Wash. 542, known as the Mount Baker Highway, is a dead-end road that climbs to 5,140 feet in elevation at a ridge between 10,778-foot Mount Baker and 9,038-foot Mount Shuksan. The road ends at the aptly named Artist Point, an area of rugged beauty nearly unequaled in the state. Rising directly above Artist Point is flat-topped Table Mountain, up which there is a short but precipitous trail. Three miles before you reach Artist Point, you'll come to Heather Meadows and Picture Lake, in which the reflection of Mount Shuksan can be seen when the waters are still. Each year in July and August, the meadows of this area burst into bloom and attract crowds of weekend hikers who tramp the many miles of trails that radiate out from here. The 7.5-mile Chain Lakes Loop Trail is by far the most rewarding of the hikes in the area. It circles Table Mountain, passing numerous beautiful little lakes along the way. From July through September, the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, milepost 56 on Mount Baker Highway (no phone), has trail maps for the area and information on this region's unusual geology.
Two of the most rewarding hikes in the Mount Baker area actually originate not in the Heather Meadows/Artist Point area, but off side roads 1 mile east of the town of Glacier. These are the 5-mile round-trip Heliotrope Ridge Trail (off Forest Service Rd. 39) and the 7-mile round-trip Skyline Divide Trail (off Forest Service Rd. 37). Both of these trails climb up through meadows with excellent views of Mount Baker, and, from the Heliotrope Ridge Trail, there are also impressive glacier views. In 2007, the Skyline Divide access road was closed due to damage from a storm in November 2006. Be sure to call for current conditions. Also near Glacier, at milepost 41, is a short trail that leads to 100-foot Nooksack Falls.
To park at Heather Meadows, Artist Point, and other area trail heads, you'll need a Northwest Forest Pass. These permits cost $5 per day ($30 for an annual pass) and are purchased at ranger stations and national forest visitor centers.
While Kodak-moment meadows of colorful wildflowers are a big attraction throughout the summer, Mount Baker is better known as one of the nation's top snowboarding areas. Each winter, Mount Baker receives an average of more than 500 inches of snow, and in the winter of 1998-99, set a world record with 1,140 inches of snow. All this snow, combined with lots of extreme terrain, produces awesome skiing and snowboarding conditions. Consequently, Mount Baker Ski Area (tel. 360/671-0211; www.mtbaker.us) at Heather Meadows, is well known throughout the region for being the first ski area to open and the last to close each year. All-day lift tickets range from $34 to $42. Ski and snowboard rentals are available at the ski area, and snowboards can also be rented in the town of Glacier at Mt. Baker Snowboard Shop, 9996 Forest St. (tel. 888/466-7392 or 360/599-2008; www.mtbakersnowboardshop.com). Cross-country skiers will find a few miles of groomed trails at Mount Baker ski area, and more miles at the Salmon Ridge Sno-Park farther down the mountain. Telemark skiers and backcountry snowboarders enjoy terrain adjacent to Mount Baker Ski Area.
En route to or from Mount Baker, you can sample local wines at Mount Baker Vineyards, 4298 Mt. Baker Hwy., Deming (tel. 360/592-2300). Stock up on gourmet picnic foods at the unexpectedly hip Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Rd., Van Zandt (tel. 866/832-4695 or 360/592-2297; www.everybodys.com), which is open daily from 8am to 8pm.
Natural History Seminars
Want some training in how to track wildlife? Want to learn about Lummi Indian basketry? Delve into the mysteries of mycology? You can do any of these things if you sign up for the right class through the North Cascades Institute. Offering dozens of natural history field seminars each year, the North Cascades Institute, 810 State Rte. 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284 (tel. 360/856-5700, ext. 209; www.ncascades.org), is a nonprofit educational organization that offers a wide range of courses each year. While these seminars -- many of which involve camping out -- focus on the North Cascades region, there are programs throughout the state. The institute has a beautiful environmental learning center on the shore of Diablo Lake.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.