In travel industry parlance, this is one of the shoulder seasons. Gone are the crowds and warm weather, soon to be replaced by the cold and snow (at least in the mountains).
Motels cut their rates to fill rooms, souvenir shops slash prices to move merchandise, there’s no longer a long wait for a table at popular restaurants.
But for fans of fall, this is the high season.
Mountainsides are dappled with splotches of reds, yellows and oranges. Trails once packed with the flip-flop crowd are now pathways to solitude. Ocean beaches that were serene under the setting summer sun are now venues for nature to display its storm-driven fury.
There are a multitude of ways to take full advantage of the fall. Here are some of our suggestions.
Take in Rainier’s fall colors
This is the time of year to visit Mount Rainier National Park if you want to take in the colors of autumn or want a bit of solitude. With many park facilities shut for the season, or operating on limited schedules, you won’t have to deal with a lot of competition on the trails.
Your reward is the chance to enjoy nature’s fall palette.
“As a general rule, any place you can see fall color is spectacular this time of year,” said Kevin Bacher, acting chief of interpretation. “That includes both low-elevation hikes along rivers, where you’ll find maples, alders, and other deciduous trees, and subalpine areas where the huckleberries and grasses are turning magenta and amber.”
Among his recommendations: Tipsoo Lake and the Naches Peak loop trail are good options as long as the road is open on the park’s east side. In the Nisqually corridor, this is a great time of the year to hike the Skyline, Mazama Ridge and Lakes trails (a dusting of snow only makes it even more beautiful, Bacher said). The mile-long stretch of the Kautz Creek Trail before it starts climbing toward Indian Henry’s is another option. In the northwest part of the park, hike or bike the Carbon River Road/Trail to Ipsut Creek, and then maybe continue out to the suspension bridge and Carbon Glacier.
Play at Kalaloch
If you use the Kalaloch area as your base, there are plenty of things to see and do this time of year.
“During October and November, gray whales begin their migration south,” said Judy Lively, Olympic Coast lead interpreter at Olympic National Park. “The park’s coastal areas are right along their path.”
The best places to watch for whales is from the beaches and high ocean overlooks along U.S. Highway 101. They include the Destruction Island Overlook, Beach 6, Kalaloch Lodge and South Beach.
Lively recommends bringing binoculars since the whales are farther out than when they migrate north in the spring.
If the whales are not cooperating, you can admire the Big Cedar Tree, walk the Kalaloch Creek Nature Trail or play at Ruby Beach.
The 174-foot-tall Big Cedar is a Western red cedar located just off of U.S. 101 near Beach 6. The original tree, which has been dead for many years, is being used as a standing nurse log for hundreds of trees and plants. The hollow base is roomy enough inside for several people to stand in it.
A groomed trail with boardwalks, the Kalaloch Creek trail is a 1½ mile loop with 200 feet of elevation gain. You might see some elk as they escape upper-elevation snow.
Ruby Beach is a great place to play – when the weather is good – and to watch the power of nature when the storms roll in.
Both Kalaloch and Mora campgrounds are first-come, first-served this time of year. Kalaloch Lodge offers hotel rooms and cabins.
Check out the salmon
Waters throughout the South Sound offer a chance to see the life cycle of salmon in action.
Tumwater Falls Park in Olympia is a great location to see hatchery chinook returning to their natal waters. In mid-November, wild chum salmon will return to migrate and spawn in McClane Creek, south of Olympia. On weekends in November, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Stream Team volunteers will be stationed along the creek to provide information and answer questions. Information: streamteam.info
On October weekends, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., guides will be at five locations along the Cedar River. You can learn about the natural and human history of the Cedar River, and the life cycle and habitat needs of returning salmon. The locations are Renton Library, Cedar River Park, Riverview Park, Cavanaugh Pond Natural Area and Landsburg Park. Information: cedarriver.org
On Nov. 10, the Great Peninsula Conservancy will hold the Chico Creek Salmon Walk. Suquamish Tribe fisheries biologist and GPC member Jay Zischke will lead the walk to view spawning salmon. Information: greatpeninsula.org
Camp at a state park
This is a good time to camp in a Washington state park, where plenty of options abound and there are far fewer people. You can spend the night in a small cabin at parks such as Ike Kinswa, Kitsap Memorial, Camano Island, Cama Beach or Rasar. A yurt is a fun way to camp at locations such as Grayland Beach (spend the night after an evening clam dig), Battle Ground Lake or Kanaskat-Palmer state parks. For a little more room, you can rent a vacation house at 11 parks, including Millersylvania, Dosewallips, Fort Worden and Fort Columbia.
There also are several state parks that accept year-round camping reservations. They are Cape Disappointment, Deception Pass, Dosewallips, Grayland Beach, Ike Kinswa, Kitsap Memorial, Ocean City and Pacific Beach.
For a list of parks with extended reservation dates, visit parks.wa.gov, and select reservations.
Reservations may be made online at parks.wa.gov or by calling 888-226-7688. Reservations for Fort Worden and Fort Townsend state parks may be made by calling 360-344-4400.
Free days at parks
If you’re not sure what to do Veterans Day weekend, consider this incentive: The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington State Parks will not charge entrance fees.
That’s right, visitors to places such as Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks will save the $15 entrance fee. It also means you can get in free to locales such as Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and Millersylvania State Park.
While visitors will not need a Discover Pass to enter a state park, the pass still will be required at state Department of Natural Resources and state Department of Fish and Wildlife sites.
A Discover Pass is $10 a day or $30 a year. For more information, visit discoverpass.wa.gov.
Closer to home, both Northwest Trek Wildlife Park and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium will hold Veterans Appreciation Day on Nov. 11. Both parks are offering free admission to all individuals who are currently serving or have honorably served in the U.S. military.
To take advantage of the offer, bring your active military/veteran identification card, discharge papers, DD214s or any other proof of honorable U.S. military service.