Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fall in the North Cascades!

Fall colors above Rainy Lake
The North Cascades are a fabulous place to spend time in the fall with vibrant colors all around.  The fall season begins as early as mid September in some areas, and lasts to mid-October in others.

A visit to areas around Mt. Baker in mid-September will find the berry leaves on fire.  Some of my favorite hikes for these are Boulder Ridge, Rainbow Ridge, Park Butte and Ptarmigan Ridge.  I'm sure there are more!

As the month of September moves on, many more places begin to turn vibrant red throughout the range.  By the end of the month, hikes near Rainy and Washington Pass along the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) become VERY popular destinations (too popular - go on a weekday and go early or late in the day).

The arrival of October sends most fall color enthusiasts into pandemonium!  Not only are the reds still typically vibrant, the needles of larch begin to turn gold.  Peak for the larch are typically close to mid-October.  By the time they are truly at peak, much of the reds will have likely disappeared in my experience.

Larch are found on eastern side of the Cascades only, mostly (if not entirely) north of I-90.  In the North Cascades, excellent places to view them are near Washington and Rainy Pass, as well as hikes reached from Winthrop, Twisp and Carlton.

Fall colors below peaks of the
North Cascades
Early October is also a fantastic time to make the drive to Artist Point, located at the end of the Mount Baker Highway (Highway 542).  There are no larch here, but picture perfect scenes exist right from the parking lot for those not wishing to hit the trail.

Of course every year can be slightly different on the timing, mostly based on temperatures and weather patterns.  The amount of precipitation during the summer months can also play a huge factor on the quality of colors.

In my experience, the biggest challenge to viewing late season colors are the big white snowflakes!  It can snow at any time in the upper elevations of the Cascades.  But the North Cascades seem to be especially prone to it, and likely in early to mid-October.  I have tried to revisit one of my favorite larch viewing backpacks on multiple occasions.  While my first visit at peak time went off perfectly, all my subsequent attempts have ended in being turned back by deep snow or storms.  So I've learned not to take anything for granted!

There are some things to be careful for during this time.  First off, it is hunting season.  So if you are visiting an area outside of North Cascades National Park, be sure to where bright clothes to be easily seen.

Mount Shuksan Reflection
The second is to be prepared for cold temperatures.  Sunny and nice days can be even colder than snowy days due to the lack of cloud cover insulating the air.  This is especially a concern in early mornings and late evenings.  Even if it is comfortable outside when you start out, be sure and throw some warmer layers in your pack, including jacket, hat and gloves.

As always, thanks for looking!  You can view more of my images from the North Cascades in my North Cascades Gallery.

Hope to see you on the trail!


Sunday, October 11, 2020


Image of mother black bear
A mother black bear with her two cubs behind her.
 I love photographing bears!  Well, let me back up.  I love seeing bears on a hike or backpack.  For me, it adds to the experience of the trip and generally guarantees me coming home with a smile on my face, no matter how the rest of the trip may have been.

Being able to photograph bears takes the experience to an all new level.  It also requires much more planning, preparation and heavier camera equipment than I would typically take on a hike.  This is because larger lenses are required.  I would say a minimum 300mm lens to be successful, but larger would be better.

Image of black bear cub eating berries
A bear cub reaches high up for berries on a bush.
My "go to" lens is my 200mm 2.8 lens coupled with a 2x teleconverter, equaling 400mm total focal length.  This allows me to photograph from a safe distance away so as not to disturb the animals in their natural environment.  

The three images appearing here were taken over about a 40 minute span, requiring much patience to catch the glance of the bear.  I missed a couple of opportunities, admittedly.  Three quality images in 40 minutes of work?  Yep.  Because the bears were at ease and pretty much ignoring me.  Coming back with 30 quality images would mean I likely had the bear's undivided attention, which would mean I was disturbing them and causing undue stress, not to mention risking my own well-being.

These images were recently taken from a trail at Mount Rainier National Park.  Much of the time was actually shared with a volunteer park staff member as we watch the cubs feed!  We were both pretty giddy and had permanent smiles on our faces!

Image of black bear cub
A bear cub glances around its surroundings while nibbling
on berries.
This brings up another helpful hint when wishing to photograph bears.  Truly wild black bears in the Pacific Northwest are typically afraid of their own shadow.  They spook easily and run at the slightest sound or movement.  I have found the best places to photograph bears are in national parks where they are somewhat accustomed to the presence of humans.  I have enjoyed my best opportunities in Yellowstone, Olympic and Mount Rainier, and close to populated areas of the parks (not in the backcountry).

My new website is still a work in progress and I have not uploaded my Wildlife Gallery yet.  Hopefully this will happen soon!  However, you can view my landscape photography from all over the Western U.S. and Canada at

As always, thanks for looking!  Stay safe!