Hiking the Baker River: Year-Round Fun!

Baker River in the early evening light

Accessibility plays a big part in choosing which trail to hike. Here in northwestern Washington the trails in North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker National Forest tend to open (depending upon snow levels) sometime around the middle of July.

In some years the higher trails (and the roads leading to them) are never free of snow. For example last year (2011) the road to Artist Point at the end of Route 542 was never opened!

But the Baker River Trail is accessible year-round. Due to its low elevation you can drive to the trail and hike along the river anytime the urge takes you.

The Trail Starts Here

And this is a good thing, because the urge often takes me!

And the trail, although short and easy is filled with great views, along the route one can get enticing glimpses of the peaks in North Cascades National Park, hike through some old-growth forest and scramble around out in the open on gravel bars along the river.

Throwing Stones in the Baker River

This is a great hike for kids, there are lots of boulders to scramble on, rocks to throw into the river, pools to fool around in, a bridge to run across, caves (from fallen rocks) to explore and river debris to build forts from.

Castle Building

Getting there is easy, take Highway 20 east from Sedro-Woolley; turn left at the Baker Lake road and simply follow the road 26 miles to its end.

Along the way you will pass Grandy Lake.

Grandy Lake

At one point the road crosses a concrete bridge and you get a great view of Mount Baker!

Mount Baker from the Baker Lake Road

The last 5 miles of the road are unpaved (but easy travel for any type of vehicle) and ends in a gravel parking lot.

As you arrive in the parking area the trail head is there, on the left. A Northwest Trail pass is required for parking. The parking permit can be obtained at the National Park headquarters in Sedro Woolley; at the Baker Lake store (on highway 20, just before you turn onto the Baker Lake road) and when open, at the Swift Creek Camp Ground (formerly known as Baker Lake resort) at mile 20 on the Baker Lake Road.

From the parking area the trail passes some camp sites and follows the river north. There are some nice views of glacier-clad Hagan Mountain peaking above the trees as you hike along.

Lots of rain encourages abundant club moss, hanging from the trees.

Green Moss, Blue Skies, Baker River Trail

Huge boulders are arrayed along the pathway and soon there is a suspension bridge spanning Baker River.

Bridge over Baker River

Crossing the bridge another trail heads back south, along the eastern side of Baker River, towards the lake.

Baker River, from the suspension bridge

But the main trail continues along the west side of the river through the trees. Huge ancient cedars draped with moss and big-leaf maples make for a beautiful sight in the fall.

Soon there is a slight pathway leading down a short slope through an opening out onto the gravel bar. Here is a great place for lunch or building forts and dams on the small rivulets.

Dam Builder

From the open space of the gravel bar great views abound, Hagen Mountain is now in view.

Ragged Ridge and Mount Shucksan can be seen looking north, into North Cascades National Park.

Ragged Ridge

This is also a nice place for overnight camping with kids. No permit is needed to camp here as you are still in the Mount Baker National Forest.

Trees and Sky
All told the trail is about two and a half miles long ending at Sulphide Camp which is located in the trees along Sulphide Creek. It is a rather gloomy spot, compared to the sunny, open gravel bars. A permit from the National Park (available at the park headquarters in Sedro-Woolley) is needed for an overnight stay in the camp site.

Mountains Through the Trees

The forest service maintains the road (and trail) regularly so one can hike here year-round. My favorite times to hike the trail are in the spring when the forest explodes with green. And in the fall to enjoy the crisp air and wonderful fall colors from the maples…

Headed Home

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