5 of the Best Day Hikes for Amazing Scenery in the North Cascades
1. Chain Lakes Loop
Return distance: 7 miles
All of the hikes leaving from the Artist Point area offer spectacular alpine views, but the added beauty of the crystal clear lakes dotted along this route make the Chain Lakes Loop one of our favorites. The great thing about hiking here is that most of the elevation gain has already been achieved by your vehicle. Highway 542 brings you all the way to a lofty 4,300ft at the Mt. Baker Ski Resort. Artist Point sits just beyond this, with a large parking lot and lookout. Be warned, though-this is a popular location on weekends so arrive early to ensure a car park. A parking pass is required and can be purchased from the Heather Meadows Visitor Centre or the ranger station in the nearby town of Glacier.
The Chain Lakes Loop can be hiked in either direction. If you decide to start from the top car park, bear in mind that you’ll have a hard incline at the end of your hike. Note that this is an exposed hike so bring plenty of water and sun protection.Walking in a clockwise direction, the trail traverses Table Mountain (another great hike in itself) towards a ridge. Mt Baker looms in the west and several moraines and valleys spread out before you. Rounding the ridge and past the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail junction, the trail swings towards the north and crosses several talus slopes. Mazama Lake appears, nestled in a small valley where several camping sites are available. Continuing on, Hayes Lake is passed before reaching the largest lake in the area: Iceberg Lake. The water is exceedingly cold and pristine. After a quick stop, follow the trail up to the saddle of Mt. Herman, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Mt. Shuksan and other peaks in the Cascade Range. Descending into a valley across another talus slope, the trail ends in the Bagley Lakes area. Follow the Galloping Goose Trail back to the top parking lot.
2. Mt. Winchester
Return distance: 3.3 miles
4WD and high clearance is required to reach the trail head for Mt. Winchester, but if you do make the rough journey you’re in for a treat. While the trail is only 3.3 miles in length, it ascends 1,300 ft, making this a short but strenuous hike. Starting from Twin Lakes, the trail switchbacks up through blueberry bushes and fire weed before traversing a talus slope that has slightly intimidating exposure in parts. Take extra caution if snow is present. After this, the trail climbs westward over a small mountain pass. The last scramble to the summit is quite easy.
An old fire lookout built in 1935 sits at the top of the mountain and a large American flag flaps in the wind. There are fantastic views over Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan and the surrounding North Cascades peaks. Cool and clear Twin Lakes sit in the basin at the base of the mountain and offer a great spot to cool off on a hot day. There is camping platforms and rudimentary facilities available.
3. Hidden Lake
Return distance: 8 miles.
Nestled high in the Cascades, the lake at the end of this hike is indeed well hidden. The trail head starts from the end of a forestry road near Marblemount. Switchbacks start immediately, leading the hiker up through a forested slope, across a creek and into a large basin filled with blueberry bushes.
A long traverse brings you through open alpine terrain defined by heather and rocky outcrops. If the weather is clear, surrounding peaks are visible and Mt. Baker can be seen in the distance. This is an exposed route and the weather can turn quickly even in the summer, so make sure to bring extra layers.
The trail can be easily lost near the rocky saddle. Small cairns are scattered around so keep a keen eye out for these. At the top of the summit, Hidden Lake finally comes into the view. Sitting in a basin on the other side of the saddle, it is possible to hike and slide down the talus slope to the water’s edge. A lookout cabin is located another half mile above the saddle, but exercise extreme caution if the trail is covered in snow. It is possible to stay the night in the cabin but be aware there are no facilities.
4. Heliotrope Ridge
Return distance: 4.4 miles
This hike gives you the opportunity to get right up close and personal with a glacier. Starting in lush forest, the hike winds its way up to a creek crossing that can be quite treacherous during the early spring run-off. Past the creek crossing, the trail switchbacks up a ridge through the forest. The former site of the Kulshan Cabin has rudimentary toilets and is a good spot to rest. Shortly after, the Coleman-Deming climbers route branches off to the right, with the day hike trail continuing to the left. Another water crossing is required at Heliotrope Creek. Again, exercise caution. Cross an alpine meadow before gaining Heliotrope Ridge, where there are great views of the seracs and crumbling beauty of the Coleman glacier. Another option is to follow the climbers route. This climbs steeply to Hogsback Ridge and affords superb views of Mt. Baker. Snow remains at the higher elevations of this trail well into the summer months. We used the Trail Crampon Ultra for added traction on the slippery slopes.
5. Skyline Divide
Return Distance: 9 miles
Popular with backcountry skiers in the winter, this trail also makes for a great day hike during the warmer months. The trail head is well-signed and easy to access, located on FR 37 near Glacier, WA. After climbing steadily through shady forest, the trail emerges into the alpine onto a beautiful ridge reminiscent of scenes from the Sound of Music. Wildflowers dot the rolling green slopes, interspersed with pockets of snow. Most of this hike is spent on an alpine ridge, so make sure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen. After taking in the beauty of the open landscape before you, follow the trail along the ridgeline to the south. There are many ups and downs as you traverse the knolls on the ridge, but it all remains easy hiking. Enjoy panoramic views of Mt Baker, Mt. Shuksan and many other surrounding peaks. For the return journey, simply retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
The Washington Trails Association has detailed trail information and recommendations.
National Park Service- North Cascades National Park