Fall is perfect time for hiking in north Cascades

Published on Thu, Sep 11, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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Fall is perfect time for hiking in north Cascades

By Tara Nelson

Fall is the perfect time to explore the North Cascades as the cooler temperatures, changing colors and less visitors can make hiking a more pleasant experience. The following are a few favorite day hikes ranging from easy to more difficult in Skagit and Whatcom counties:

Horseshoe Bend Trail
Location: 2 miles east of
Glacier Public Service Center
Length: 1.4 miles each way
Hike time: Approx. 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy
One of the most easily accessible short hikes in the North Cascades. This well-maintained trail snakes along the glacial-fed waters of the North Fork of the Nooksack River for approximately 1.4 miles before it ends at a turn-around point. Although this is a spectacular hike year-round, the spring and summer months are an ideal time to hike as the river turns a beautiful milky white and blue color as a result of fine ground dust released by melting glaciers upstream, called “glacial flour.”
The river is also one of two Washington state rivers that spawns five species of salmon, including the Sockeye, the eggs of which, are typically nested in supporting lakes.

Church Mountain
Location: 38 miles east on
State Route 542
Length: 8.4 miles
Elevation gain: 4,100 feet
Hike time: 5 to 6 hours
Difficulty: More difficult
Located approximately one mile east of the Glacier public service center, Church Mountain offers a challenging hike with rewarding views for those who are willing to suffer wobbly legs and possible blisters to get there.
The trail begins through dense forest and continues for three miles at an elevation gain of 1,000 feet per mile before it levels out onto a wildflower meadow at 6,100 feet. An abandoned fire lookout at the top is said to provide panoramic views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, although this reporter was too exhausted to reach it.
Be sure to wear sturdy and comfortable shoes and bring insect repellant as biting flies tend to be a nuisance.
Directions: From Bellingham, take I-5 exit 255 (Sunset Drive) and follow east approximately 38 miles. Turn left on USFS Road #3040. Follow for approximately three miles. The trailhead is at the end of the road. Parking is also available at the creek approximately one mile south.

Heather Meadows
Location: 24 miles east of
Glacier on State Route 542
Length: 1.5 to 9 miles
Hiking time: 2 to 6 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Heather Meadows recreational area is a mecca of scenic vistas and hiking trails, ranging from easy to moderate.
Two popular hikes are the Bagley Lake trail (1.5 miles with little elevation gain) and the more difficult Chain Lakes trail.
For a short, easy hike with lots of scenic rewards, follow the trail a half-mile around Bagley Lakes to a bridge and take a left to connect to Wild Goose trail, which loops back to the parking lot.
The upper-most portion of Heather Meadows is Artist Point (elevation 5,140 feet), which offers 360-degree views of Mt. Baker, Table Mountain and Mt. Shuksan. The area is so popular among tourists it could very well be dubbed the Disneyland of Mt. Baker. Likewise, those looking for more wilderness and less people may opt for another hike.
Directions: From Bellingham, take I-5 exit 225 (Sunset Drive), and follow east on Mt. Baker Highway for 58 miles. The parking lot is at the end of the highway.

Heliotrope Ridge
Location: 31 miles east of
Glacier on State Route 542
Length: 6 to 8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
Hiking time: 4 to 6 hours
Difficulty: More difficult
Heliotrope Ridge offers the closest view of Coleman Glacier within the Mt. Baker wilderness – and all from the safety of a well-maintained trail. This popular hike starts in old growth forest and continues for two miles before reaching open meadows with wildflowers, streams and waterfalls.
The best time to take this scenic trail is in the early spring or late summer, before and after the snow pack has had the chance to melt, said Magenta Widner, a forestry technician with the Glacier Public Service Center. Adventurous hikers who choose to hike during the mid-summer months should be sure to wear sturdy shoes that can get wet as getting to the top requires crossing several streams, the flows of which are heavily weather and seasonal dependent.
Directions: From Bellingham, take I-5 exit 225 (Sunset Drive), and follow east on Mt. Baker Highway for 31 miles, about one mile past the town of Glacier. Turn right on Glacier Springs Road (FS Road 39). Follow about eight miles to the trailhead parking lot.