Mild, sunny days and cold nights mean that autumn colors are peaking in the Columbia Highlands. The star of the show, of course, is western larch. With its glowing gold needles, a panorama of these deciduous conifers is one of the iconic images of autumn in northeast Washington.
Below, two classic scenic drives for some of the best fall-color viewing in the Northwest:
Sherman Pass Scenic Byway
Sherman Pass Scenic Byway offers the best fall-color show in eastern Washington. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive sites allow travelers unobstructed views over thousands of acres of rolling, pristine forest.
Just east of the pass, Sherman Overlook’s short intrepretive trail offers several great vantage points of postcard-quality panoramas of the southern half of the Kettle Crest. The best time for viewing is in the morning, when low-angle sunlight illuminates the swaths of larch on the eastern slope of Sherman Peak.
Driving directions: About 4 miles west of Kettle Falls on Hwy 395, cross the bridge over the Columbia River. Almost immediately (1/10 mile), turn left (west) on Hwy 20, toward the town of Republic. Drive approximately 21 miles to the Sherman Overlook, on the right (north) side of the highway.
West of the pass, the White Mountain Fire Interpretive Site surveys a forest quickly regenerating from the 1988 White Mountain Fire. Because it is the fastest-growing conifer in the region, western larch can quickly colonize areas of disturbances such as wildfires, meaning that larch viewers can see a sweeping expanse of vigorous young larch from this overlook. Visit at sunset to see a dazzling light display.
Driving directions: From Republic, drive east on Hwy 20 for 12 miles. The interpretive site is on the left (north) side of the highway.
Sullivan Lake Loop
On the Sullivan Lake Loop, in the heart of the Selkirks, the fall-colors display mixes the Rockies with a touch of hardwood forest reminiscent of the northeast. For the best views, follow the Noisy Creek Trail 0.5 mile from Noisy Creek Campground, on the south end of Sullivan Lake. Here, western larch color the background, while the bright birch, aspen and cottonwood leaves command your immediate attention.
Driving directions: One mile south of Ione, turn east onto Sullivan Lake Road 9345. Travel 8 miles to Noisy Creek Campground, on the right. The Noisy Creek trailhead is on the east end of the campground. Scenic Sullivan Lake Road continues 8 more miles, past Sullivan Lake, Mill Pond and numerous trailheads, terminating 1 mile north of Metaline Falls.