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Fabulous fall foliage

Shorter days and cooler weather signal that it is time for deciduous trees to change their leaves from green to red and yellows, before falling off. October is the perfect month to take a trip to the Cascades to see some of this glorious color set against the lush backdrop of evergreens.

One of my favorite, and I think most beautiful, drives is through the North Cascades on Highway 20, from Sedro Woolley to Winthrop. The fastest route is Interstate 5 to Highway 20 (near Burlington), but I enjoy the more scenic Highway 9 (starting off Highway 522 near Woodinville) to get to Highway 20.

Before leaving home, check on the weather conditions on Highway 20. It can be raining in Seattle and snowing in the North Cascades! In the winter, the pass is closed from Diablo to Mazama because of heavy snow. Check the website at www.wsdot.wa.gov/northcascades.

On the way, I like to stop at the Stocker Farms in Snohomish. This 10-acre organic family farm is located right at Airport Way and Hwy 9. In the fall, children will enjoy the corn maze and pumpkin fields. They also grow and sell a number of other vegetables (like unique squashes) that are pesticide-free. During fall they are open from 9 a.m. to dusk Monday-Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. to dusk on Sunday. For more information, check the Web site at www.stockerfarms.com.

Stay on Highway 9 until you run into Highway 20, around Sedro Woolley. Gas and food facilities are few on the road between Marblemount and Mazama. Make sure you have a full tank of gas, and if you haven't packed a picnic lunch, there are fast food places here and a few markets.

The color of changing trees begins shortly as you head to Marblemount. There are several turnouts to pull over and take a look or snap a picture. The area between Concrete and Marblemount follows the Skagit River. This is a prime place for spotting bald eagles in the winter.

Fifteen miles east is Newhalem. Here you'll find the North Cascades Visitor Center (at milepost 120), open daily through mid-October, then only on weekends. Stop and see the exhibits on the geology of the North Cascades, as well as what animals and plants are found in this area. Make a stop at the restroom facilities as there aren't many indoor facilities ahead.

Newhalem is a company town -- owned and managed by Seattle City Light as part of the hydroelectric project along the Skagit River. The Information and Tour Center, where you can pick up a self-guided walking tour pamphlet, is located right off the highway. Children will enjoy seeing the locomotive in front of the City Light homes.

The Trail of Cedars nature walk begins at the end of the main street in Newhalem. It is a half-mile-long trail through red cedar trees. As you cross the Skagit River on the suspension bridge, look for spawning salmon in the clear waters below. Next to the powerhouse is the Ladder Creek Falls. There is a trail, but it is a bit narrow and not for those with strollers.

Just past milepost 123, Gorge Creek Falls can be seen from the road. There is a turnout on the right side by the Gorge Creek bridge. You can walk across the bridge for a closer view of the falls.

Drive on to Diablo Lake and Ross Lake Overlooks. This view is worth a stop. There are several pullouts along the road and small picnic areas.

The two highest points on your trip will be Rainy Pass at 4,860 feet and Washington Pass at 5,477 feet. Here you may also see the golden larch, which looks like a yellow pine! Larches, generally found at the higher elevations, are the only conifer in Washington that changes color in the fall.

At the summit of Rainy Pass, past milepost 157, you can pull off to a parking and picnic area to hike up to Rainy Lake, a glacier-carved lake. It is a fairly easy paved walk of about 1 mile each way.

Head on to the Methow Valley towns of Mazama (milepost 180) where you can stop and have a snack at the deli, as well as find inside facilities. About 10 miles beyond is Winthrop, a Western-themed town. This is a good turnaround point, or a place to spend the night if you want to make a weekend trip.

Janice Lovelace is a freelance writer and photographer living in the Seattle area

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