On Saturday, summer shifted to fall. In addition to sweater weather and pumpkin spice lattes, fall is also a time for “leaf peeping” — the act of visiting forested areas to see trees transform to have red, orange and yellow leaves.
The Pacific Northwest is known more for its conifers, but there are still pockets of fall foliage to find.
Below are some spots to seek out regional autumnal hues.
The Willamette Valley: rolling hills aplenty
The Willamette Valley, where most Oregonians live, is synonymous with its agriculture. The sprawling region has many roads to wind along by car or bike and trails to take by foot. During fall, warm colors hug the accessible hills. The valley’s grape vines are also at their peak this time of year: The beginning of autumn coincides with the last month of wine harvest, mid-September to mid-October.
In Portland: a renowned Japanese garden
There is one tree in Oregon that can command a crowd greater than any other in the state each fall. It is a Japanese maple aptly called “The Tree,” and in autumn it erupts with a fiery explosion of red pigment that lures in onlookers by the busload — literally.
It lives at the heart of Portland’s Japanese Garden. Just look for the crowd clustering along the walk with phones and cameras in hand to find it. But where “The Tree” garners an audience from dawn till dusk, peace and solitude (if you time it right) welcome those who meander beyond this singular tree and down garden pathways designed to weave the onlooker into an elegant and carefully designed tapestry of shapes and color.
(Editor’s note: The Portland Japanese Garden is an OPB sponsor)
Tucked in Southwest Washington: the Cedar Creek Grist Mill
Colorful leaves are a sight of fall, but what does fall smell like? For many folks, it’s the aroma of a fresh cup of cider. And in the Northwest, there is perhaps no more enticing a destination than the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, a national landmark and working museum near Woodland, Washington. At the mill, visitors get a sensory seasonal experience. Turn up the sound on this story — the orchestra of water coupled with the clunk of falling apples and creaking of the press is an anthem of autumn.
Central Oregon: along 2 scenic rivers
Fly fishing on the Metolius and Deschutes rivers is about as fine as it gets in the United States. And come autumn, the subtle orange, yellow and red hues of larch, vine maple and willow pop against the dominant ponderosa pine forests that line these Central Oregon rivers. This is postcard magic for waterways that definitely have Norman Maclean “A River Runs Through It” vibes. These crystal-clear, spring-fed waters of the Metolius originate on the flanks of Black Butte and are a constant 48 degrees year round, so enjoy the view from the banks and leave the swim shorts at home.
In the heart of Ashland: Lithia Park
Fall colors flourish in Ashland’s Lithia Park. Canopies of deciduous trees and ornamental species dot Ashland Creek near downtown restaurants and cafes. Lithia Park’s redesigned Japanese Garden opened in 2022. The park connects to a broader network of hiking and biking trails in the hills above town.
In remote Southeast Oregon: see the Steens Mountain aspens
The Rocky Mountains are well known for the sweeping vistas of golden aspens that cloak mountain flanks in fall. But while aspen aren’t a dominant tree type in the Pacific Northwest, there is a lovely stash of aspen in abundance on Steens Mountain in Southeast Oregon. And a fun fact: a grove of aspens is actually one singular organism. A stand of aspen trees is connected by their roots, and each tree is a genetic clone. When you listen to the leaves shimmer in the wind, you’re hearing the voice of one living organism.
The best days for peak peeping
Saturday is the first day of fall, but most of the region isn’t rich with seasonal colors yet.
According to AccuWeather’s fall foliage forecast for 2023, “The pinnacle of picturesque foliage is predicted to occur during the second half of October for most of Washington, Oregon and California.”
To get more specific dates, SmokyMountains.com, the website for the national park in North Carolina and Tennessee, puts out an annual prediction map for peak fall colors by county in the contiguous U.S. The map shows fall colors in Oregon will be at their peak roughly Oct. 23 to Oct. 30.
Jefferson Public Radio’s Erik Neumann contributed to this story.