Walk Softly and Carry a Big Pick
From Seattle, take Interstate 5 north about 90 miles to Bellingham. From Vancouver, British Columbia, head south on Interstate 5 for about 60 miles. Driving time is a little more than two and a half hours from Seattle, and two hours from Vancouver.
From either north or south, take exit 255, the Mount Baker/Highway 542 exit. Follow this lovely rural road east for 31 miles to the small town of Glacier.
The trailhead is an eight-mile drive up twisting, one-lane Glacier Creek Road (Forest Service Road 39). That road is on the right, about one mile out of town and just after the Mount Baker ranger station, where you can buy the necessary trailhead parking permit ($3 per day).
Coleman Glacier can be accessed by Forest Service Trail 677 to Heliotrope Ridge. The trail splits at the ridge, providing a jumping-off point for climbers making a summit attempt. It's a relatively easy two-mile hike to the ridge. The trailhead is at 3,700 feet, and the ridge's highest point is 6,000 feet. The glacier's terminal moraine is at about 5,500 feet.
The trail is picturesque, with the only difficult spots being several streams fed by glacier runoff that tend to increase in size over the course of the day as the sun melts the ice. What you remembered as a mere trickle in the morning can develop into a raging, slippery torrent by 3 p.m. Bring ski poles or a walking staff, even for a day hike.
The best time to hike to the glacier is in late summer and early autumn, after the often considerable winter snow has melted, but before the Northwest's notoriously wet winter weather arrives. Last winter, Mount Baker received a world record 100-plus feet of snow, and many trails weren't open until mid-July. So, check with a local information source before you go, and be sure to pick up a trail map before you leave. The town of Glacier is noticeably light on amenities, although the gas station has a respectable selection of hot foods available.
The National Park Service does not require access permits for small groups. Parking permits can be purchased at the ranger station. A vending machine dispenses passes if you're there before the ranger station opens.
For More Information
The Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest's Glacier Ranger Station information line is (206) 599-2714, and more information can be obtained via the National Park Service's Web site, www.nps.gov/noca/ch2.htm.
According to that site, much of the western side of Mount Baker is designated as a wilderness area. As such, it offers little in the way of improvements or amenities. No motorized or mechanical devices are allowed, and fires are, for the most part, prohibited. So go prepared.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication