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5 gorgeous dog-friendly hikes to do this fall

With summer winding down, we’re now entering the ideal hiking season in the northwest. The temperatures stay warm, but not hot, the mosquitoes are starting to hibernate and the crowds dwindle as the kids go back to school. Many of the more popular fall hikes don't allow dogs, but fortunately, there are still plenty of dog-friendly hikes outside of the restricted areas to enjoy fall colors with your four-legged pal by your side.

A few tips for trail etiquette and hiking safely during the pandemic:

  1. Go early and/or on a weekday if you can. The early bird gets the worm, as they say.
  2. Dress in layers. It will be cold in the morning but may warm up as the day progresses.
  3. Pack it in, pack it out. The trails are littered, literally, with trash from humans. Leave the trail better than you found it.
  4. Bring the 10 essentials
  5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew; stick to your comfort level, or just beyond, if you want a challenge.
  6. If the trail allows dogs off-leash, make sure your dog has solid recall (this means they come the first time you call) and don’t allow them to go up to other people or dogs without permission.
  7. Neck gaiters make great trail masks. You can wear it around your neck and pull it up and over your face when you pass another user on the trail.

Yellow Aster Butte

Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,550 feet
Location: North Cascades, Mount Baker Region
Permit: Northwest Forest Pass

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One of the most popular fall hikes, and for good reason, the colors are simply astounding. Go early, and better yet, plan to camp nearby the night before to get a head start and enjoy the surrounding area. This trail gets straight to it, starting off with a steep ascent, gaining nearly 1,500 feet within the first mile and a half. After emerging from a set of switchbacks, you enter a meadow that will just take your breath away with the vibrant red, orange, and yellow. Oh, and be sure to turn around and admire the view of Mt. Baker right in your face, too.

Continue along the trail, which flattens out for a bit as it skirts along the meadow and the base of Yellow Aster Butte. Just before turning right toward the summit, take the opportunity to rest and enjoy the view of Mt. Baker and the surrounding view. From the peak, try to name as many peaks as you see and marvel at the fact that you’re practically in Canada.

Anderson & Watson Lakes

Distance: 6 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
Location: North Cascades, Mount Baker Region
Permit: Northwest Forest Pass

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This gem of a hike features everything any avid hiker could want in a North Cascade jaunt: beautiful meadows bursting with colorful blueberry bushes, two alpine lakes, second-growth forest, mountain views, including Mt. Baker and Shuksan, and excellent backpacking opportunities. The trail fluctuates between mostly flat paths to undulating descents and ascents (remember that for the hike back to the car, you will be hiking back up!) Just beyond the trailhead lies a lovely meadow that leads to the side trail toward Anderson Lake.

Though steep, the short detour is worth the sweat, and your pup will enjoy a swim in the lake if it’s still warm enough. Returning to the main trail, the path leads up an incline before dipping into the Watson Lakes basin. Continue past the first lake, which is pretty, but press on to Upper Watson Lake for a real treat. Pick one of the many flat outcroppings to enjoy lunch and the view of jagged peaks towering over its turquoise waters. If you’re backpacking, there are plenty of camping spots with primo views spread out along the lake.

Ira Spring Trail - Mason Lake

Distance: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,420 feet
Location: Snoqualmie Pass
Permit: Northwest Forest Pass

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Named after nature photographer and conservationist Ira Spring, this trail, located just over an hour from Seattle, features a beautiful alpine lake, views of Mt. Rainier, and exposed ridgelines ablaze in bright yellow and orange shrubs. After about a mile and a half into the hike, you’ll arrive at the set of switchbacks through alpine meadows and plenty of mountain views. Be sure to take a photo break at the unassuming high point, a rocky outcrop with views of Mt. Rainier. Continue on to Mason Lake and enjoy lunch while gazing at the view of Bandera Mountain from a seat upon one of the large boulders found along the shore. If you’re backpacking, there are several designated spots and a privy.

Hex Mountain

Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,900 feet
Location: Snoqualmie Pass, near Roslyn
Permit: None

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This steep hike near Roslyn is worth the effort, both in the drive and in the physical exertion. Accessible year-round, the fall season welcomes crisp blue skies that will reward you with views of Mt. Rainier and the Teanaways. Located right off SR 903, the trailhead can be easy to miss. There’s no true parking lot, just space on the side of the forest service road where it begins. Because much of the route follows the service road, the path is plenty wide to allow for safe distancing when passing others. After 1.7 miles, a trail to the right will lead you up, up, up to the summit of Hex Mountain. There are plenty of spacious rest stops with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Cle Elum along the way. You’ll be grateful for them; the push to the summit is a calf burner.

Silver Star Mountain

Distance: 5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,240 feet
Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Permit: None

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If you don’t have a vehicle with high clearance, find a friend who does. This trail begins at the end of one of the worst roads in the state. The exposed ridgeline means consistent views throughout the hike, and visiting in the cooler months means you won’t have a hot sun beating down on you for hours. A 1902 fire decimated the forest. Few trees returned, making way for flowers and low shrubs that show off their colors during the spring and fall seasons. Ed’s Trail is the more rugged, yet fun approach to Silver Star Mountain. You’ll pass through a rock arch, walk past a cave, and encounter several mini scrambles.

From the peak, enjoy views of the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Hood. Retrace your steps back to the car or take the Silver Star Trail back to the trailhead (ideal if you don’t enjoy steep descents).

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