It was, in my experience, an oppressive summer.
The heat. The smoke. A looming second-round of COVID-19 and all the associated acrimony and suffering.
For me – and from what I heard from some of you – losing access to our preferred refuge, the outdoors, was an emotional and physical challenge. For long periods this summer my job as the outdoors editor felt pointless, a sideshow to disaster.
And yet, this month has reminded me of the joy, beauty and existential importance of the outdoors. A jaunt in the Idaho Selkirks, the autumnal wind crisp and the sun warm, was joy. Each smoke-free inhalation that much sweeter after an asthmatic summer, each breath driving home the importance of healthy forests, and stoking a desire to fight like hell so that, just maybe, future generations can breath that same sweet air.
Or, a daytrip to Riverside State Park, the close-to-home beauty a reminder of the good government can do.
Each season brings its joys, yes even a smoky Pacific Northwest summer, but the joys this fall are particularly sweet.
And so, here are 10 great areas to check out – I’ll leave the specific adventure up to you – but each offers resplendent foliage, expansive views, winter-aware wildlife and crisp air.
A note on fall hiking: the day’s are shorter, with the sun setting by 6:20 p.m. this week and the land dark by 7 p.m. And while it can be warm (hot even) during the day, temperatures plummet at night and snow isn’t uncommon in the mountains.
And, it’s fall, which means many animals are mating and more likely to be aggressive, beware of bull moose in particular. Not to mention, big-game hunting seasons are opening (Sunday in much of Idaho and Oct. 16 in much of Washington) so wear orange and plan your adventures accordingly.(tncms-asset)35f66c9e-26fa-11ec-afee-3f1dc87ddd5f(/tncms-asset)
Close to home
The Liberty Lake Regional Park offers great access to close-to-town nature.
The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is full of pit-stopping migratory birds and doting trumpeter swans this month. The refuge does charge an entry fee ($3 per car).
A bit afield
Immerse yourself in the larches at Lookout Pass off I-90. Plenty of hiking options here, whether it’s St. Regis Lake, or over the border in Montana (where the larches are thicker) at Hub or Cliff lakes.
Drive to North Idaho and head up the Pack River road. From here, hike into the Selkirk Mountains before the snow flies. Great hikes include Harrison Lake (popular), Beehive Lakes or the hike to Chimney Rock.
North of Spokane, there is Mount Spokane’s trail system. Mountain ash and aspen are starting to change colors, said Holly Weiler the eastern Washington coordinator for the Washington Trails Association. But, she warned hikers to beware of a bull moose spotted recently on Mount Spokane.
“We met the bull & cow near Saddle Junction, and he was NOT happy to have hikers nearby (short charge & lots of huffing),” she wrote in a Facebook comment.
Or head west to Sherman Pass and venture up to the Kettle Crest.
A day or more
Washington’s Mount Rainier or Montana’s Glacier national parks are world-class destinations, for a reason. None more so than in October.
Or consider the numerous trails in the North Cascades, but beware: the weather can turn on a dime.
To beat the crowds, head to Montana’s Bitterroot Valley and check out the trails into the Bitterroot National Forest via a number of canyons.
Blodgett or Mill Creek canyons offer great trails winding their way underneath early 1,000-foot cliffs.
Or, stay in state and go to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness for some backcountry adventure.