Where to take a drive right now if you want to see fall colors around Puget Sound

Sticking close to home this fall? There are lots of places you can to to take in nature's splendor on less than a tank of gas.
Winding country road through fall foliage
Photo credit jkinsey3291 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

When I was a kid, we really did take "family drives" on the weekend -- all of us stretched out in our wood-paneled station wagon, heading out to the country to see the sights.

Sunday drives may not exactly be a thing anymore, but we do happen to live in a part of the world that's blessed with plenty of natural beauty. So why not head out with your crew for a Sunday (or Saturday or Tuesday) drive and see summer morphing into autumn right before your eyes?

From Seattle itself to nearby locations like Gig Harbor, across the water on a ferry to Bainbridge Island or Port Townsend, all the way out to the Olympic Peninsula in one direction, Winthrop in the other, or down to Oregon's Tualatin Valley, you've got tons of choices if you want to experience eye-popping fall colors while staying cozy in your heated seats with Relaxing Favorites on the radio.

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You can always count on the team at Red Tricycle Seattle to give you the rundown when you need a resource for local spots to see, so I urge you to check out 9 Scenic Drives to See Spectacular Fall Colors

I'm betting you've taken at least a couple of these drives if you've been around the PNW for any amount of time. I know I have, and they hit on a couple of my favorites:

If you're ready for a long trek, you can't beat Winthrop and the North Cascades Highway. I mean, if you've got kids in the family who have yet to see the bizarre yet charming Western townscape of Winthrop, it's worth the trip, especially if you can swing a stay, or at least a meal, at Sun Mountain Lodge, high above the Methow Valley. But the main attraction is really the foliage that surrounds you on the North Cascades Highway all the way out there.

On the other end of the scale, you've got a tree-spotter's paradise practically in your own back yard here in Seattle -- the Washington Park Arboretum.

My dog Hazel in the Arboretum
My dog Hazel checking things out in the Arboretum

(TBH, Seattle has several notable parks that pop with color in the fall -- Kubota Gardens, Discovery Park, and Woodland Park are pretty special -- but I've always loved the Arboretum.)

If it's been awhile since you've been, it's been hugely improved over the last few years. There are well-marked trails, a whole new paved biking/hiking trail that lets cyclists breeze through without vying with cars for space on narrow Lake Washington Boulevard, and a more prominent entrance just off of Madison Street.

Because the Arbo serves as a giant outdoor classroom for budding UW botanists, if you see a tree or a bush you especially like, chances are it's got a tag on it that identifies it. And even though the Arboretum draws crowds, it never feels crowded. There's lots of room to socially distance. It's a municipal treasure.

The Arboretum happens to be Number One on a list the Seattle P-I just posted, First day of Autumn: 7 of Seattle's best parks and trails to see fall foliage. Also on that list: Green Lake, Discovery Park, Lincoln Park, Bellevue Botanical Garden, Seward Park, and Kubota Garden. All urban gems.

I'm sure you have your own secret -- or not-so-secret -- drive around here that's especially breathtaking this time of year. (I didn't even mention Chuckanut Drive way up near Bellingham, or the rural magic of Vashon Island.)

Check out those links, or create your own adventure, and then let me know what I left out here: john@thesoundseattle.com.

Happy road-tripping!