Going outdoors in mid-October is a bright idea. From the lakes and rivers to the alpine ridges, mosquitoes are history and autumn colors have been making their last splash before winter.
Hiking: Donna Larsen of Spokane said this is her favorite time of year to hike the rugged routes into the Enchantment Lakes region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Leavenworth.
She says she tries almost every year to draw the required permit for hiking into the Enchantments during fall, when the alpine larch, also known as tamaracks, turn a brilliant gold before losing their needles. Larsen has captured some top regional amateur photography awards with images from classic autumn destinations such as Lake Vivian and Prusik Peak.
But these golden moments deep in the alpine backcountry at elevations above 6,500 feet have their risks.
“I have done the trip five times in the last seven years,” she said. “However, three of those years we had blizzards and one of the years we got dumped on with 4 feet of snow! A team of seven Search and Rescue volunteers came to get us out on the fifth day.”
Today is the last day of the Alpine Lakes permit season, which means the Enchantment Lakes are open to any hikers — or skiers and snowshoers — willing to risk wintry conditions that are about to draw the curtain on the fall light show.
Notable fall options: Columbia Mountain loop starting from Sherman Pass or St. Regis Lakes from Lookout Pass.
Fishing: Todd Klement of Spokane says the end of September and early October is his most dependable period of the year to catch big northern pike at Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“The water temp needs to be around 56 to 61 degrees,” he said after returning last week from fishing with Spokane angler Duane Wiles, his best buddy since ninth grade.
On that trip, Klement landed pike that he weighed at 23, 11 and 9 pounds on his hand scale before releasing them back into the lake.
“I was on the southern end of Lake CDA, fishing the weed lines in 11 to 5 feet of water using a Johnson Silver Minnow backed by a 3-inch black pork rind trailer,” he said, noting that he releases all pike over about 5 pounds.
“The 3- to 5-pounders are the best eating when you want fish for dinner,” he said.
Sean Visintainer of Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley, has been getting his last fly casts of the season at mountain streams that likely will be closed by snow before the trout seasons end on Nov. 30.
“The Black Canyon (of the North Fork Clearwater) fishes great this time of the year,” he said last week. “Virtually nobody fishing and some decent bug hatches — October caddis, mahoganies, some smaller caddis, and blue-wing olives.
“This year the water was a lot skinnier up there compared to the last few years so I think some of the cutts had moved down to the bigger water a little sooner. We had great fishing though, mostly nymph and streamer fishing. For nymphs you could use your ordinary bead head prince or red copper john and not have to change patterns all day. We also whacked fish on a variety of streamers — anything big with a lot of movement/rabbit in tan, grey, brown, or olive. They weren’t too picky!”
Notable fall options: Steelhead are running the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers; fly fishing is excellent with water temperatures perfect for active fish feeding on many area streams including the Clark Fork as well as in lakes such Amber.
Paddling: Autumn can be the best or maybe even the only safe time of the year to paddle some waters.
Priest River is generally too low to avoid bouncing on rocks for much of the year, until mid-October, when Avista begins lowering the lake level at Priest Lake in preparation for spring runoff.
This year, the gates on Outlet Dam were opened Oct. 9, bringing the Priest River to life for paddlers just as fall colors are peaking.
The Priest flows 44 miles from the lake to its confluence with the Pend Oreille River. The 28 miles of river from Dickensheet Campground downstream to McAbee Falls is choice. Good camping sites can be found about 18 miles downstream from the put-in and just downstream from Chipmunk Rapids.
Spokane River flows also have perked up to prime paddling conditions since Sept. 12, when Avista began the several-months-long drawdown of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Notable fall options: The Elk River near Fernie, British Columbia, and the White River flowing in to Lake Wenatchee are eye candy in early October. Floaters at both rivers can enjoy good developed federal or provincial campgrounds.
Biking: From Plummer to Mullan, the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, is stunning in autumn, especially the stretch from Harrison to Enaville. Be careful, however, on frosty mornings when the pavement occasionally is carpeted with yellow cottonwood leaves that can be icy-slick.
Notable fall options: Autumn is a close second to spring for scenery along the Centennial Trail anywhere from Riverside State Park to the Washington-Idaho state line. Mountain bike the cross-country ski trails at Mount Spokane while the blaze-red huckleberry leaves are still clinging to the bushes. Beware of moose!