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Best Hikes For Fall Foliage

Fall is one of the best seasons to be on a trail in the San Juan Islands. With a crisp sea breeze nipping the coast and golden sunlight bathing inland farms, hiking in autumn is a unique island experience. Pack an extra jacket, fill your thermos and discover an entirely new side of the Islands.

Inside Moran State Park, this 3-mile trail winds between Douglas firs and Bigleaf maples – creating stunning contrasts of color against a lush green backdrop. Perfect for beginning hikers and dogs on leashes, it’s a fall escape for the whole family.

Cascade falls is a 40-foot waterfall and the perfect reward after a 420 foot elevation gain. On your way to the largest waterfall in the San Juan Islands, you'll pass two other falls and follow Cascade Creek through a dense forest.

There are several ways to reach Cascade Falls - the easiest starting from a parking lot off Mt. Constitution Road. This access point provides the least mileage, with just half a mile out and back. Another option for making this a longer hike is to start from the Cascade Lake trail. With this option, start from the Cascade Lake day-use area across the street from the beach and to the right of the restrooms. A third option starts from the South Camp day-use parking lot. Follow the Cascade Lake trail to the right across Mt. Constitution road. Shortly after the road, the trail to the falls branches off to the right.  

If there's one place to put on your fall hiking list, it’s Roche Harbor. The quaint cobblestone streets of the resort are lined with vibrant reds and yellows and the maze of hikes winding above the harbor offer picturesque shots of the marina, historic chapel and nearby islands.

There are more than six miles of trails meandering through the northern part of San Juan Island - some connecting to nearby Mt. Young and the Historical English Camp. Protected from traffic, the path begins next to the road at the resort's airport. Pass the windmill and water treatment facility, enter the forest at Tim’s trail on your left.  A little further is Bent Cedar Pass Trail. Follow the map and discover the local fauna and various micro- ecosystems. 

Dominated by Bigleaf Maple, Red Alder, and Pacific Madrone, fall colors at Young Hill are a must-see. Your climb will be rewarded with sweeping views of San Juan, Canada’s Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and beyond – every direction offering glimpses of fall.

If you want to wear hiking boots, experience some history, and see views that take your breath away, tackle Young Hill. Situated at the north end of the island, the 650-foot summit offers unmatched panoramas of San Juan, Canada’s Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and beyond. Pick up the trailhead across the road from English Camp, occupied by the British in 1860 and find traces of its history on Mount Young itself—watch for the 1860s Royal Marine Cemetery.

The trail rises at a steady gradient, with plenty of places for you to stop, catch your breath, and drink in the views, which get more and more rewarding as you climb. The forest of evergreens, madrones, and oaks thins to a clearing at the summit.  If you’ve brought lunch, settle down and enjoy some of the best views in the area. You have the world at your feet.

You can also hike from English Camp to Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm, through lush forests, and along the water.

Garry oaks and Conifer trees guide hikers through a colorful trail up the second-highest peak on Orcas Island. Wide-open vistas of the fall colors below, make for a rewarding, though steep, climb. Photos at the top offer a stunning backdrop of rolling farmland and distant outer islands along the horizon.

The distinctively shaped Turtleback Mountain is a much-loved area for hikers—at 1,520 feet, the second-highest summit in the islands. For hikers and nature lovers, that translates into fantastic views and fascinating flora and fauna. The south-end approach, up the turtle’s “head,” is for those willing to tackle a steep ascent. You’ll enjoy wide-open vistas for much of the climb, but this also means more exposure to the sun.

For those less inclined to pant up an exposed climb, choose the north ascent. Here, conifer forest and wetlands replace the grasslands and Garry oaks of the south face.

Not all fall color comes from leaves. On Lopez Hill, hikers are delighted by colorful mushrooms and ground cover that come to life in autumn. An intricate network of trails, visitors are introduced to diverse and relatively pristine plant and animal communities, all bursting with color during the autumn months.

Known locally as “the heart of Lopez,” Lopez Hill offers a forest escape for hikers and nature lovers. The area spans 400 acres, with the hill standing at 535 feet. An intricate network of trails (at least seven are mapped) offers challenging hikes through rocky knolls, canyons and prairie land. Plant lovers can feast their eyes on a range of island flora, from fungi to lichens to wildflowers. From the summit, enjoy views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and beyond to the south.

Savor The San Juans This Fall

From wine tasting to harvest dinners, farm tours to bike races, check out all of the delicious details and lodging specials!

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