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Fall hikes: sorting favorites

Posted on August 30, 2016 at 6:00 am

By Rich Landers

Being a trail guidebook author who’s explored Inland Northwest trails for more than three decades, I’m regularly asked a question this time of year: “What’s your favorite fall hike?”

The answer is as difficult as naming your favorite child. And as all parents know, even our children are a little more appealing some days than others depending on their mood, and ours.

I prefer certain hikes through the season when the waterfalls are at peak flows, or mosquito season is over, or huckleberries are ripe or fall colors are peaking.

In the fall, I tend to look for hikes brightened by autumn colors, with some consideration to avoiding bear and grouse hunters.

My top choice for an after-work hike during fall might be to the Rocks of Sharon in the Iller Creek Unit of the Dishman Hills Conservation Area in Spokane Valley. It’s one of a dozen great treks on the various lands protected by the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program. My point is that having a fabulous favorite fall hike in the North Cascades is useless to me if I have only a few hours in an afternoon available for an outing. Travel time and reality are factors in determining a favorite hike choice on a given day.

If you asked me about my favorite hike for the first weekend in May, I might say Steamboat Rock State Park, where bitterroots and other wildflowers are peaking as the geese rear their broods and before the heat is daunting and summer boating crowds have arrived.

Ask me for my favorite hike on the first week of autumn and I’d say, well, it depends on the weather, who’s coming along, how much time we want to devote to travel vs. hiking.

Many factors should be considered—which is why I write guidebooks such as Day Hiking Eastern Washington and 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest—to put many options at your fingertips for making the best decision.

This is also why I’m giving two programs on fall hiking at Spokane County Library District in September:

Thursday, Sep 8, 7pm

Thursday, Sep 15, 7pm

Following are a few other ways I sort my favorites among the hundreds of day hiking options in the region.

Best fall hike to a high point

Abercrombie Mountain overlooking the Pend Oreille Valley is hard to beat, especially in October when the larch needles are turning yellow. Abercrombie is the second highest mountain in Eastern Washington.

Best place for a fall hiking base camp

Sullivan Lake, where hikers can chose from a dozen trails, high and low, including jaunts into the Salmo-Priest Wilderness and Gypsy Peak, the tallest mountain in Eastern Washington.

Best local fall wildlife hike

Pine Lakes Loop at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, where migratory birds are pit-stopping and trumpeter swans are fledging their young of the year.

Best fall mountain circumnavigation

Sherman Peak loop off Sherman Pass in the Colville National Forest.

Best fall hike in Spokane

Riverside State Park trails downstream along the Spokane River from the Bowl and Pitcher are hard to beat; and don’t overlook a stroll along the foliage-colored paths in the Finch Arboretum.

Best last chance of the season for hiking past a rattlesnake

Escure Ranch, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management area south of Sprague or Northrup Canyon in Steamboat Rock State Park.

So there, I’ve listed some favorites. But ask me another time and the answers almost surely will be different.


Rich LandersRich Landers is the outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review and the author of popular regional guidebooks such as Day Hiking Eastern Washington, 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest, and Paddling Washington.