Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Oft photographed alpine mountain-lake vista awaits in North Cascades National Park

Mount Baker in North Cascades National Park
Trail map, Plate 1
Trail map, Plate 2
Trail map, Plate 3
Trail map, Plate 4

Trail offers views of park's two highest peaks

Day hikers can enjoy for themselves one of the most oft photographed mountain-lake scenes via the Baker Lake Trail at North Cascades National Park in Washington state.

Hike a segment of the 14-mile long Baker Lake Trail is necessary to see the impressive sights of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan towering over an alpine lake. Mid-June through September marks the best time to hike the 8-mile round trip segment of the trail, as it will be driest then.

To reach the trailhead, from Hamilton, drive east on Wash. Hwy. 20. Go left/north on Baker Lake Road. In about 14 miles, turn right/east onto Baker Dam Road. After crossing the dam, go left on Forest Road 1107. Watch for signs for the Baker Lake Trail parking lot. This is the southern end of the trail.

Giant Douglas firs surround the trail while lichen, moss and mushrooms aplenty line the forest floor. Watch for giant, burned out stumps along the way; these are old-growth cedars wiped out in a forest fire following a volcanic eruption of Mount Baker in 1843.

A quarter mile from the trailhead, you’ll cross a small stream that flows into Baker Lake, which is beyond the trees to the left/right. Another stream crossing awaits at close to a mile uptrail and a third one at about 0.4 miles beyond that.

At four miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach your destination, tiny Maple Grove Campground, which hugs Baker Lake. Head to the shoreline and take in the two impressive mountains across the lake.

To the northwest is snow-capped Mount Baker rising above a ribbon of evergreens as the crystal blue lake spreads before you. The old stratovolcano tops out at 10,781 feet, the highest point in the national park and the third highest in Washington state. It last erupted in 1880.

To the north is Mount Shuksan, with a summit of 9,131 feet, is the park’s second highest point and the ninth highest in Washington.

Vertical relief
The ongoing rising of the North Cascades mountain range, in conjunction with erosion from water and ice, has created deep valleys in the national park, and consequently the vertical relief is significant, averaging between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. Mount Shuksan boasts among the most impressive of that vertical relief, as it rises 8,400 feet above Baker Lake. The vista attracts many nature photographers.

Both mountains and the others in this section of the park are part of the Skagit Range, which stretches north into British Columbia. The exposed rocks here are about 400 million years old.

As with the Douglas firs that replaced the cedars, Baker Lake is a new addition to the Skagits. It was created in 1959 by the damming of the Baker River.

A picnic on the shoreline and swim in the lake is a great way to enjoy the grand view and re-energize. After taking in the sites, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.