Last revised: May 7, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Washington state is an interestingly diverse state from a topographic standpoint; to the east features arid, rolling farmland and the stunning Columbia River Basin while the west features the wet, rainy, and snowy Cascade Range and Puget Sound.
There are also several other mountain ranges dotting the state including the Kettles and Okanagans. In addition, the Blue Mountains can be found in the very southeastern corner of the state while the beautiful Olympic Mountains comprise much of the Olympic Peninsula.
While fall colors can found throughout Washington they are especially prevalent to the west where the state contains lush forests thanks to between 70-150 inches of rain annually between the Coastal Plains and windward slopes of the western mountains.
There is also the Hoh Rainforest located on the Olympic Peninsula. Interestingly, the entire western region receives so much rain that the Columbia Basin is very dry by comparison, usually receiving between 10-40 inches of rain annually.
Washington's fall colors generally peak during early/mid-October at the lower elevations. The most common trees to see include larches, maples, and aspens, which dazzle in an array of crimson, golden yellows, and bright oranges.
The information presented here highlights current locations in Washington offer train rides during the autumn season, or have trips specifically designated to see the fall colors. Please note that the Western Forest Industries Museum mentioned below, formerly the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, is currently not operating excursions.
However, their future goals appear to be relaunching train rides with perhaps fall foliage trips as part of their schedule.
(Yacolt): The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, located in Yacolt, operates on a former logging line constructed during the late 19th century (Vancouver, Klickitat, & Yakima Railroad).
Trips depart from Yacolt, the end of the branch, to Lucia Falls (Moulton) and return, a distance of about 3.5 miles. The entire corridor later became a branch of the Northern Pacific Railway which referred to is as the Yacolt Branch, running 30 miles south from Vancouver.
Stops along the way included Hidden, Barberton, Homan, Laurin, Brush Prairie, Battle Ground, Crawford, Heison, and Wall.
Today, the track is owned by Clark County, which leases it for both freight service and tourism. During September and October the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad offers their Fall Leaves Special and a "Harvest Run."
While many trains are diesel powered they also have an operational steam locomotive, Crossett Western 2-8-2T #10 which always draws big crowds. Your trip departs Yacolt and follows the Yacolt Creek through the valley before turning east along the Lewis River's East Fork.
Aside from the splendid colors the trip's highlight, as on nearly every outing, is witnessing beautiful Moulton Falls and Lucia Falls.
The Lake Whatcom Railway, based in Wickersham, operates a short stretch of a former Northern Pacific branch running to the northwest of town and partially following Route 9.
Excursions are typically pulled by a historical diesel locomotive built by the American Locomotive Company, Portland Terminal Railroad Company #30 (completed in July, 1940). The organization also has a steam locomotive on hand that occasionally operates, Northern Pacific 0-6-0 #1070.
They do not host dedicated fall foliage trips but do operate pumpkin patch trains for Halloween which also allow guests to see the autumn colors during the trip. The railroad states these trips typically sell out fast.
(Mineral/Elbe/Eatonville): Washington's most popular excursion, thanks to their impressive fleet of operational steam locomotives, is the Western Forest Industries Museum (formerly the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad).
There are currently five steamers in action. These include:
The railroad runs a former section of the old Milwaukee Road's Rainier National Park Branch. This line left Seattle and wound its way south to rural Morton (67.3 miles).
Today, the heritage railroad maintains the Mineral (Milepost 53.7) to Elbe (Milepost 47.2) segment, a distance of 6.5 miles.
During October they host the Peanuts™ The Great Pumpkin Patch Express allowing visitors to enjoy the area's gorgeous fall colors while the kids can meet Snoopy and friends and pick out a pumpkin.
The train departs Elbe and heads east out of town. It then turns south at Park Junction and crosses the Nisqually River whereupon it follows Mineral and Roundtop Creeks into Mineral. Nearly your entire trip is through forest canopy making it a great way to see the fall colors.
The onset of COVID-19 shuttered operations at the former Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, which previously operated trains on this stretch of track. The current Western Forest Industries Museum is expecting to relaunch public excursions but has not given a timetable regarding when that will occur. Please visit their website for latest news.