Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Overview

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Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (Paul Edmondson/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty)

Located near Seattle, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is huge. It stretches across the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, from the Canadian border and North Cascades National Park to the northern boundary of Mount Rainier National Park. Vast 10,000-acre glaciers that sprawl in the northern part of the forest formed the harsh, dramatic, and rugged landscape. Mountain peaks over 10,000 feet plunge quickly into valleys at sea level. On top of all this, there is Mount Baker itself, which is still an active volcano; the Sherman Crater emits steam and sulfuric gases.

If you want to know what kind of weather to expect, well, that all depends on where exactly you're planning to go, since the climate varies dramatically within the forest. The Cascades create their own weather, pulling in Pacific Ocean storms. Huge masses of water-logged clouds come out of the ocean and slam into the mountain range most of the year. Valley bottoms, near the western edge of the forest, are typically dry and resemble the Sierras in climate; they receive only 30 to 60 inches of rain each year, while higher elevations get over 500 inches, mostly in the form of snow. At the higher elevations, 20 feet of snow on the ground is standard during the winter. Moreover, in some areas, snow does not melt until midsummer.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest isn't kidding around, so be prepared. It is a long, diverse area that is breathtaking, tough, and promising enough to excite even the most jaded adventurers.

Hike a Legendary Trail
Don't miss a chance to hike the legendary Pacific Crest Trail—the Appalachian Trail's tough, loner sister, stretching from the border of Mexico up through the states and into Canada. This section of the trail is pristine and challenging—you'll be alone most of the time, there will be a lot of altitude changes, and you'll have a chance to explore some volcanic areas. Also, try traveling to Artist Point, where you'll have lots of great trails to choose from, including the Chain Lakes Trail, a popular seven-mile loop. For a tougher, more solitary trail, check out Clearwater, which begins 15 miles off Highway 410 via Forest Road 74 and a short distance up the Carbon Trail 1179 in the White River District. You'll encounter eight somewhat difficult miles through old-growth forest and mountain meadows.

Ski Where You Will
Snow-covered forest roads and trails are perfect for cross-country skiing. Expect snow, plentiful and wet, from October through April. The forest manages seven ski areas, with both downhill and groomed cross-country trails—four at Snoqualmie Pass and one each at Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass, and Mount Baker.

Drive High and Low
Driving the upper 24 miles of the Mount Baker Highway gives you plenty of options for adventure—there are plenty of viewpoints, waterfalls, and opportunities for short and long hikes. The road ends at spectacular Artist Point, elevation 5,140 feet, in the Heather Meadows area. Right at the end of the Mount Baker Highway, there's a network of trails leading into the Mount Baker Wilderness—you can just choose one and jump right in. Want to see beautiful Nooksack Falls, plummeting more than 100 feet to the rocky outcrops below? Or how about climbing American Border Peak, elevation 8,026? Whatever it is, the forest provides ample opportunities for it.

Catch a Trout
The forest offers hundreds of lakes, rivers, and streams. Anglers are most likely to catch rainbow or cutthroat trout. Streams fed by snowmelt have clearer water than those fed by glaciers and sustain larger fish populations. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness offers the angler opportunities to fish over 700 lakes. The Skagit River has good steelhead, salmon, and sea-run cut throat. The Sauk, a tributary to the Skagit, has a decent turnout of cut throat and big Dolly Varden. Rattlesnake Lake is a good bet if you're looking for 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout. The population here is entirely dependent on hatchery turnout, so check with the Department of Wildlife for a list of recently stocked lakes.

Paddle a Wild Ride
Whitewater rafting and kayaking are challenging in spring and early summer when melting snow turns the rivers into boiling cauldrons of rapids and whirlpools. Some rivers flow over high waterfalls. Only experienced whitewater boaters should attempt the rivers of the national forest. Guided raft trips are available from trained outfitter/guides. By late summer many rivers are too low for rafting. Try paddling the Sauk River, a Class III scenic river, or whitewater rafting on the south fork of the Skykomish River, a Class III-IV. Because it's a bumpy ride, helmets and life jackets are required on this one. The Skagit drains directly into Puget Sound, which provides an excellent opportunity for kayaking.

Climb a Mountain
The two highest peaks in the national forest, Mount Baker (10,778 feet) and Glacier Peak (10,550 feet) each have multiple climbing routes. The standard route on each mountain is relatively easy, requiring only a rope, ice ax, and crampons. Climbers attempting those peaks should have some climbing experience. Other routes vary from easy to extremely difficult. Most climbers attempt the peaks in the spring and summer when weather is more likely to be good. In late summer, the snow bridges over crevasses melt away and route-finding becomes challenging. Other climbing challenges include Mount Shuksan (9,127 feet), Whitehorse Mountain (6,852 feet), and Sloan Peak (7,835 feet). Rock climbing skills and equipment are necessary for these peaks.

Be in the Wild
During your trip, you might see bald eagle, great horned owl, great blue heron, bobcat, elk, and black bear. You probably won't see any wolves, but you might hear them—recently, they have begun returning to the northern portions of the forest.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 13 Jul 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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