Fall in the Pacific Northwest: Things to do & places to go

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Hiking through colorful fall foliage, farm visits, pumpkin patches, Halloween and Thanksgiving, soaking in natural hot springs, cuddling up in front of a campfire and enjoying the weekend in a cozy cabin in the woods. Long walks along the stormy coast, whale watching and relaxing in a Finnish sauna. Sounds tempting? The opportunities for fall activities in the Pacific Northwest are as diverse as the geography of the upper left USA itself. Continue reading to find out about the best locations and things to do during fall in Oregon and Washington

#1 Fall hikes & chasing PNW waterfalls

Hiking through the Cascadian forests and chasing waterfalls is an activity popular during any given season in Washington and Oregon alike. What makes it an even greater activity in fall are the colors which are in no way inferior to the Indian summer on the East Coast. Fall foliage turns the Oregon and Washington forests into colorful, picture perfect sceneries. Yellow, organge, red and purple leaves dominate the colour palette throughout October and November. As day temperatures are still pleasant, rising fog adds to the mystic fall vibe. If you catch a sunny day you will be rewarded with a magical atmosphere and crisp air, no matter if you aim for a big waterfall or simply choose an enjoyable hike through the PNW-woods.

fall hikes through yellow fall foliage in the Pacific Northwest
fall at Dry Creek Falls Oregon

Another advantage of fall hikes: The mosquitos are most likely gone, which makes every outdoor activity closeby water so much more enjoyable. Everyone who has been camping around a lake in summer knows what I’m talking about

#2 Fall foliage at Portland Japanese Garden

As fall kicks in also cities and their parks turn into multicolored playgrounds. One of the best places to admire colorful fall foliage within Portland’s city limits is the Portland Japanese Garden. Beautifully grown and maintained trees, segmented into eight different garden styles from the area, which is home to native deciduous trees and conifers, as well as plenty of Japanese maples. Their fiery-hued maple leaves turn the Portland Japanese Garden into a picture ferfect scenery. Stone bridges overspan meandering streams and ponds, you can stroll on winding walkways and on a clear day you will even be able to spot Mount Hood in the distance.

fall foliage at Portland Japanese Garden
view of Mount Hood from Portland Japanese Garden

You will love to wrap up your day at Umami Café (located within Portland Japanese Garden facilities) or check out Behind the Museum Café (Downtown Portland) for some authentic Japanese snacks and tea. Find more ideas how to spend a perfectly Asian inspired day in Portland, Oregon here: “How to spend a Japanese inspired day in Portland, Oregon”

Japanese snacks at Umami Café, Portland Japanese Garden

Good news: After the Portland Japanese Garden remained closed during cherry blossom season in early spring 2020, the graden has now re-opened its gates in fall for admission during pre-bookable time-slots. The ticket price of $18.95 per adult is totally worth it to check out unique Portland Japanese Garden and soak in its beautiful fall vibes.

standing a a stone bridge surrounded by colorful fall foliage at Portland Japanese Garden

Other great parks within the city center to experienc colorful fall folliage are the Hoyt Arboretum, Washington Park and Forest Park. Take another look at my blogpost “Where to find the best spring blossoms in Portland” to get a glimpse where to find blooming trees. Most likely those areas shine in beautiful fall colors throughout October and November. Looking for a fall hike within the city boarders? Check out the 4T-Trail, which can still be considered an insider’s tip and Portlandians’ favorite for sure.

fall hike: 4T Trail Portland Marquam Trail

#3 Stay cozy at a tiny cabin

Who doesn’t love to cuddle up in a cozy cabin when weather isn’t great and outdoor activities aren’t the first choice? The Pacific Northwest isn’t only home to lush forests and an extensive trail system. The “upper left USA”, is an El Dorado of log cabins and tiny houses in the woods that are perfect hideaways to spend the weekend with a couple of friends or family.

Getaway Mount Adams cozy cabin durinf fall in the Pacific Northwest

Getaway House definitely makes your tiny cabin dreams come true. All Getaway outposts are located less than 2 hours away from a major city which makes them the perfect weekend escape. Getaway Mount Adams, close to Portland, is the only outpost located in the Pacific Northwest and one of my favourite place to stay in this area. Equipped with everything you need but nothing you don’t, makes this tiny cabin in the woods a cozy camp-style and worry-free glamping experience. With my Getaway House Promo Code SMILE4TRAVEL you will get $25 off your first booking, valid in any Getaway House across the US. Don’t wait too long though, Getaway Houses go fast, especially in fall! Read my full review: Getaway Portland: Glamping in the woods of the Pacific Northwest

Black Friday & Cyber Monday savings:
use ‘REST35’ for $35 off a stay (valid through Sunday 11/29)
or ‘OFFLINE25’ for 25% off a stay (valid on Monday 11/30)

Getaway House tiny cabin the the Pacific Northwest

#4 Sweat and relax at a Finnish sauna

Soaking in a hot tub or sweating in a dry sauna? While the answer of Europeans would most likely be sauna, the majority of Americans seems to prefer hot tubs. Otherwise there is no proper reason why many cabins, vacation rentals and hotels incorporate hot tubs into their facilities, while saunas are rarely to be found – an absolute miss in my opinion! I love relaxing in a dry Finnish-style sauna, sweating and soothing my muscles, especially after a long fall hike.

barrel sauna at Adrift Hotel & Spa Long Beach Washington, relax in the Pacific Northwest

Luckily I’ve found facilities that offer a different concept: Adrift Hotel & Spa on the Southern Washington Coast for example integrated a tiny barrel sauna into their bathhouse. They also have a spa, where you can for example enjoy a full body massages etc. For me representing the perfect combo of relaxation and wrapping up a stormy autumn day at the Washington Coast. So keep your eyes open and leave me a comment when you find other hotels and cabins with sauna!

sauna and bathhouse at Adrift Hotel & Spa Washington Coast

Find more details about this place in my blogpost “6 reasons why Washington’s Cape Disappointment doesn’t disappoint at all

#5 Soak in natural hot springs in the Pacific Northwest

Talking about my preference of saunas over hot tubs is only half the story as I am a big fan of hot springs actually. But for me there is a huge difference between a hot tub filled with chlorinated water and a natural hot spring. As the name already says: Hot spring pools are naturally formed and filled with mineralized thermal water that comes straight out of a natural spring. Most likely natural hot springs are located in forests, deserts and often surrounded by beautiful nature. I fell in love with hot springs back in Japan. The ones who follow me along know that I have a huge faible for the so called ‘Onsen’ baths.

soaking in Umpqua Hot Springs, Oregon

When I learned that the Pacific Northwest is full of natural hot springs my heart jumped for joy. In fact Washington, Oregon and especially nearby Idaho are absolute hot spring go-to destinations thanks to the geothermal activity in these states. I’ve visited 3 different hot springs so far: Umpqua Hot Springs and Alvord Desert Hot Springs in Oregon, as well as Kirkham Hot Springs in Idaho. But the list of hot springs I still want to visit goes far beyond. Definitely on my ever-growing fall bucket-list.

#6 Farm visits, pumpkin patches & corn mazes

Every fall season in the Pacific Northwest gets kicked-off with visiting to a local farm, harvesting pumpkins, getting lost in a corn maze and enjoying freshly sqeezed apple cider. It’s a long tradition and fun family activity to welcome the colorful fall season and get ready for the cooler days to come. Not only seasonal and locally grown vegetables are on everyone’s shopping list. Finding the perfect pumpkin for one’s Halloween decoration attracts thousands of people to roam the huge pumpkin fields throughout October.

October in the Pacific Northwest: Sauvie Island Pumkin Patch
drone photography of pumpkin field in Oregon

That’s when the yearly ‘U-pick’ season, which starts with ‘cherries & berries’ picking in spring, gets wrapped up with handpicking your very own pumpkin. It’s far more than just a fun experience for kids, this is also serious business for grown-up’s of any age – and so are the huge corn mazes. Every year farmers throughout the state put a lot of work into carving pathways into parts of their corn fields to create mazes with annually modified and highly creative motifs. Definitely worth to take a look from above. Thanks to our drone we were able to check out the best way in & out of the maze at Bauman’s Farm without actually getting lost… 🙂

bigfoot corn maze drone photography
pumpkin field at Bauman's Farm & Garden, Oregon

Read more about typical October activities in the Pacific Northwest in my blogpost: “Portland October activities: pumpkin patch, fall foliage & Halloween”

#7 Find creative Halloween decorations in your neighbourhood

As soon as months feature double-digits the US starts preparing for Halloween. Windows, front porches and roofs of our neighbourhood turn into farm-style mini theme parks, chamber of horrors and even graveyards. Halloween decoration here goes far beyond carved pumpkins only. Everything is allowed as spooky, creative and cheesy as it can get: Skeletons sit in panoramic living room windows, ghosts and witches swing around front porches, disproportionately spider webs cover hedges and tombstones pop up in various front yards. No matter how much you are into Halloween decoration yourself it’s worth strolling around your neighbourhood and find the most scary, individual and extravagant decoration.

Halloween decorations Portland

#8 Celebrate Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving

The transition from fall to winter and the welcoming of the holiday season (along with Christmas and New Year) in the USA and Canada is marked by the most important family celebration: Thanksgiving. This celebration, originated as a harvest festival, takes place every 4th Thursday in November. As it’s an official bank holiday and most likely the start of a long weekend, where families come together to feast and enjoy themselves. Traditionally the entire family gets involved into dinner preparations. Roast, often stuffed turkey served with mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce is the classic serving. Green beans, corn and pumpkin pie as dessert traditionally round it off.

traditional Thanksgiving Menu in the USA: turkey with sides of seasonal vegetables

But Thanksgiving isn’t only for families. Friendsgiving became a popular tradition over recent years and is celebrated throughout the entire fall. Maybe this is the secret behind Friendsgiving being so popular: There are no strict rules on timing, classic dishes or traditions. Friendsgiving is all about having a great time with your friends – and welcoming the holiday season of course.

Friendsgiving at Graham & Tooze Farm Oregon
Friendsgiving celebrations at Graham & Tooze farm, Oregon | pictures by @styledportland

#9 Whale watching in the Pacific Northwest

While peak whale watching season on the Oregon Coast is rather during winter and early spring when grey whales migrate from the Bering Sea near Alaska to warmer waters in the South and back. In Depoe Bay however resident grey whales can be spotted throughout the entire year.

drone photography of a grey whale off the Oregon Coast

Another option to see various species of whales, even humpbacks and orcas are the San Juan Islands. Located off the North Washington Coast close to the Canadian border the San Juans are known as one of the best places worldwide for whale watching. As summer peak season (July & August) attracts a lot of visitors, fall is a great time to visit the San Juan Islands. Temperatures are still pleasant during the day as the San Juans get a lot of sunny days during fall. The whales are around all year anyways. So if you make the San Juan Islands a fall adventure destination you can avoid the crowds, benefit from lower prices and even combine your trip with a fall tour across Washington State. From North Cascades National Park to Columbia River Gorge the fall foliage in Washington gets pretty close to the iconic Indian Summer on the East Coast.

#10 Visit the Pacific Coast in fall and winter

Besides the opportunity to watch whales in the Pacific Ocean, visiting the Pacific Coast is an incredible experience in fall and winter for many reasons. Everyone who thinks the Pacific Ocean is only a great destination during summer months, has never been to the Oregon or Washington Coast. In my blogpost “Why the Oregon Coast is your perfect winter travel destination” you can learn what distinguishes the ‘coast’ of the Pacific Northwest from the ‘beaches’ in California and why you should definitely visit the coast during fall and winter.

aireal view of Heceta Head Lighthouse at the Oregon Coast

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QUESTIONS & COMMENTS? 

Have you ever been to Oregon or Washington and explored the Pacific Northwest? Do you like the article, have suggestions, feedback or recommendations?  Leave me a comment and feel free to share this article with your friends!

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Fall activities Pacific Northwest

Fall activities Pacific Northwest




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18 comments
  1. Gorgeous! It is so similar to up here in BC, with those wet, mossy forests, waterfalls and beeeautiful hikes! I am sure I will love visiting the PNW your side of the border once things open up again. Especially those hot springs!

    1. Oh yes! There are so many great outdoor opportunities the Oregon and Washington have in common with BC. Will definitely visit the Canadian side of the PNW as soon as traveling across the boarders will be possible again. I’m sure you’ll love it further South as well 🙂

  2. Beautiful post and so many great things to do for fall! It makes me miss living in Portland! Such great hiking and gorgeous landscapes. I never visited Baumen’s Farm but would love to tackle that maze!

    1. Oh wow, you have been living in Portland!? It’s such a great city, isn’t it? The outdoor opps around make it one of the best cities to live in for me. Also went to Bauman Farms for the first time this year. There are so many locals farms around Portland that it’s always a hard decision which one to visit first. But their corn maze really exceeded my expectations.

  3. This is a beautiful blog! You have inspired me to add this place to my travel bucket list. I didn’t know about the Pacific Northwest until I read your blog. Also, I would love to stay in one of those tiny cabins. They seem very cosy.

    1. Aww, I love to read your comment! It’s my biggest motivation to inspire others to discover new places. The PNW indeed is a special place on earth and I could definitely spend the whole fall season in one of those cabins. 😉

  4. Wow! Those autumn colours are unreal! I’ve always wanted to visit the PNW and it looks like the autumn is the best time to do it! PS. I need that sauna in my life!

    1. Thanks, Teresa! There is actually no time not worth visiting the PNW. But spring and autumn are my fav seasons as everything is so colorful and popular places aren’t as crowded as during the summer months.
      PS: I definitely also need one of those saunas in my backyard! 🙂

  5. How amazing are all those places! I am truly impressed by the landscapes and the fall colors! And I like that you can also enjoy the halloween vibes there. Thanks for sharing more info about this area!

    1. Thanks so much Ophelie!
      Yeah, I have the feeling that the PNW is one of those corners that hasn’t been overrun yet, which makes it very special to me. The opportunities to get active outdoors are insane. It’s definitely an outdoor playground in any season.

  6. I always say if we weren’t in California, we’d be in Oregon. We visited in the summer months, but these fall photos are glorious. Those pumpkins!

    1. Hi Agnes, thanks for your comment!
      You know what’s the best part? That California and Oregon are so close to each other. I’ve been enjoying traveling to California last year several times and am looking forward to hopefully enjoy some of California’s highlights soon again.

  7. Such great tips. I had no idea winter was such a great time to visit but I would love to plan a trip and go whale watching. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Thanks Cindy! Oh yes, most people think of summer when looking into best times to visit the Pacific Westcoast. But especially Oregon and Washington are great to visit in any season. It’s not the Californian beach vibes you’ll get, but a diverse landscape with many outdoor opportunities.

  8. We were hoping to move to Portland, but it got vetoed by work. So I was very jealous of the pictures of Portland Japanese Garden. And just thinking of all the awesome places we could have visited in the North West if we had moved there. Beautiful post!

    1. Thanks so much, Katherine!
      I hope you’ll get the chance to visit Portland and the city’s diverse surroundings soon! PDX is always worth a visit!

    1. How great!
      I’ve moved to Portland 15 months ago and got the chance to travel to so many great places within the PNW and beyond already. It’s a great place to live, especially if you love the outdoors!

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