Best Hikes in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (WA)

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Overview

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is located in the Pacific Northwest along the western side of the Cascade Range. The forest runs from the Canadian border, west of North Cascades National Park and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, to Mount Rainier National Park. Originally operating as 2 separate forests, Snoqualmie National Forest and Mt. Baker National Forest merged in 1973. In addition to the best hikes on Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, one of the most popular recreational opportunities, is climbing Mt. Baker. Mt. Baker is the northernmost volcano in the United States Cascade Range located 15 miles south of the Canadian border. The mountain is perpetually snow-capped and mantled with an extensive network of creeping glaciers. All routes to the summit of Mt. Baker are technical climbs on glaciers. Glacier travel experience, knowledge of crevasse rescue techniques and safe climbing habits are a must.

StateWashington
Nearest Metro AreaSeattle, WA
Area Size1,724,229 acres
EstablishedJuly 1, 1908
Hiking Trails1,505 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

(*** = best hikes in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest)

Annette Lake Trail #1019 – 7.8 miles out and back
At Annette Lake
At Annette Lake, Photo by Peter Stevens

Cross Humpback Creek and climb steadily and sometimes steeply up the western slope of Silver Peak. Traveling south through old clear-cuts, cross the abandoned Milwaukee Road railroad line, now the John Wayne Trail. Approximately a mile and a half west of two-mile-long Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel in Iron Horse State Park enters old-growth forest at .75 miles. From here, take switchbacks up the mountain for the next two miles and level out about a mile before the lake. The trail ends near the lake outlet with good campsites across the outlet on the northwest side of the southwest section of the lakeshore.

Blanca Lake Trail #1052*** – 7.3 miles out and back
Columbia Glacier and Blanca Lake - Mt Baker Snoqualmie
Columbia Glacier and Blanca Lake, Photo by U.S. Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region

Quickly enter Wild Sky Wilderness climbing 37 switchbacks and gaining 2,700 feet in three miles to experience beautiful views of surrounding peaks from the ridge. Continue to climb, winding through grassy sub-alpine meadows until you reach the highest point at Virgin Lake, 4,600 feet elevation, on the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness boundary. The trail gets a little rough leaving Virgin Lake and begins a 500-foot steep descent in 0.5 miles to the southern shore of Blanca Lake. Blanca Lake nestles in a basin surrounded by Monte Cristo, Kyes and Columbia peaks, fed by the Columbia Glacier on the northwest end. The glacier’s chilly, silt-filled melt-water creates the lake’s bright turquoise green color.

Chain Lakes Loop #682 – 7.0 mile loop
Chain Lakes Trail
Chain Lakes Trail, Photo by Shutterbug Fotos

A series of sub-alpine lakes, flowering meadows and constantly changing views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan distinguishes the Chain Lakes Trail as one of the premier attractions in Heather Meadows. The trail heads west from the Artist Point parking lot, skirting the lava walls of Table Mountain. Taking the loop clockwise is best to avoid more elevation gain.

Granite Mountain Trail #1016 – 8.4 miles out and back
Looking east from Granite Mtn summit
Looking east from Granite Mountain Summit, Photo by J Brew

Granite Mountain Trail switchbacks up through forest, avalanche tracks and huckleberry meadows, climbing into Alpine Lakes Wilderness to nearly 3,800 feet at the summit of Granite Mountain. From the summit you can see mountains in all directions and off in the distance Pugetopolis, Puget Sound and the Olympics. This trail is best completed during summer months after the snowmelt.

Heybrook Lookout Trail #1070 – 2.0 miles out and back
Mount Index from Heybrook Lookout
Mount Index from Heybrook Lookout, Photo by J Brew

One of the first trails to be snow-free in this area, this is an ideal early-season hike. Begin climbing through a second-growth forest regenerated from clear cutting in the 1920s. The observation deck of the lookout is open to the public and offers outstanding views of Mount Persis, Mount Index and Philadelphia Mountain with other distant peaks to the east.

Hidden Lake Lookout #745*** – 9.0 miles out and back
Hidden Lake at North Cascades NP in WA
Hidden Lake, Photo by Jeff Hollett

Begin hiking in the forest and climb quickly the first mile. Leave the forest and enter open meadows offering grand views of the Cascade River.  After switchbacking through meadows for 1.5 miles, the trail levels out and wanders in and around angular slabs of granite and small groups of sub-alpine fir. Experience spectacular views of jagged Cascade peaks from these high meadows. At 6,500-foot elevation, enter a small pass with a vista of Hidden Lake and the Hidden Lake Lookout. The final quarter mile to Hidden Lake Lookout traverses a talus slope. The lookout was built in 1931 and stands at 6,850-foot elevation. A volunteer group maintains the lookout, which is open to the public on a first-come-first-serve basis for overnight use. The lookout ridge marks the boundary of North Cascades National Park and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 

Ira Spring (Mason Lake) Trail #1038 – 8.0 miles out and back
Mount Defiance (near Rainbow Lake)
Mount Defiance (near Rainbow Lake), Photo by J Brew

Great hike with multiple destinations that switchbacks up the south slope of Bandera Mountain. Enjoy fantastic wildflowers displays late spring through summer. On a clear day find several vantage points with views of Mt. Rainier. Bandera Mountain summit is at 5,240 feet elevation. Hikers can choose to go up Bandera Mountain, turn around at Mason Lake, venture up Mount Defiance or continue on to Rainbow and Island Lakes. The distance provided on this hike is based on a 4 mile trip to the junction with Mount Defiance Trail.

Lake Serene Trail #1068 and Bridal Veil Falls*** – 7.2 miles out and back
Bridal Veil Falls WA, Photo by Heptazane

Follow an old logging road for 1.6 miles to a newly built trail portion, then after descending some steps, you reach a spur trail to Bridal Veil Falls. Continue climbing steeply for a half mile for a close-up encounter with the powerful falls at the viewpoint and enjoy a cooling spray after the strenuous climb. Cross the Bridal Veil Falls bridge and up 23 switchbacks for two miles toward Lake Serene. At your destination view dramatic spires of Mt. Index rising nearly 3,500 feet above the lake.

Lake TwentyTwo Trail #702*** – 5.4 miles out and back
Lake 22
Lake 22, Photo by J Brew

Follow Twenty-Two Creek the entire way, climbing continuously, but not steeply, through old-growth timber and a large talus slope. The trail is used year-round and is always very crowded on summer weekends. The lake is in a glacier-carved basin on the north flank of Mt. Pilchuck. Fishing can sometimes be quite good as the lake is 53-feet deep.  

Mount Pilchuck Trail #700 – 5.4 miles out and back
Back at the parking lot we realised you could see the lookout at the summit
Mount Pilchuck, Photo by Jessie Hey

Travel through an old-growth forest along the edge of an area clear-cut by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources in 1977. When the trail is partially snow covered, often well into June, route finding is difficult. The final approach to the summit is a steep boulder scramble that can be particularly difficult in wet or icy conditions. The 5,324-foot summit has tremendous views of the Cascades, Olympics and Puget Sound.

Featured Image: Mt. Shuksan and Picture Lake in WA, Photo by Jeff Hollett

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