Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama Washington

Methow Valley Fall Foliage

Methow Valley Fall Foliage

Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonFall Foliage along the Methow River #78824  

One of the premier destinations of the North Cascades is the Methow Valley. This beautiful mountain valley is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts in all four seasons. There are great trails for hiking and biking in spring, summer, and fall. And in winter Methow Trails boasts the largest cross-country ski trail system in North America. In support of all these activities, there are numerous options for lodging, great dining, and plenty of places to rent gear.

Just outside the Methow Valley in Okanogan National Forest are the Pasayten Wilderness, the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, North Cascades Scenic Highway, and North Cascades National Park. All of this natural beauty is also a magnet for landscape, nature, and wildlife photographers like me. I’ve been coming to the Methow Valley and its surroundings for nearly 40 years and still find new places to hike and photograph!

Cottonwood leaf on cracked mud along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonCottonwood leaf #78721  

In this post, I aim to provide a short introductory guide for photographing fall colors in the Methow Valley. It focuses on only a small segment of a large area and certainly is not all-inclusive. This is one of those places you’ll end up returning to over and over again in all seasons. So part of the fun is exploring and making your own discoveries!

This October I made a short excursion to the valley in search of fall color. Most of the excitement in the area during this time of the year is around the subalpine larches. However, these gorgeous trees are found at higher elevations, with their needles turning bright gold in early fall. Fall color in the Methow Valley itself comes a few weeks after the larch show has faded.

Fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonMethow River near Mazama #78724  

Methow River along Lost River Road

On this trip, my focus was mainly on the Methow River in the vicinity of the small hamlet of Mazama. And of course, the obligatory stop at Washington Pass was also part of the itinerary. For photographers, there are several good spots to photograph far color along the river.

The first spot is from the bridge on Lost River Road between Highway 20 and Mazama. From the bridge, there is a nice curve to the river to give a bit of movement in compositions. Although there are nice compositions along the riverbed one must be careful to observe private property in the area. It’s really not too clear if property lines here include gravel bars along the river.

Fallen leaves along the Methow River WashingtonFallen leaves along Methow River #78829  

Following Lost River Road northwest towards the upper Methow River and Hart’s Pass, there are a few more photo opportunities. There are plenty of colorful aspens and cottonwoods along the river here. Although in a dry year in the fall the river can often disappear under gravel bars in this vicinity. Further on the road enters national forest land and gives access to a number of outstanding backcountry trails.

After the road becomes gravel the forest is mostly coniferous with only sparse color from deciduous trees. The forest understory here has a sprinkling of color, but for the most part, isn’t great for foliage photography.

Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonMethow River and Talks-Foster Bridge #78810  

Methow River along Goat Creek Road

In the opposite direction from Mazama, the route to follow is Goat Creek Road.  This short paved road heads southeast toward Winthrop and joins Highway 20 near the Goat Creek Bridge. Along the way are a few more good photo ops, including some nice open fields and a few roadside pullouts.

Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonTalks-Foster Suspension Bridge #78784  

One of the nicest spots to check out is at the Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge over the Methow River. This lovely location is accessible by a short half-mile walk on the Methow Community Trail. This trail is also part of the greater winter-summer network of trails in the valley. Off Goat Creek Road there is a small trailhead parking area that you can easily miss if you blink an eye.

Further down Goat Creek Road near its end by Highway 20 is one especially nice pullout along the river. It’s similar to the bridge view at Mazama but there is more color and the view is a bit wider.

Fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonFall Foliage along the Methow River #78789 

Methow Valley Along Highway 20 and Beyond

Along Highway 20 from Early Winters campsites to Winthrop are several good displays of fall color in various settings in forests and meadows. Unfortunately, fall color isn’t uniform throughout the valley. There may be good color in the vicinity of Mazama and little color nearer the town of Winthrop.

Fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonAspens Methow Valley #78753 

Driving south from Winthrop to Twisp and further on to the Columbia River offers more possibilities. And of course, there is also good color up Highway 20 at Loup-Loup Pass. However, those areas will have to be part of a future post.

Cottonwood trees in fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonCottonwood Tree Methow Valley #78830  

If you Go to the Methow Valley

Timing:  Good fall color depends of course on many factors and there are no set days for peak color. However, generally in the valley towards the end of October is best. If Larch season is your goal then the last week of September until around October 10 is usually best. See my post, North Cascades Larch Madness for more info.

Access:  Drive either from the west over North Cascades Highway 20, or from Wenatchee in the south take U.S. Highway 97 north to Pateros then Highway 153-Methow Valley Highway.

*Highway 20 is closed during winter. Depending on fall storms it can close as early as October or as late as December. When planning your trip it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast. It’s a long drive back over the mountains via Stevens Pass if North Cascades Highway suddenly shuts down due to storms.

Lodging:  For those like me who prefer camping there are numerous options. Early Winters Campground on Highway 20 is the most accessible. There are also two National Forest campgrounds on Lost River Road, plus primitive random camping in Okanogan National Forest.

There are plenty of motel and resort options throughout the valley and Winthrop area. Arguably the premier lodging is at Sun Mountain Lodge and Freestone Inn. Part of the winter-summer trail system can also be accessed from your room door at both Sun Mountain Lodge and Freestone Inn.

Helpful Links:
Methow Trails
Okanogan National Forest
Winthrop Washington
Freestone Inn
Sun Mountain Lodge
North Cascades Highway/Cascade Loop Scenic Drive

Hazy ridges North CascadesHazy ridges North Cascades #78787  

Photography Gear Tips:

Since this area is mostly accessed by driving or short easy trails I would recommend bringing everything you have. My personal kit includes the following and covers most opportunities. Of course, wildlife photographers will want to bring longer telephoto lenses.

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

Fallen Cottonwood leaves in the Methow Valley WashingtonFallen leaves Methow Valley #78718  

Leave No Trace

Please follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Methow Valley and all other natural areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

LEAVE NO TRACE SEVEN PRINCIPLES

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
© Leave No Trace: www.LNT.org

*Also, be respectful of private property. Many of the locations in this post are adjacent to private property. The Methow Valley Trail system often crosses private property boundaries and exists due to the blessing of local property owners. 

Fall foliage along the Methow River near Mazama WashingtonFall foliage along the Methow River #78802 

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Photos appearing in Methow Valley Fall Foliage are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington #64955Lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point#64955  Purchase

Lime Kiln Point State Park is located on the west side of San Juan Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Facing Haro Strait and Vancouver Island, the park is one of the best spots in the world to view wild killer whales from the land.

The park is not very large, and it isn’t a quick drive destination. In fact, it can take a bit of prior planning to make a trip worthwhile. This is mainly due to the need to take a ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Since the park and ferry terminal are on opposite sides of the island you’ll also need to take your vehicle along for the ride. But don’t think you can just drive up to the terminal and be loaded on the ferry! The San Juan Islands are a very popular destination, especially on summer weekends. So to avoid ruining your outing you’ll need to reserve a spot in advance. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for some travel tips!

Killer Whales San Juan IslandsKiller Whales off San Juan Island

Marine Life

If you’re visiting Lime Kiln Point for viewing marine life you won’t be disappointed. The surrounding waters are home to the Southern Resident Killer Whales. They are a group of about 75 killer whales, or orcas, that live for most of the year in this part of the Salish Sea. Aside from orcas, sea lions, seals, porpoises, and minke whales frequent these waters.  On our visit, there were numerous sea lions playing close to the shore. But don’t expect close-up personal views of orcas, they swim farther offshore. Bring your binoculars or spotting scope for good views, predictably we forgot ours. The photo above is from several years ago on a whale-watching tour.

It should be noted here that the Southern Resident Killer Whales are considered an endangered species. Their population has dropped from 85 to 75 individuals in recent years. This is mainly due to a drastic reduction of their prime food source, coho salmon. Their situation is compounded by numerous other factors, including increased stress due to noise levels from pleasure boats and freighter traffic. To learn more please check out the Center for Whale Research.

Roche Harbor San Juan Island Roche Harbor  #64910  Purchase

Touring San Juan Island

The park was our main destination for photos, but since we arrived early we had all day to explore the entire island for more subject matter. Another lighthouse at Cattle Point at the southern tip of the island was on my shoot list. However, the lighting conditions there we not very good so I’ll need to return in the future to photograph it.

Roche Harbor is a historic seaside resort town on the northwest tip of San Juan Island. Here can be found Hotel De Haro, the state’s oldest continually operating hotel, in business since 1886. Judging by the looks of it Roche Harbor is the go-to destination for the yachting crowd. There is plenty of lodging and dining here, along with a general store well stocked with a variety of wines.

While on San Juan Island you can also check out English Camp and American Camp. These are part of San Juan Island National Historical Park. Not many people know that The United States and Great Britain nearly went to war in 1859 over possession of the island. The only casualty of this near conflict was a pig. Thus the incident went down in history to be known as The Pig War.

Container Ship Strait of Juan De Fuca Salish Sea Container Ship #64926  Purchase

Photographing at Lime Kiln

After our short tour of the Island, we drove back to Lime the park in time for evening light and sunset. The lighthouse is the most obvious subject matter here. However, there are also great views south of the Olympic Mountains. I found them to work well as a backdrop for telephoto shots of freighters, and also on their own. Of course, there is also marine life. You’ll need a good telephoto lens for photographing killer whales.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington Lime Kiln Point State ParkLime Kiln Point Lighthouse #64939  Purchase

The lighthouse photographs are best in the evening and sunset. There are plenty of excellent spots on the rocky shore to set up different compositions. A variety of focal lengths will work here, from wide to short telephotos. The classic south-side view of the lighthouse will be illuminated much better in winter when the sun is further south. However, at that time you’ll need to create a wide panoramic to include the sunset and structure in the same frame. In summer the north side will be in sunlight. Then you can photograph the lighthouse looking south with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop. Unfortunately from this angle, there are few spots to set up your tripod, so getting a good composition may be difficult.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington Lime Kiln Point State ParkLime Kiln Lighthouse #64906  Purchase

How to get to Lime Kiln Point

As mentioned above, you’ll need to review the ferry schedule carefully and reserve a vehicle spot in advance. You can still drive on without a reservation, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. On a Friday or Saturday in summer it appears like everyone in the state is going to the islands. You won’t need a reservation if you are just walking on or taking a bicycle. But remember the park is not within walking distance from the ferry terminal at Friday Harbor.

Ferry approaching Orcas Island dockSan Juan Islands Ferry  #64889  Purchase

There are two ferry routes to Friday Harbor, one is a direct nonstop passage from Anacortes. The other makes three stops, at Lopez Island, Orcas Island, and Shaw Island. If you have the time I recommend the latter. It’s a much longer passage but more scenic as the ferry sails past numerous picturesque islands. If possible, try to time your return ferry passage for the evening before sunset. There are excellent photo opportunities then, with the islands and Mount Baker bathed in warm light!

Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it. Please consider sharing it with friends family and colleagues!

All photos on this post are available as fine art prints and for commercial licensing.

Lady Washington and Mount Baker, Semiahmoo Bay, Washington.

Lady Washington

Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay, Washington.Lady Washington Semiahmoo Bay  #62496  Purchase

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take an evening cruise on an authentic tall ship. The Lady Washington and her companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, were spending the weekend in Blaine Harbor. Both of these ships are owned by the Grays Harbor Historical Society, in Aberdeen Washington. Throughout most of the year they cruise to ports in Washington and Oregon, and down to California in the fall. When both are in a port at the same time they offer an afternoon mock battle cruise and then an evening sunset cruise.

The Lady Washington is a replica of the original eighteenth century ship. She was the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America. Her smaller companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, was built in 1988 for cargo trade in the Hawaiian Islands. Fans of the Pirates of the Carribean movies may recognize the Lady Washington as the ship featured in The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Lady Washington and Mount Baker, Semiahmoo Bay, Washington.Lady Washington and Mount Baker  #62509  Purchase

Sailing in Semiahmmo Bay

I’m a great fan of historical sailing ships. During my youth one of my hobbies was building scale models of various eighteenth and nineteenth century ships. Back then I could rattle off the names and function of all the sails and rigging. So I took advantage of their visit to Blaine Harbor and bought a ticket for the evening sunset cruise. Of course my other motivation was to make some photos of the ships at sail in the evening light.

Most folks on the evening cruise that day chose to sail on the Lady Washington. That was also my first choice since it is the bigger and more dramatic looking of the two. However, since I was out to make some photos, I chose the Hawaiian Chieftain. That way I could photograph the Lady Washington at sail. My choice in vessels was perfect, as we set out to sail the Lady Washington was out in front with a beautiful golden sky as a backdrop. Even the crew took time to grab their cameras!

Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay, WashingtonLady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay  #62537  Purchase

The cruise went on for about three hours out in Semiahmoo Bay, and I was able to make many photos in the changing light. Some of the most notable were of the Lady Washington with Mount Baker as a backdrop. However, the only disappointment was the lack of wind. There was only an occasional slight breeze to fill the sails and push us on at 1.5 knots per hour.

If you would like to know more about the ships and their schedule please check out the Grays Harbor Historical Society website. I hope you enjoy these photos, I’ll definitely be adding more the next time these ships are in port!

Hawaiian Chieftain masts rigging and sails.Hawaiian Chieftain Sails and Rigging  #62582   Purchase

Hawaiian Chieftain Square Topsail KetchSailing on the Hawaiian Chieftain   #62515  Purchase

Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay, Washington. A historic replica of the original 18th Century brig. Owned and operated by the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, Aberdeen, Washington. 3 pound gun swivel mounted gun on the Hawaiian Chieftain is in the foreground.Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay  #62523  Purchase

Ferry crossing Admiralty Inlet, Washington

Fort Casey State Park

Ferry crossing Admiralty Inlet, WashingtonFort Casey State Park  #62178b  Purchase

Back in late April I made a brief visit to Fort Casey State Park located on Whidbey Island. Years ago, when we lived on South Whidbey I would make regular trips to this scenic and historic park. Later we would bring relatives there when visiting from back east. But although I’ve always wanted to spend some time photographing the park it never seemed to fit into the schedule. That is until this April, when I planned an Olympic Park coast trip. Coming down from Bellingham I stopped for the day at Fort Casey before taking the Keystone Port Townsend Ferry, adjacent to the park, the next morning.

Fort Casey State Park is an attractive destination for several reasons. First, it sites on the west side of Whidbey Island with a commanding view of the Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet. One could spend a day sitting on the bluff just watching ships sail by. With the right timing you can even witness an aircraft carrier from the Home Port in Everett sail by. With exceptional luck and a good set of binoculars it’s possible to even see a Trident submarine.

10 inch gun, Fort Casey State ParkFort Casey State Park Battery Worth 10″ Disappearing Gun  #62165   Purchase

Fort Casey State Park, part of the Triangle of Fire

Aside from the views and ships the next biggest attraction of the park is the fort itself. Fort Casey if one of the three coastal forts forming the “Triangle of Fire”. Built around 1890 the forts guarded against invaders attempting to make their way into Puget Sound. At the time the forts were armed with a variety of artillery including state of the art 10 inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages. However, these guns became obsolete in less than twenty years. Most were sold for scrap or placed in forts in the Philippines, but two were eventually brought back years later as historic display pieces.

Fort Casey State Park, WashingtonFort Casey State Park Batteries and Bunkers  #62170   Purchase

Fort Casey State Park, battery bunkers.Fort Casey State Park Bunkers  #62105   Purchase

A visit to Fort Casey wouldn’t be complete without checking out the guns and the concrete bunkers of the batteries. These bunkers are a hands down favorite for families and their children. On a busy summer weekend kids will be running in and out of the bunkers, having a blast playing hide and seek.  If all of the above isn’t enough, there is also Admiralty Head Lighthouse to explore. Plus long stretches of driftwood strewn cobblestone beaches, camping and picnic areas.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse, WashingtonAdmiralty Head Lighthouse  #62218   Purchase

The kid in me loves all of this, but on this trip I also wanted to enjoy making long overdue photos. Fortunately on this visit the weather was beautiful and I had some nice evening light to work with. The park can offer a pleasant afternoon of fun, but I recommend staying a night or two. That way you can enjoy the sunset, and maybe take the Ferry over to Port Townsend the next day. Don’t forget your State Parks Discovery Pass, and to make reservations in advance for camping or for driving on the Ferry. Have fun!

Fort Casey Officers residence, Whidbey Island WashingtonOfficers Residence Fort Casey  #62141  Purchase

10 inch gun, Fort Casey State ParkFort Casey State Park Battery Worth 10″ Disappearing Gun  #62087   Purchase

Forty Casey State Park WashingtonFort Casey State Park Battery Turman  #62083  Purchase