-town shops and restaurants like the must-visit Unicorn Gifts and Toys. The world-class Shakespeare festival offers adult and age-appropriate plays, while the Ashland Children’s Theatre has performances and workshops for kids and teens. Ashalnd is a delightful getaway for artists and families or to unwind over pursuits you can't craft out the time for at home.
This small city and namesake lake double up as a resort destination in the summer, staying peaceful and pristine through its foliage-ridden landscapes after the vacationers depart. You can even visit in November or before the holidays, with cheaper accommodations and great services that stay open without tourists. The beautiful lake reflects the clear skies in vivid blue amid the haze of the hilly banksides calling to relax against the mountainous backdrop. Lake Chelan is also big on apple picking, with cideries and u-pick orchards.
The grape harvest and barrel-tasting season in the fall beckon for a taste of the state's finest through the golden vineyards and five of the best wineries in the PNW in Lake Chelan. With family-friendly wineries for nature strolls, some lawn games, and playgrounds, the colorful trees and thin crowds are just a taste of what awaits you in the nearby wild outdoors. Among the over 250 miles of hiking trails around, the Methow Valley, some 45 minutes away, offers hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing near Winthrop.
Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, Idaho
This irreplicable landscape and National Monument in Eastern Idaho is amazing to visit in the fall, after the very hot and dry summers and before the cold and snowy winters! The feeling of strolling the celestial body doubles with no one to ruin the mood around volcanic areas, once used by lunar astronauts for training. You can wander through the lava tubes—some real “wild caves"—with bats, while the cooler temperatures along the surface keep you prowling for more unique sights. Nearby, the cool town of Arco is the first town powered by nuclear power!
One of the PNW's most underrated destinations is a popular candidate to be a national park, which may increase the shockingly under-visited rate of this massive park. For now, authentic tranquility inspires an escape from reality where you can see the best of it over a one- to two-day getaway. Three hours (170 miles) from Boise, along only a small, accessible road, there is also a $20 park fee entrance, which is included in the America the Beautiful Annual Pass. Make it a weekend escape to get the most bang for buck and fallworthy sights clambering atop various volcano hills for epic views.
Mount Rainier, Washington
From endless hikes to scenic drives and epic train rides through the foliage, Mount Rainier has got it all! Truly a quintessential getaway in PNW, you can stay active or unwind in Washington's best nature in its fall finery, in the shadow of the state's highest peak at over 14,400 feet. Riding the rails rolling through the Nisqually Valley of the lush forests and foothills of Mt. Rainier in autumn is ideal for families to soak in beautiful hues over entertainment aboard. The Pumpkin Express offers a ride through all the sights to a pumpkin patch over the weekend of October 22nd and 23rd.
The moderate Reflection Lakes hike in the Paradise Area is best on a clear day from a trailhead at Narada Falls to Reflection Lakes. Ensconced in mountain ash, the gold-threaded leaves of hellebore that transform the area into a purple bloom in spring contrast the grasses, asters, and royal-blue gentians. The stark scenery under the blue skies and the sunrays highlighting the white Mount Rainier make the reflections even brighter. The easy Moraine Trail in the Paradise Area from the well-marked trail system just up the steps at Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center meanders through meadows into forest and down to Moraine. With the peaceful sights and wild sounds of the grumbling glaciers in the desolate setting, there is also more wildlife on this off-the-beaten-road path.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
This national park is an all-in-one destination for scenic drives, hiking, and unwinding by a lake among the beautifully jagged North Cascades. Take the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) underneath the peaks, often referred to as the “American Alps,” with a must-stop Diablo Lake Overlook from the parking lot. When you follow the road east, the Washington Pass reveals the flooring sights of the Liberty Bell Mountain, while another 20 minutes east, and you could be fueling up over some tasty sandwiches and good coffee at the Mazama Store!
Among the many iconic hikes through the Cascades, the Maple Pass Loop trail is easily the most rewarding to embark on for moderately active families from the trailhead at the Rainy Pass parking lot. Hikable clockwise or counterclockwise, the latter offers more revealing scenery around each corner for epic shots. The mountains open up right in front of your eyes, and you can detour to Lake Ann before looping back. The easier Blue Lake Trail is a quick hike with breathtaking views and golden larch trees, and you can detour along Blue Lake along a rail loop to see the lake from above. Both hiking trails stay open through October, so embark immediately with Northwest Forest Pass in hand.
Olympic National Park, Washington
The bucket list state park in northwestern Washington to see at least once in your life, the fall colors make now the most glorious time to get a taste of this most authentic slice in the region. Surprisingly delayed, the autumn transformation at Olympic National Park changes the colors from mid-to-late October. Peaking in early November gives you enough time to catch the shifting hues in action from reds, oranges, yellows, and greens.
Home to the year-round hikable Hoh and the Quinault Rainforests on the western side with jaw-dropping, moss-covered maple groves, the gorgeous getaway is complete with the quiet beaches of Kalaloch and Ruby Beach near the rainforests. With quick access from Seattle, the nearly deserted fall landscape and temperate climate mean you don't have to overpack to hike through the contrasting sights to the breathtaking viewpoints.
Pacific City, Oregon
This little beach town with a compelling name sits spoiled with nature beneath the large headland of Cape Kiwanda. Boasting a unique geographical and geological area, the historic fishing village, a destination for over a century, stays tranquil through the fall for a really fun family weekend getaway in the PNW. At the crossroads of a large river, the Big Nestucca and the Little Nestucca, also large, merge into the vastness of the ocean, creating an estuary. The habitat for countless nature species is strewn with wonders like a small town lake full of trout and the spectacular Cape Kiwanda.
From leisure strolls and drives along the pristine Pacific City Beach to drives along the same stretch, the unique sand spit at Bob Straub Park is a must-stop to appreciate 360-degree views. Jutting from the water just off shore, the Haystack, or "Chief Kiawanda" Rock, is the most inspiring geological formation off the west coast, while the village's own PC Airport, 8 parks, and fine hotels reveal its thriving state, home to only 1,362 locals. There are also campgrounds, motels, shops, and restaurants to stay comfortable near the sandy beaches with sights for days and great surf crashing against the coastal rocks below, which makes for an idyllic falltime view over your favorite drink from the patio of a cafe or brewery—simply charming!
The state's largest city, vibrant any day of the year, boasts the most vivid nature in the fall through its parks and the irrevocable Japanese Garden—a real sensual escape in your backyard. Impeccably maintained and diverse, you can stroll for hours amid the trees segmented into eight different gardens styled after an era with native deciduous species, conifers, and Japanese maples, among other samples. The fiery-hued maple leaves stand stark against the stone bridges over meandering streams and reflect in the sparkling ponds. Along the winding walkways with a view of Mount Hood, every sight is a postcard shot.
Step outside into the harvest celebration along Portland's streets, where farmers and vintners bring their best of "Oregon's Bounty" to harvest parties, grape-stomping competitions, and the huge food festival, Bon Appetit: Feast Portland. Sample your way through world cuisine, including hands-on classes with top chefs and the popular Night Market, a Latin-themed event with a DJ and exotic foods from Latin America and Spain. There is the Umami Café at Portland Japanese Garden and the Behind the Museum Café downtown with authentic Japanese snacks and tea. After a day of leisurely pleasures, the city's central parks invite you for more colorful foliage at the Hoyt Arboretum, Washington Park, and Forest Park.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Exploring Oregon Wine Country through the Willamette Valley is a sure way to unwind on a weekend escape or a week-long getaway in the fall, with over 700 wineries, vineyards, breweries, cideries, and distilleries. Don't even try to hit them all, but carpe diem each moment of driving in between for beautiful views and leisurely strolls through the golden vines after the last grape harvest. You can taste some of the region's best from the previous cellar seasons, including fine vintages in crisp air and thin crowds.
The prime foliage transformation takes place in the valley foothills, with trails, picturesque covered bridges, and charming farms—a picture-perfect view each way to cherish in your memory. Durant Vineyards, with its cabanas and long, secluded vineyards, offer some of nature's best sights and tastes. The on-site mill produces internationally acclaimed olive oil amid a peace-inducing landscape to relax over a house bottle of wine. Nothing beats the Vintages Trailer Resort, with 35 restored vintage trailers equipped with individual outdoor grills and cruiser cycles, as well as a large hot tub and firesides to soak up good vibes on a chill autumn evening.
Are you a scenically driven person? Craving an adventure? Or perhaps you were looking to unwind with some friends or bond with your family in the little time you were given off work this fall? This list, touching every corner of the endlessly giving region, has you covered!
Choose the place closest to your state or to your taste for the most unforgettable autumn season in 2023, and save a few for the next one. Embark on a road trip with friends, or call it a fall finery appreciation week to hop into the autumn's open embrace.