Mount Baker offers many winter wanders beyond the ski area
From snowshoeing to lowland hikes, there’s plenty to do along Highway 542.
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
When my friends and I plan a ski weekend, we always run into the same problem: Not everybody likes to ski or snowboard.
It seems that every year someone is injured, pregnant, they have young kids or just aren’t up for a big day on the slopes. While we don’t want to leave anyone out, it’s not very much fun for non-skiers to spend the day in the lodge.
So whenever we plan a weekend, I like to look for outdoor alternatives. That way, everyone can still join us for a fun winter weekend, while keeping the activities low-impact.
When it comes to variety, the Mount Baker region has enough to keep non-skiers busy for weeks. Here are some of the best winter options in the area. Caveat: After recent rain and warm weather, another good snowstorm or two might be needed to make all these options viable. Call the Forest Service’s Glacier Public Service Center for condition updates: 360-599-2714 (weekends only).
This is one of the most popular snowshoe trails in the area — and for good reason. It has terrific views of mountain spires and canyons, and it remains a surefire trail even when the snowpack is bleak.
Even better, the trail is a good option for non-skiers, because it runs adjacent to the Mount Baker ski area so you can still meet for lunch.
Keep the groomed ski runs on your left as you climb 500 feet to Austin Pass while overlooking the Bagley Lakes canyon to your right. Watch for backcountry skiers navigating the impressive sheer slopes above the lakes as you walk.
A good turnaround point for many is the massive amphitheater bowl near the pass, where skiers and snowshoers look like tiny specks amid the gargantuan walls (beware of the avalanche run-out zones if you venture here).
Still have legs? Continue uphill on a long switchback to glorious Artist Point, where you’re surrounded by the high towers of Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and Coleman Pinnacle.
Getting there: Drive Highway 542 to the Mount Baker ski area and go to the highest parking area at the resort. At the far end of the parking lot, you’ll see a vault toilet. Begin hiking here, keeping the ski resort on your left and the canyon on your right.
White Salmon Road / National Forest Road 3075
This is a terrific option for novices because while it’s fairly high on the mountain, it’s nontechnical and avalanche-free. The trail follows National Forest Road 3075, which starts with a slow, gradual incline (some people sled here, but it’s not very thrilling) and follows the road around the side of a mountain.
For the most part, you’re surrounded by evergreens and impressive rock formations with a few peek-a-boo views of Mount Shuksan and the sweeping Nooksack River valley below.
A good turnaround point is the huge Douglas fir tree about two miles in. Under the right conditions, you can walk inside a nest of snow-laden branches to feel as if you’ve entered a fairy-tale world. (No tree-well hazard with low snow levels.)
Getting there: The trail is unmarked but easy to find. About a mile before the ski area’s White Salmon Day Lodge, watch for a sign marking Razor Hone Creek. As you round a sharp bend in the road, you’ll see a small parking area on your left. No parking is allowed on the highway.
Hannegan Pass / National Forest Road 32
When there’s enough snow at this lower elevation, this is another easy trail with big payoffs.
It wanders the flat, open terrain with no real avalanche danger, making it a great option for kids. Highlights include the chance to wander the banks of the North Fork Nooksack River with glimpses of Mount Shuksan on a clear day.
After 1.4 miles of easy walking, you’ll reach a junction with National Forest Road 34. Head east another mile to the terminus at Ruth Creek.
Getting there: 13 miles east of Glacier, the parking area is the well-marked Shuksan Picnic Area. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park.
Salmon Ridge Sno-Park
Just a half-mile down the road from Hannegan Pass, 25 kilometers of groomed ski and skate-track lanes are maintained weekly thanks to the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club, Washington State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service.
Follow the blue blazes marking trails that wind through heavily wooded areas and skirt the North Fork of the Nooksack River. Trails may also be used by snowshoers, keeping to the side of groomed trails.
Note: At the time of writing, Hannegan Pass and Salmon Ridge had poor snow conditions. Check for updates at nooksacknordicskiclub.org.
Getting there: 13.5 miles east of Glacier, there are dozens of parking spaces on both sides of the highway. A Sno-Park Pass is required to park.
Tubing and sledding
While there isn’t a designated sledding hill or rope tow at Baker, that doesn’t keep squads of families from zooming down the three-story slopes just below the ski area. Look for the tracks around Picture Lake and Highwood Lake, which have runouts over frozen lakes (safe as long as weather remains cold enough and ice is thick; use extra caution in this warm winter).
This activity is strictly at your own risk, and sledding should never be done in the ski area, or where you stand a chance of sliding into a road.
Getting there: Drive to the ski area and look for the bowls near the end of the road (one of them is across the street from The Firs Chalet). Sledding areas are fairly obvious when you arrive.
There is a little-known Frisbee golf course on National Forest land near the town of Glacier, across Highway 542 from the Forest Service office, and it can be a fun thing to do when snow conditions higher up are poor.
The course is beautiful and challenging, filled with short little ups and downs, creeks, wetlands and mossy evergreen groves.
It’s not an “official area,” so rangers may not be forthcoming with directions or details.
Getting there: From the Glacier Public Service Center, cross the highway and head uphill, taking the second gravel driveway on your left. Go about 100 yards and look for a trail on your left, which quickly leads to the first tee.
Rain forest hike
If you’re lacking snowshoes but still want to get out for a hike, the verdant, rain-foresty Horseshoe Bend Trail near Glacier is a great choice.
The path meanders in and out of dense groves of towering, moss-cloaked cedars, hemlocks and firs. You’ll traverse little babbling brooks and wander along the raging North Fork Nooksack River, made all the more impressive by snowmelt and frequent downpours.
In my experience, the area around Glacier is snow-free much of the winter, so the lush environment makes a sharp contrast to the snowy landscape just up the mountain.
Even if there is snow on the ground, you could probably do this hike in regular hiking boots and it’s an interesting opportunity to see what a lush rain forest looks like under a white blanket. If it’s pouring rain, you can see a Northwest rain forest in its prime.
Getting there: One mile east of Glacier, there is a parking area across the highway from the Douglas Fir Campground.
Seattle-based Jeff Layton blogs about overseas travels, and outdoor adventures with his newborn son, at MarriedToAdventure.com.