A hike for fall colors, waterfalls and mushrooms

Walking the trail to Pratt Lake right now is kind of like walking through a fairy tale. Maybe something like “Alice in Wonderland,” with plenty of crazy toadstools growing everywhere.

I hiked the trail on Saturday, and I’ve never seen so many mushrooms in my life. The recent rains also mean there are many lovely waterfalls, some big and some small, along the way.

My friend and I went out for an 8-mile hike and it ended up being more like 11. We couldn’t resist wandering a bit farther.

Pratt Lake is off I-90. It’s easily accessible; the trailhead is barely off of the interstate. You can clearly hear the road from the parking area. That’s the bad news. The good news is it doesn’t take too long to get down there and the trail isn’t yet buried in snow.

The best news is that the trail is glorious with color right now. (And if you check the weather forecast, you’ll see that a few days later this week look promising for hiking.)

When you start out, you get the lovely browns and greens of a Northwest forest. As you climb, you’ll find more and more mushrooms in many shades of brown, red, orange, yellow and white. I may have gotten carried away taking mushroom photos. As you get higher, you’ll start to see excellent fall color. The vine maples are really putting on a show right now.

By the time you reach the ridge top, at about 4 miles, you’ll be able to see Mount Rainier on a clear day. You can also see the top of the higher peaks nearby are dusted in snow.

The trail splits at about 4 miles. One way (to the left) heads toward Island Lake. The other heads toward Pratt Lake.

If you head toward Island Lake, you will find a lovely lunch spots among an open area of rocks. If you keep going, you’ll get even better views of Mount Rainier.

If you head toward Pratt Lake, you’ll have to drop down (And that means, of course, you’ll have to come up). After hiking down about three-quarters of a mile or so, you’ll be rewarded by hillsides covered in glorious fall colors.

This is not a hard hike. The trail climbs nearly nonstop for about four miles and 2,300 feet, but the trail is wide and the grade is gentle. If you continue down to Pratt Lake, you’ll add another 1.5 miles one-way to your trip. This trail is narrower and steeper. You don’t need to go all the way to the bottom to enjoy the fall colors, though.

The trail is on Forest Service land. You can still hike it, though. As of Saturday, the privy was even still unlocked. (Bring your own TP.) You should probably still display a NW Forest Pass, although it’s unclear if anyone is checking for them.

Directions: To get to the trailhead, head east on I-90 to exit 47. Take a left at the end of the exit. Cross the freeway and then turn left at the T intersection. The trailhead is just a minute or so down the road.

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