Fall Hiking in the Northwest: September’s Best Bets
Editor’s Note: We encourage you to practice good physical distancing, confirm trails are open before heading out, and be patient when visiting local businesses.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, hiking in the Northwest in September is a great activity that is not to be missed. Around these parts, it might get a little wet in the winter and little hot in the summer, but there’s never a season when you can’t get out for a hike.
That said, September, with its lingering summer weather, happens to be an ideal season for certain hikes. It’s late enough in the summer that most of last season’s snowpack is gone and you won’t have the heat of late July and August to contend with. At higher elevations, the bugs have disappeared, and though the wildflowers have as well, the first accents of fall bathe the forest in color.
Here are a few of our favorite Northwest hikes that shine in September.
Ape Canyon (Mount St. Helens, Wash.)
For those not ready to summit Mount St. Helens, but want to take in the views, head to Ape Canyon. The trail offers the perfect contrast of lush, ancient forests and barren, lunar-like landscapes to please any hiker. For added amazement — and a total hike of about 11 miles roundtrip — head north on the Loowit Trail at its junction with the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham.
Goat Lake Loop (Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Wash.)
The snow often lingers long in Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness, so September is the perfect time to plan an adventure for this challenging hike. Known as one of the best alpine hikes in the Northwest, the trail offers beautiful views, some of the nicest campsites in the area and a sparkling blue alpine lake. What’s not to love? You’ll also have easy access to the area’s higher elevation lookouts, including 7,900-foot Old Snowy Mountain. This 13-mile hike loops up from Snowgrass Flats and back down Goat Ridge. It’s a doable, if stout, day hike, but it’s much more enjoyable as an overnight backpacking trip.
Burroughs Mountain (Mount Rainier, Wash.)
For over-the-top views of Mount Rainier – and a good shot at seeing mountain goats and other wildlife – it’s hard to beat the 7.5-mile roundtrip ramble up Burroughs Mountain. The trail, which is usually snow-free by September, actually covers three separate “Burroughs,” the third of which tops out at 7,800 feet with the northeast face of Rainier right in front of you.
Elk Cove (Mount Hood, Ore.)
This 9-mile roundtrip hike climbs moderately up Mount Hood’s Vista Ridge before heading east on the scenic Timberline Trail. At Elk Cove, you’ll find babbling streams, early fall colors and overwhelming views of Hood’s north face.
Cape Falcon (North Oregon Coast)
The Oregon Coast can get a bit soupy in the winter, so September’s drier, warmer weather provides the perfect setting for this 5-mile beauty in Oswald West State Park. The trail winds through a forest of massive trees before emerging atop the namesake cape with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged Oregon coastline to the south. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see north all the way to Tillamook Head and south to Cape Lookout.
Get the family together, dive into the guidebooks and choose a hike for the coming weeks. You really can’t go wrong.