Mt Baker

Washington, the Evergreen State

I would be willing to offer a New York steak dinner to any European who could honestly tell me to have heard about Mt Baker. Mt Baker is probably my second favorite mountain park around Seattle, Mt Rainier of course being my undefeated number one. Mt Baker is a paradise for hikers, which is in itself already a pretty good reason to visit this park. But what strikes me the most about Mt Baker is, regardless of how many time I visit the park, the quantity and quality of the attractions that Mt Baker offers. Honestly when I don't see the two words "National Park" in the designation of a park it's almost instinctive for me to think of a second level park. Mt Baker instead, although technically not a National Park or a National Monument (or a State Park) has absolutely nothing to envy to other parks with those titles. If I have to be completely honest, Mt Baker is not second to many of the National Parks I have visited, and certainly one of those few parks I look forward to coming back to year after year.

Mt Baker

Mt Baker appears in the background as soon as you get to
Skyline Divide


To get to Mt Baker from Seattle you have a couple of options: the most spectacular road follows I-5 to Burlington, US-20 east to Sedro Woolley, WA-9 north and finally 542 east. The fastest way is via I-5 to Bellingham and then east along 542. Bellingham is the last town worthy of that name, with many national chain motels, restaurants, fast foods, and almost all of the most famous department stores (just in case you want to do some shopping ...). Bellingham, however, is more than an hour away from Mt Baker and I wouldn't recommend it if you want to spend more than a day in the park.
Along Hwy-542 you'll find a couple of towns, Maple Falls and Glacier, both small but each with a couple of motels and restaurants. Both are located about thirty minutes away from the park. But if you want to be as close as possible to Mt Baker, and you can survive without ESPN and HBO, then consider the possibility of camping in the park. There are two campsites along 542, the Douglas Fir and Silver Fir, with the first one that is considered among the most beautiful campgrounds in the Northwest. Another absolutely spectacular place for camping is Silver Lake Park, a park in Whatcom County 5 miles north of Maple Falls.


542 takes you straight to Mt Baker, up to the highest point in the park accessible by car: Heather Meadows. Many trails start from here, ranging from flat shot ones to steep strenuous day hikes. Before you get on the trail stop at Picture Lake, just before the Heather Meadows parking lot near the Ski Area. From there you'll have a chance to take that postcard picture that will make your friends drool, with Mt Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake (this is one of the most famous pictures of this area, often this photo is incorrectly included in books about North Cascades NP). Mt Baker, however, is synonym of hiking. Artist Ridge (2 miles round trip) is a perfect choice for those of you who are looking for an easy stroll on a flat path with a wonderful view on both Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan. Another hike with a spectacular final view but much harder than Artist Ridge is Table Mountain Trail. This is a strenuous 3 miles hike with a lot of elevation gain. For all intents and purposes an almost vertical trail takes you to the top of a rock formation. The summit itself, as flat as a table, gives the name to the hike. The view from here is fabulous, with Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan in the foreground and several peaks across the border with Canada in the background.
A beautiful and simple trail, not far from the Glacier visitor center is the Horseshoe Bend Trail (3 miles round trip) that takes you inside a forest along the Nooksack River. Here you will not enjoy sweeping views as those of Heather Meadows, but you will get the chance to explore the forests, which includes the huge "beards" of moss hanging from the trees, the rich wildlife and lush vegetation.

Mt Baker

Mt Shuksan from Picture Lake

Chain Lakes Trail (7.5 miles, 5-6 h, strenuous, loop, 1500 ft elevation gain)
My favorite hike in the Heather Meadows area is the Chain Lakes Trail (7.5 miles loop, returning via Wild Goose Trail). This is a really long and difficult hike with lots of ups and downs that will test your physical condition. The views along this trail, however, are the best that this area has to offer. You'll start with Mt Baker rising to your left. Then the trail enters a forest only to open up again and skirt around Chain Lakes. Near the first lake you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Mt Baker in the background of the lake.
The trail continues up to the second lake and then begins to climb up to the highest point of the trail. Once you get to the top you will be able to see Mt Shuksan, with another lake on the bottom and the Canadian mountains in the background. The descent will take you on the shores of the lake. Here, in theory, is where the hike ends. The problem is that you are still far from where you started and you will need to either walk back via Wild Goose trail or find someone willing to give you a ride. Ultimately this is one of the best hikes in the Cascade Range but is also relatively strenuous and will take more than half a day.
Mt Baker is certainly a sublime park for those who want to walk. Autumn is a fabulous time to visit this park. The vibrant colors will fill your eyes and don't forget to enjoy the blueberries along the Chain Lakes trail!

Skyline Divide (6 miles, 4h, moderate/strenuous, round trip, 2100 ft elevation gain)
The area of Heather Meadows is not the only one to offer beautiful hikes. All along Hwy-542 there are dozens of opportunities for great hikes. One attraction you should check out is Nooksack Falls, immediately after the Visitor Center and practically on the edge of the road.

Mt Baker

The Skyline Divide trail leads to one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the Northwest

But if you were in the position of having time for one hike only in Mt Baker (big mistake!) I would not hesitate a second to recommend Skyline Divide. To get to the trailhead, take the Glacier Creek Rd less than a mile after the Visitor Center and turn almost immediately left onto Forest Road 37 (there is a road sign for Skyline Divide).
FR 37 is a gravel road with some bump here and there but basically in good condition and can be driven with a sedan (if it's raining ask the rangers first). 12 miles on FR 37 will take you straight to the Skyline Divide trailhead. There is no doubt that this hike is at its best during the flowers blooming season Depending on the year, it could happen anywhere between July and August. The blooming, however, also coincides with the time when insects are in full swing, so try to have insect repellant with you. The first part of the trail passes through a forest of firs. These two miles cover most of the elevation gain (1400 ft). Shortly before reaching the ridge you'll pass through an area with many flowers (and many insects) where you get a taste of what is coming next.
Shortly after entering the wilderness area the very steep trail starts to level out and all of a sudden you'll be on the ridge known as Skyline Divide. From here the views are absolutely spectacular, with Mt Shuksan and other peaks on the left and Mt Baker, immense, in front of you. The trail passes through meadows filled with flowers of every color. The insects here are just a distant memory. You could stop here or continue along the ridge as the trail alternates ups and downs. The views are still breathtaking, but quite similar for about another mile. At that point you will reach a crossroads. On the left you can climb a hill. On the right a flat trail continues and circumnavigates the aforementioned hill. Not being sure we chose to climb the hill, based on the scientific principle that the toughest road had to lead to the best viewpoint. The climb is rough but short and from the top of the hill you will enjoy a 360 degrees spectacular view, though not too different from what you've already seen along the trail. Partially satisfied with our choice, we decided to try the other option and…what a treat!
The short trail leads to a viewpoint where you'll find yourself surrounded by a meadow covered in flowers, Mt Baker is practically in front of you, more majestic and huge than you have ever seen it.
This viewpoint alone is worth the trip to Mt Baker! Enjoy every second you spend in this area, maybe stop and grab a bite. I guarantee you will not find much better views in the Northwest. When you're ready to turn back, retrace your steps and enjoy the views and flowers for the last time.