At the very end of the Mount Baker Highway is a small ski area that lives up to its reputation of having uncrowded peaks and an abundance of snow. Each spring after the chairlifts close, the cabins empty, and hikers and backcountry skiers can access the vast areas of wilderness to themselves. On this trip we were looking for a place called Artist Point. From our Glacier cabin we drove about 6-miles along the North Fork of the Nooksack River and craned our necks towards the peek-a-boo views of the surrounding snowcapped mountains. Around 5:30 pm, our four-cylinder truck slowly climbed past the Mount Baker Lodge to the upper rightmost parking lot where we could drive no further.
We packed a lunch, wine, a wool blanket, and a few extra layers so that we could comfortably hang out at the top of the mountain for sunset, however, it was almost immediately apparent by the position of the sun that we arrived too early. As we were one of only three cars in the parking lot and we were all too excited to wait any longer we decided to stretch our legs for a little while and find the trail. There were no signs to be found indicating the way, so we wandered in what seemed to be the correct direction, making sure to keep the creek far to our right and the ski area on our left until we discovered the snow-covered road leading to Artist's Point.
As it is with many hikes, when we arrived at our chosen destination we could see that we were just at the beginning of several other trails to higher peaks and better views. Feeling happy with our original plan, we took off our snowshoes and laid out our picnic blanket. From this vantage, Mount Baker dominated the skyline. According to the USGS, Mount Baker is one of the youngest volcanoes in the Cascade Range and its last significant activity was in 1843 when a hydrovolcanic eruption covered a 20-mile area with ash and formed the Sherman Crater which can still be seen today. Immediately east of the glaciated volcano is Mt Shuksan, whose highest point is formed by a great white pyramid. After we finished our wine and appreciated the scenery, we were ready to start moving down the mountain where a cabin with a fire and a hot tub was waiting.
The next day we were determined to relax and cook all of our meals outside. We started by exploring the little community we were in and talked about which cabins were our favorites. After daydreaming about cabins for 15 or 20 minutes we found our way back on to the Mount Baker Highway in search of a good place to place to spend the day. This area of the Cascade Range is sometimes referred to as the 'American Alps' for its abundance of glaciers and dramatic peaks and we were determined to find a place with a view that lived up to that reputation. After exploring dirt roads and taking mental notes of good summer camping spots, we found a place near Nooksack Falls that felt like the right place to be.
From our spot in the woods, we could hear the sounds of snow melting and its water rushing down the river towards the waterfall. We took turns going for walks by ourselves to space out on the rocks by the river and periodically reconvened to play games of gin rummy. After we tired of playing cards, we took a blanket over to Nooksack Falls for a change of scenery and were rewarded with big flat rocks perched above an 88-foot waterfall.
Check the local weather report for a visibility forecast before making your plans to visit the North Cascades.
Travel mid-week to have your pick of the best cabins and the most personal space possible on the trails.
Artist Point would be a wonderful sunset hike. Bring a headlamp if you plan on hiking down in the dark.
Bring extra water. This hike is listed at four miles, but it takes some wandering to find the trail in the snow, there are a couple of steep sections, and once you get to the top you will want to explore more.
Nooksack Falls is beautiful and dangerous. Many people have died here while trying take photos on the slippery rocks. Stay behind the fences and be safe.
Pack it in. Pack it out. Bring a small plastic bag for your trash and any other rubbish that might have accidentally been left behind by other hikers.
Getting to Artist Point: From Bellingham follow the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) to the very end (55 miles). The trailhead to Artist Point is at the last parking area (all the way up and to the right) on the Mt. Baker Highway. Upon arrival at an area referred to as Heather Meadows, walk past the vaulted toilets and keep the ski lifts on your left and the creek far to your right. Eventually, you'll find the road taking you up to an area where you can view Mt Shuksan and Mount Baker.