Fall colors in Mt. Rainier National Park

Late September to late October is a great time to experience fall colors in the Mt. Rainier National Park. Vine Maple, high elevation huckleberry bushes, and Larch are the primary sources of fall colors. Two areas I like to visit and photograph in the fall are the area around Paradise and along Natches Peak Loop trail. Reflection Lakes as well as around Bench and Snow lakes are also great spots to view the colors.

Around Tipsoo Lake

Tipsoo Lake is a good starting point to hike the Nates Peak Loop trail. Drive east on State Route 410 (Chinook Pass Highway). Half a mile west of Chinook Pass, park at the Tipsoo Lake parking area. Although we didn’t see much color around Tipsoo Lake in late September, we did find some Magenta Indian paintbrush around the lesser known Little Tipsoo Lake.

Fall Foliage around Little Tipsoo Lake
Nikon D810, 44mm f16 1/30 sec f16
46°51’58.2989″ N 121°30’55.8931″ W
Fall Colors & Mt. Rainier from behind Tipsoo Lake
Nikon D750 20mm f16 1/100sec ISO 100
46°52’3.1776″ N 121°30’59.155″ W

Around Paradise

Simply majestic. The Paradise area within the Mount Rainier National Park is the most popular area in the park, and for good reason. Epic hiking trails, waterfalls and beautiful lakes unmatched by any other area. The are is accessible throughout the year. This is one of the best spots in the park to view fall colors with minimal efforts. One can easily spend an hour photographing the colors with the majestic mountain as a backdrop right from the Visitor Center. We spent half a day on Oct 1, 2021. Tip: Start early. At this time of the year, 0630 is the ideal time to start hiking.

View from behind the Paradise Visitor Center
Nikon D810 65mm f14 1/40sec ISO 64
46°47’11.1957″ N 121°44’11.8596″ W

Skyline trail is my favorite trail for viewing fall colors. We started the hike at 0645. As it had rained the previous night, there were patches of thin sheets of ice on the paved portion of the trail. Be careful as we found a lady slip, fall and slide. We tried to go around the patches wherever possible without disturbing the path.

Myrle Falls is the first landmark along the Skyline trail that you will encounter. It is about 0.4 miles from the Visitor Center. With Mount Rainier looming grandly over Edith Creek, it provides one of the signature views of the Northwest’s landmark mountain. On any given day, your chances of running into a serious photographer at Myrtle Falls are quite good. The falls themselves mark the beginning of the short, but very impressive gorge that Edith Creek has carved as it cascades to the Paradise Valley below. The falls skip 72 feet down jagged rocks, starting off wide, and condensing to a narrow stream at the base of the falls. The best spot to view the falls is from the the short path to your right just before the footbridge over Edith Creek.

Myrtle Falls in the fall
Nikon D750 23mm f16 1/2 sec ISO 100
46°47’27.9852″ N 121°43’56.748″ W

At the southern end of the footbridge over Edith Creek is an iconic spot to photograph the creek with the mountain in the background. This is most probably the best spot in the Paradise area to photograph the mountain at sunrise. Unfortunately, we were late by an hour.

Fall foliage viewed from along the Skyline Trail near Myrtle Falls
Nikon D750 31mm f13 1/25sec ISO 100
46°47’23.5921″ N 121°43’57.8777″ W

Driving along Stevens Canyon Road

The Stevens Canyon Road between Paradise and Grove of the Patriarchs has numerous spots to photograph fall foliage. This year, we were a bit early. It should be peaking in the next 2 weeks or so. We didn’t find much color around Reflection Lake. About 2 miles east of Reflection Lake, around a hair pin bend, there is a terrific spot to photograph bushes and Mt. Rainier. There is space to park 3 cars.

Stevens Canyon Road in the fall
Nikon D810 44mm f22 1/25 sec ISO 64
46°45’51.7176″ N 121°41’49.416″ W

Amongst the evergreens, there were patches of yellow and orange colors. Fog was rolling in and we stopped to shoot a few frames.

Stevens Canyon Road in the fall
Nikon D810 70mm f16 1/8 sec ISO64
46°45’57.2796″ N 121°40’9.9048″ W

We left the park at around 1030 and reached home at 1pm.

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