Mount Baker seen from Goat Lake on Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness. North Cascades Washington #73706

Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge Mount Baker Wilderness

Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge Mount Baker Wilderness

Mount Baker seen from Goat Lake on Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness. North Cascades Washington #73706Mount Baker and Goat Lake #73706  Purchase

This post is the next installment of Mount Baker Wilderness Destinations. This time, we will discuss two hikes that start in Heather Meadows, Lake Ann, and Ptarmigan Ridge. These hikes are unusual in the North Cascades since the trailhead is higher up in the sub-alpine. Most trails in the North Cascades involve considerable elevation gain to reach the alpine. Heather Meadows and parts of Mount Rainier National Park are a few areas where trails start high.

Another bonus is that both of these trails lead to close views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. These mountains display two geological features that define the North Cascades, volcanism and complex metamorphic terrane. Even if you’re not a geologist there is plenty of material here to pique your interest in the subject.

Essential Tip: Both of these trails are among the most heavily used in the Northwest. Expect to see plenty of people, every day of the week. Get to the trailhead parking very early in the morning or you may not find a parking spot.

Evening clouds swirling around Mount Shuksan North Cascades, Washington #73588Mount Shuksan seen from Ptarmigan Ridge 73588  Purchase

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Length: 9 miles roundtrip to glacier overlook at the Portals
Elevation Gain: 1800′
Getting there:  From Bellingham drive Mount Baker Highway, SR 542, about 58 miles to its end at Artist Point. The last section beyond the ski area usually is not plowed until late June, and some years not until August. If the road is still under snow come back a few weeks later since the trail itself will still be buried in deep snow.

Ptarmigan Ridge is hands down one of the most scenic trails in the Northwest. You would be hard-pressed to find another trail in the North Cascades which travels through the alpine as long as this one. If you hike only the first mile or go all the way to the glaciers of Mount Baker, every step brings fantastic views. That said, this trail is suitable for day-hikes and overnight-night backpacking. It is also one of the approaches for climbing Mount Baker, although it’s probably the longest one. And even in late summer, you’ll see people packing skis and searching for more turns.

Essential Tip:  Due to its elevation and proximity to Mount Baker, the weather maker, this trail is usually deep under snow until mid-August. A few sections never melt out. Crampons or micro-spikes and an ice axe will come in handy for early-season hikers.

Essential Tip:  Do not confuse this trail with the Ptarmigan Traverse. The Ptarmigan Traverse is a climbers-only route which starts south of Highway 20, at Cascades Pass in North Cascades National Park.

Backpackers on Ptarmigan Ridge Trail Mount Baker and Coleman Pinnacle are in the distance. Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #73720Hikers on Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, Mt. Baker (L), Coleman Pinnacle (R) #73720  Purchase

Hiking Ptarmigan Ridge

For the first mile, the trail is mostly level and traverses open slopes below Table Mountain. Soon after is a junction with the Chain Lakes Trail, another outstanding hike. Then the trail drops down a few hundred feet and crosses numerous streams before beginning to climb through a vast slope of volcanic rock. This last section, before gaining the ridge again, is usually under snow until late in the season. Just pick the easiest way to the ridge or follow tracks from other hikers.

Gaining the ridge the trail then begins a grand tour winding along ridges in alpine heaven. At around 3.8 miles the trail takes a sharp right turn and starts up a steep grassy slope below Coleman Pinnacle. This is also where you can leave the trail to visit beautiful Goat Lakes, just to the south.

Mount Baker seen from Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness. North Cascades Washington #73714Mount Baker, The Portals are seen as black butte on right #73714  Purchase

The last section crosses a sort of ridge plateau made of volcanic boulders and ash. Some of the best camping spots on the trail are here. Finally, the trail ends just below the Portals, a crumbling volcanic hill. Rough paths climb to the top where there are close-up views of Mount Baker and glaciers in nearly every direction.

This is about as far as a hiker can safely go, and it’s a great spot to have lunch before heading back.

Essential Tip:  Do not attempt to travel on any of the nearby glaciers unless you have the proper equipment and training.

Sunset over Mount Baker at backcountry camp on Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness. North Cascades Washington #73634Campsite on Ptarmigan Ridge Mount Baker Wilderness #73634  Purchase

Camping on Ptarmigan Ridge

I can’t imagine anyone hiking this trail without thinking of how great it would be to camp somewhere along the ridge. There are only a few sections on the route which are flat enough to spread out a tent. And some of those are close to heavy traffic areas. The best spots are around Goat Lake, about 4 miles in, and at the trail end on the 5790′ volcanic plateau.

For Goat Lake find a faint path heading down and south where the trail veers to the right below Coleman Pinnacle. The first short section is very steep on loose rock, and it’s essential to make sure you’re on the correct path. Once it levels out there are good sites on the way to the lake. Although the lake isn’t far it’s a longer walk than it looks. Also, keep in mind that this is one of those areas that retain snow long into the summer. Some years the lake doesn’t even completely melt out.

Mount Baker sunset seen from Goat Lake on Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness. North Cascades Washington #73622Mount Baker and Goat Lake #73622  Purchase

Photography on Ptarmigan Ridge

There are excellent photo opportunities along the entire length of the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail. Indeed,  only a few steps from the parking area at Artist Point are some of the most iconic views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan.

For wildflowers enthusiasts, there are a few areas worth checking out. The first basin beyond the Chain Lakes trail junction has many streams with mossy borders and yellow and purple monkeyflowers. Another good location is the northeast side of Goat Lake. It’s worth mentioning that due to the heavy snowpack, most wildflowers in the area will be late bloomers.

My favorite area for photography is Goat Lake. Spending the night here rewards the photographer with a beautiful evening and morning light. This is also an outstanding location for night photography. Plus, there are plenty of elements around the lake which can you can use in compositions. These include lake reflections of Mount Baker, patterns of ice on the lake, and wildflowers.

I would suggest bringing along a full kit of lenses, from ultra-wide to medium telephoto. A longer focal length lens can isolate patterns of crevasses on glaciers. And if you’re lucky, a telephoto is useful to catch wisps of steam emanating from the crater below Sherman Peak on Baker.

Mount Shuksan seen from partially frozen Lake Ann, Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #58150Lake Ann and Mount Shuksan #58150   Purchase

Lake Ann

Length: 8 miles roundtrip to Lake Ann / 10 miles roundtrip to Mount Ann
Elevation Gain: 1900′ roundtrip to Lake Ann / 2800′ roundtrip to Mount Ann
Getting there:  From Bellingham drive Mount Baker Highway, SR 542, about 57 miles to Austin Pass. The last section beyond the ski area usually is not plowed until late June, and some years not until August. If the road is still under snow come back a few weeks later since the trail itself will still be buried in deep snow.

About a half mile before the road ends at Artist Point is the small saddle of Austin Pass. This is where the trailhead for Lake Ann is. Parking here is more limited than at Artist Point, so get here early.

Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #58134Looking north from summit of Mount Ann #58134  Purchase

The journey begins by dropping about 500′ below the pass into a lovely subalpine basin at the headwaters of Swift Creek. After winding through streams, wildflowers, and rock gardens the trail enters the forest for the next mile or so. The first camping area is at a crossing of Swift creek, where the trail emerges into subalpine meadows.  From here it’s about a 900′ switchback climb to the saddle above Lake Ann. Take your time here as the rocky meadows are very picturesque. This is a perfect place to see and hear pikas among the boulders.

From the saddle, the trail drops into the lake basin. Shortly before arriving at the lake a trail branching off to the left heads to close views of Curtis Glacier. From here you are at the base of Mount Shuksan and can gaze up at its immense walls and hanging glaciers.

Mount Shuksan North Cascades Washington #58136Mount Shuksan and Lower Curtis Glacier #58136  Purchase

Hiking to Mount Ann

While most people only visit Lake Ann on a day hike or camp along its shore, there is more to explore. A worthwhile destination above and to the south of the lake is Mount Ann. From the saddle above Lake Anne climb the steep slope to gain a long ridge. Hike along this ridge to the south side of Mount Ann and pick your way through boulders and up gullies to the small summit.

From the summit of Mount Ann impressive views are in every direction. See Shuksan Creek emerging from lower Curtius Glacier. To the west is Mount Baker and the entire length of Ptarmigan Ridge. Looking south are Mount Blum, Hagan Mountain, and Bacon Peak. And far below is Baker Lake. On a clear day, you can see Glacier Peak far to the south, and maybe even Mount Rainier.

Essential Tip:  Just like on Ptarmigan Ridge this trail is usually deep under snow until mid-August. Lake Ann will often have ice on it well into autumn. Crampons or micro-spikes and an ice axe will come in handy for early-season hikers.

Backcountry camp above Lake Ann, Mount Shuksan in the background, Mount Baker Wilderness North Cascades #58125Tent on Ridge above Lake Ann #58128   Purchase

Camping at Lake Ann

An overnight trip to Lake Ann is truly something special. From camps along the lake, the imposing face of Mount Shuksan is so close you can almost touch it. But to find a spot to set up your tent will require some planning and flexibility. The few campsites at Lake Ann are among the most heavily used in the Mount Baker Wilderness.

Essential Tip:  Your best bet would be to arrive on a Sunday or Monday morning, when people are heading home for the week. For a weekend stay, you’ll need to arrive at the lake very early on Friday morning. Later on Friday and Saturday, you’ll probably be out of luck.

Most of the established sites are on the east side of the lake and near its outlet. However, I feel the best sites are on the long ridge of Mount Ann above the lake. I like the view of looking down on the lake with Shuksan as a dramatic backdrop. There are several bare dirt sites on the ridge, and plenty of flat areas on snowpack to set up a tent. As a bonus, you may have the ridge to yourself compared to down at the lake.

Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #58162Mount Shuksan #58162  Purchase

Photography at Lake Ann

A combination of Lake Ann and Mount Shuksan are the main elements for photography. Ice floes on the lake offer some interesting abstract patterns, and there are some small areas of wildflowers. You’ll definitely need a wide-angle lens of around 20mm to fit all of the lake and Shuksan into the frame.

From the ridge above the lake, you also have great views and compositions of Mount Baker. While most hikers prefer sunny blue sky days, clouds and weather can be a photographer’s friend. An ideal situation would be to photograph at Lake Ann, or on Ptarmigan Ridge, as a storm or weather patterns begin to clear. Clouds and fog swirling around jagged peaks give the North Cascades its trademark mysterious and primordial look.

Misty clouds swirling around peaks of the North Cascades in Heather Meadows Recreation Area, Washington #73538bClearing storm over North Cascades #73538b2  Purchase

More Info for Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge

When to go:  Both of these hikes and the North Cascades generally receive more snow than just about anywhere else in the lower 48 states. Most higher elevation trails are under the snowpack until early to mid-July. Of course, you can go sooner but be prepared for some route-finding. Some steeper slopes higher on the ridge may need crampons and an ice axe to negotiate safely.

Most wildflowers don’t appear until late July or early August. The exception would be avalanche lilies that begin to shoot up while still under snow.  By mid-August, most of the snow will be gone and water sources may be an issue for some overnight trips. Late July through August is also the buggiest time of the year.

Both Ptarmigan Ridge and Lake Ann are very popular destinations and receive heavy use. It’s always a good idea to get an early sunrise start if possible. That way, you’ll have the trail to yourself and avoid the day’s heat and bugs.

Permits:  A Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required for parking at the trailhead. However, Washington State Discover Passes are not valid. There are currently no additional permits needed for day-hiking or overnight trips.

Gear:  Check my post Backpacking Photography Gear Tips for suggestions and tips on hiking, backpacking, and photography gear.

Photography tips:  Check my post Backpacking Photography Tips for suggestions and tips on what camera gear to bring and for tips on making better photos during your trip.

More information about these hikes can be found on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website.

For more hikes in the Mount Baker Wilderness and North Cascades National Park check out these posts:
Mount Baker Wilderness Destinations
Hannegan Peak Ruth Mountain Mount Baker Wilderness
Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park

Backcountry camp on Ptarmigan Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness. North Cascades Washington #73641The author at camp on Ptarmigan Ridge #73641

Leave No Trace in the Mount Baker Wilderness

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are willing to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). Mount Baker Wilderness and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children, grandchildren, and the Earth will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Photos appearing in Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge Mount Baker Wilderness are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge

Ruth Mountain and Hannegan Peak Wildflowers North Cascades Washington #54332

Hannegan Peak Ruth Mountain Mount Baker Wilderness

Hannegan Peak Ruth Mountain Mt Baker Wilderness

Ruth Mountain seen from Hannegan Peak, Mount Baker Wilderness North Cascades #54364Ruth Mountain seen from Hannegan Peak #54364  Purchase

The North Cascades is a mountain range with some of the most rugged and dramatic scenery in the lower 48 states. In its northwest corner is the Mount Baker Wilderness. And within this wilderness are two destinations that represent the best of the North Cascades, Hannegan Peak, and Ruth Mountain. Both routes pass among old-growth forests, wildflower meadows, and rushing streams and waterfalls. Both peaks have tremendous open views of rugged mountains and glaciers. And while Hannegan Peak is a moderate hike, Ruth Mountain is more difficult, adding some mountaineering adventure to the mix.

Both destinations utilize the scenic Hannegan Pass trail for access, the starting point for many wilderness adventures. Among them include ascending Hannegan Peak, Ruth Mountain, or continuing on into North Cascades National Park. The latter option leads into some of the wildest parts in the North Cascades. In this post we’ll explore the first two options.

Essential Tip: In summer the Hannegan Pass Trail can be one of the buggiest in all of the North Cascades. I’ve been on this trail several times when the black flies are so thick it’s like something out of an Arctic horror story. While other times there were very few flies. It’s usually best to start out very early in the morning to beat the heat and flies.

Essential Tip: The area around Hannegan Pass has a long history of encounters with black bears. Hang your food or better yet use bear-proof canisters.

Ruth Creek Valley from Hannegan Pass Trail, North Cascades Washington #58067Ruth Creek Valley from Hannegan Pass Trail #58067  Purchase

Hiking the Hannegan Pass Trail

Access to the trailhead is via Hannegan Pass Road, Forest Service Road 32. Towards the end of the road you get a real sense that the Ruth Creek Valley is something special. In the last mile the road passes avalanche gullies with glimpses up to rugged Nooksack Ridge. Early in the season the road here is often blocked with piles of snow and huge trees brought down avalanches. Check with the Forest Service in advance for road conditions.

The large trailhead parking area is usually filled with cars and is often a bustle of activity. Even before daybreak there are often parties sorting through gear for the long climb up to Ruth Mountain and other destinations. You’ll also see groups with large packs giddy with excitement ready to start long trips into the National Park.

Hannegan Pass Trail, Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #61790Backpackers on Hannegan Pass Trail #61790  Purchase

It’s a little less than a five-mile hike to Hannegan Pass on a well-maintained trail. Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to pause and take in the scenery. Most notably is a spot about two miles in which traverses through an open rocky area with cascading streams. This is where the snowy bulk of Ruth Mountain first comes into view. Somehow the view up and down the wild valley has a primordial feel to it. Unless you are in a hurry, and you definitely shouldn’t be, this is a prime spot to take a short rest.

The last mile or so the trail re-enters the forest and begins climbing to the Hannegan Pass. About a half-mile below the pass is a small camp area among streams and small meadows. The trail then switchbacks up through a few open meadows thick with wildflowers. The pass itself can be a bit of a let down though since it has a limited view. However, this is where the real adventure begins!

Ruth Mountain and wildflower meadows on Hannegan Peak, North Cascades Washington #54332Wildflowers on summit of Hannegan Peak #54332  Purchase

Hannegan Peak

Continuing on the trail beyond the pass will take you to the Copper Ridge trail, or down the Chilliwack River trail, and on to Whatcom Pass. Both of these destinations are in the North Cascades National Park and will require permits for overnight trips.

For Hannegan Peak take the path which branches off to the left at Hannegan Pass. This steep but easy trail climbs 1000′ in a little over a mile to the summit of Hannegan Peak.  Soon after leaving the pass the trail opens up into beautiful meadows thick with wildflowers. Also along the way are those stupendous views you were expecting below at the pass.

Mount Shuksan and pink heather on Hannegan Peak, North Cascades Washington #54307Pink Heather on Hannegan Peak #54307  Purchase

Upon arriving at the summit of Hannegan Peak you are greeted by amazing views in every direction. Looking south is the snowy pyramid of Ruth Mountain. To the right of Ruth is Mountain Shuksan and sprawling Jagged Ridge above Nooksack Cirque. Following the crest of Nooksack Ridge to the southwest is Mount Baker and its cloak of glaciers.

Copper Ridge and Copper Mountain are north of the summit in the National Park. Beyond them, across the border in British Columbia is the fantastic fang-like Slesse Mountain, Mount Rexford, and the Illusion Peaks. They are part of the northern limit to the North Cascades. Finally to the east is Mount Redoubt, then Mount Challenger, and the northern part of the Picket Range.

One can sit here all day with a map attempting to identify all the mountains in these views. Another fun pastime is to watch climbers slowly ascend the snowy slopes of Ruth Mountain. It’s also common to watch some of them ski back down in summer.

Backcountry camp on Hannegan Peak overlooking Mount Shuksan, North Cascades Washington #54316Camping on Hannegan Peak #54316  Purchase

Camping on Hannegan Peak

While most people day-hike to the summit of Hannegan Peak, overnight trips are extremely rewarding. Although the summit and adjacent ridge are fairly broad, established campsites are sparse. The best site is within a circle of stunted trees on the summit. However, this site is almost always taken. It can also be busy since this is where most day-hikers stop to have lunch.

Follow the ridge west below the summit for several more established sites. If you can’t find any open sites then your best option is to set up camp on snow or scree. There are also one or two spots halfway down the trail to Hannegan Pass. Snowfields are the only source of water anywhere above Hannegan Pass.

Ruth Mountain Mount Baker Wilderness North Cascades Washington #54325Ruth Mountain, Point 5930′ bottom left  #54325 Purchase

Ruth Mountain

Looking out to Ruth Mountain from Hannegan Peak, it is easy to dream of a visit to its summit. And standing on top of Ruth Mountain is an experience you’ll remember your entire lifetime. Ruth is also one of the few peaks in the area that is within the reach of the average hiker with the proper gear.

Essential Tip:  Hiking to the summit of Ruth, or even only to the ridge below the glacier, traverses some difficult sections. Turn around when the terrain goes beyond your comfort level.

If you have time and energy after Hannegan Peak you can also include a climb up Ruth Mountain as part of your trip. Some people summit both Hannegan and Ruth as part of a day trip but that’s a lot to take in for one day. I would recommend an overnight camp on one and do the other the next day. Or you can always come back on a separate trip.

This trip starts at Hannegan Pass. But some parties opt to begin from the small camp area just before reaching Hannegan Pass. Route-finding and complex terrain make this approach more difficult.

From Hannegan Pass travel south about a 1/4 mile on a path to the first obstacle, a wickedly steep climb below Point 5930′. This short section will test your mettle as it ascends straight up a muddy rocky slope. Branches and roots are often needed to pull yourself up. At the top you’ll traverse east across and over the north side of Point 5930′. There is some mild exposure on this stretch and is usually covered in snow late into the season. This is a good place to use your crampons and ice axe. As you cross over to the south side of Point 5930′ a good trail appears which you can follow all the way to the base of Ruth’s snowfields.

Ruth Mountain and Mount Shuksan from Point 5930 North Cascades Washington #17110Ruth Mountain and Mount Shuksan from Point 5930′   #17110  Purchase

Camping and Climbing Ruth Mountain

There are good campsites along the open ridge extending between Ruth and Point 5930′. But perhaps the best site is at the summit of the Point itself. From there you’re close to Ruth and can also take in a better view of Mount Shuksan than from Hannegan Peak.

The climb/hike up Ruth is fairly straightforward. There is about 1400′ of ascent from the base ridge to the summit. Basically, you follow the pick the easiest way straight up to the summit pyramid, on a sort of spine on the snow. Traveling too far to the right or left crosses more dangerous areas on the glacier. Stay clear of a large wedge-like rock which usually has some hidden crevasses and bergschrunds nearby.

Most descriptions of climbing Ruth advise crampons, ice axe, and ropes due to hidden crevasses. On my solo trip, I wore crampons and carried an ice axe. However, I saw people ascending without either, and none were roped together. And at least one person was wearing just running shoes.

Mount Shuksan with view of the Nooksack Cirque seen from summit of Ruth Mountain, North Cascades #17151Mount Shuksan and Nooksack Cirque #17151  Purchase

The summit offers some of the most eye-popping jaw-dropping views in the North Cascades. Dominating the view is the incredible Nooksack Glacier below Jagged Ridge, tumbling into the wilds of Nooksack Cirque. From here Mount Shuksan with its hanging glaciers and Nooksack Tower is even more awe-inspiring than the classic view from Heather Meadows. Closer up is Icy Peak, a kind of compact version of the bigger peaks of the range. West is the fantastic Picket Range and Mount Challenger. Looking north is Hannegan Peak and Slesse Mountain in the distance.

Slesse Mountain and Hannegan Peak, North Cascades Washington #17196Slesse Mountain (L) and Hannegan Peak (R, foreground) #17196  Purchase

If you enjoy a threadbare bivouac there is just enough room on the summit to spend the night. But make sure the weather is in your favor. On your way down make sure to follow the same route and don’t stray left onto the broad glacier face.

Icy Peak and Mount Blum from Ruth Mountain, North Cascades Washington #17168Icy Peak, Mount Blum (L), and Glacier Peak (L, in distance) #17168

If You Go

Hannegan Peak
Length:  From trailhead parking,  10.5 miles roundtrip to summit
Elevation Gain:  3100′ to summit

Ruth Mountain
Length:  From trailhead parking,  12 miles roundtrip to summit
Elevation Gain: 4000′ to summit
Essential Tip:  This trip is best made in late spring or summer. After the winter snowpack has melted the bare ice of the glacier makes travel more dangerous. Also, on cold nights the snow can harden up and become very icy.

Getting there:  From Bellingham drive Mount Baker Highway (SR 542) 46 miles to Hannegan Pass Road (FR 32),  just before the Nooksack River bridge.  At 1.3 miles take a left and follow the road 5.4 miles to the Hannegan Pass trailhead parking lot. There are some primitive campsites and a shelter at the trailhead.

Full moon rising over Mount Challenger, North Cascades National Park Washington #54366Full moon over Mount Challenger #54366  Purchase

Hiking and Photography Info for Hannegan Peak and Ruth Mountain

When to go:  Both of these hikes and the North Cascades generally receive more snow than just about anywhere else in the lower 48 states. Most higher elevation trails are under the snowpack until early to mid-July. Of course, you can go sooner but be prepared for some route-finding. Some steeper slopes higher on the ridge may need crampons and an ice axe to negotiate safely.

Most wildflowers don’t appear until late July or early August. The exception would be avalanche lilies that begin to shoot up while still under snow.  By mid-August, most of the snow will be gone and water sources may be an issue for overnight trips. Late July through August is also the buggiest time of the year.

The Hannegan Pass Trail is very popular and receives heavy use due to the multiple destinations it accesses. It’s always a good idea to get an early sunrise start if possible. That way, you’ll have the trail to yourself and avoid the day’s heat and bugs.

Permits:  A Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required for parking at the trailhead. However, Washington State Discover Passes are not valid. There are currently no additional permits needed for day-hiking or overnight trips.

Gear:  Check my post Backpacking Photography Gear Tips for suggestions and tips on hiking, backpacking, and photography gear.

Photography tips:  Check my post Backpacking Photography Tips for suggestions and tips on what camera gear to bring and for tips on making better photos during your trip.

More information about these hikes can be found on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website.

Information on climbing Ruth Mountain can be found at Summitpost.org

For more hikes in the Mount Baker Wilderness and North Cascades National Park check out my posts:
Mount Baker Wilderness Destinations
Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge Mount Baker Wilderness
Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park

Ruth Mountain and Mount Shuksan Hannegan Peak, North Cascades Washington #54339Pink Heather on Hannegan Peak #54339 Purchase

Leave No Trace in the Mount Baker Wilderness

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are willing to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). Mount Baker Wilderness and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children, grandchildren, and the Earth will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

Photos appearing in Hannegan Peak Ruth Mountain are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Hannegan Peak Ruth Mountain Mt Baker Wilderness

Mount Baker, seen from Heliotrope Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #54421

Mount Baker Wilderness Destinations

Mount Baker Wilderness Destinations

Mount Baker, seen from Heliotrope Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #54421Mount Baker seen from Heliotrope Ridge  #54421  Purchase

With winter waning and spring just around the corner, a hiker’s thoughts turn to hatching trip ideas for the summer. Lately, I’ve been busy working on updating my website where I constantly come across memorable photos from past trips. Almost instantly I start making plans to revisit that place. One of my favorite destinations is the Mount Baker Wilderness, which just happens to be almost in my backyard.  And because of this over the years I’ve explored nearly all of its trails on day hikes and overnight backpacking trips.

The North Cascades contains one national park and several wilderness areas, all of which have their unique elements.  Among them, the Mount Baker Wilderness is the most northwestern. Because the Mount Baker Wilderness receives a huge amount of rain and snow its main features are cool dense old-growth forests and active glaciers. In the center of it all is Mount Baker, a 10,786′ dormant volcano covered in massive glaciers.

Wildflower meadows on Heliotrope Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #54537Heliotrope Ridge Wildflowers #54537  Purchase

Hiking in the Mount Baker Wilderness

If there is one thing that can characterize the North Cascades it would be rugged terrain. Its valleys are steep and deep, with junglelike forest undergrowth. The alpine is steep and rocky with large snowfields and glaciers barring the way for most casual hikers. Without trails hiking into these mountains would be a grueling ordeal.

Fortunately, the Mount Baker Wilderness has many trails leading to some of the most breathtaking scenery in North America. However, all but a few start low and involve large amounts of elevation gain to reach those views. In this post, I’ll discuss two of the more scenic destinations, along with tips to make your hike more enjoyable.

Both of the trails in this post receive a LOT of traffic. If you are looking for solitude it would be hard to find it on these trails. There are plenty of other trails and little-known routes which are less crowded, and some trails where you’ll be mostly on your own. However, these are generally more difficult in nature, and some may require route-finding skills.

Bastille Ridge and Coleman Glacier from meadows onHeliotrope Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness North Cascades Washington #54533Coleman Glacier and Heliotrope Ridge Wildflowers #54533  Purchase

Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope Ridge Trail

Length: 5.5 miles roundtrip to glacier overlook
Elevation Gain: 1400′  to overlook and about 2300′ to climber’s camps
Getting there:  From Bellingham drive Mount Baker Highway 34 miles to Forest Service Road 39, Glacier Creek Road, then another eight miles to a large parking area.

Heliotrope Ridge trail is one of the main approach routes for climbing Mount Baker. And for that reason, you’ll be sharing the trail with plenty of climbers and skiers. It’s also very popular with day-hikers whose destination is the close-up view of Coleman Glacier. This is one of the few places outside of Mount Rainier National Park where you can easily hike to the edge of a massive glacier.

The well-built trail initially travels through a forest of beautiful old-growth trees and crosses several rushing streams. Around two miles in is the site of Mount Baker Clubs‘ long gone Kulshan Cabin. Only one or two rotting timbers and a conspicuous opening in the forest remain.  From here the forest begins to open up and soon you come to a junction with the Hogsback climbing route and the Heliotrope Ridge /Glacier Overlook trail.

Crevasses on the lower parts of the Coleman Glacier, Mount Baker North Cascades Washington #565Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker  #565  Purchase

Coleman Glacier Overlook

Taking the left fork brings you to the Coleman Glacier overlook. You’ll first need to cross Heliotrope Creek, which except for late in the season is always a rushing torrent.

Essential Tip: During the early part of the hiking season the creek is covered in snow. As the season progresses this snow bridge becomes thinner, and it is easy to break through and get caught in the stream underneath. Use utmost caution during, especially on warm days.

From the crossing, it is a short walk to the edge of the moraine overlooking Coleman Glacier. At first, your eyes will be glued to the massive crevasses in front of you. Then slowly you’ll follow the ice higher and higher to the bulky summit of Mount Baker. It’s an amazing view you won’t soon forget. It’s easy to just sit here all day taking it in, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all!

Tent illuminated at climbers camp on Heliotrope Ridge, Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #54432Heliotrope Ridge Camp #54432  Purchase

Above the Hogsback

After taking in the glacier view, or if you’re doing an overnighter, head back down the trail to the junction with the Hogsback Ridge trail. This super steep trail takes you to climber’s camps adjacent to more snowfields and glaciers. The campsites here have outstanding views of Mount Baker. This is also a great place to view wildflowers and mossy meltwater streams.

North Twin Sisters Mountain in the North Cascades. This mountain is a massive and rare occurence of Dunite rock (peridotite rock from the Earth's mantle) uplifted to the Earth's surface. Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #24451Twin Sisters Range North Cascades #24451  Purchase

Wandering west and up from here the terrain is mostly over barren rock and boulders. But it is also the way to a relatively easy route up to a ridge with views down into the Thunder Glacier basin. The crest of this ridge is shattered volcanic rock resembling something from Mordor. There are one or two small spots here to set up a tent for the ultimate overnight stay. From here you can also take in outstanding views of the Twin Sisters Range. This route is over permanent snowfields which may harbor hidden crevasses. Because of this, it’s a good idea to bring crampons, an ice axe, and a partner for this section.

Sunset on Mount Baker from Skyline Divide, Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #49891Skyline Divide Mount Baker Wilderness  #49891  Purchase

Mount Baker Wilderness Skyline Divide Trail

Length:  9 miles roundtrip to end of the ridge
Elevation Gain:  2500′ to end of the trail
Getting there:  From Bellingham drive Mount Baker Highway 34 miles to Forest Service Road 39, then 12 miles on FR 37

Another extremely popular trail and destination is the ridge of Skyline Divide. Like the Heliotrope Ridge, the star attraction of this trail is Mount Baker. However, once above the treeline, the Skyline Divide trail travels for a greater distance along a pleasant ridge with wide-open views in every direction.

Part of the adventure on this hike is the access road. The road branches off almost immediately after turning onto Glacier Creek Road (FR 39). It then travels about 12 miles from the intersection to the trailhead over some of the worst potholes you’ll ever see. The worst section is on the first flat miles along the Nooksack River. There are plenty of narrow sections along the climb so be alert for oncoming vehicles. There is almost always at least one car speeding recklessly down the road.

Essential Tip: This is a very heavily used trail and trailhead parking is usually at a premium, every day of the week. To avoid oncoming cars and obtain a parking spot leave very early in the morning.

Mount Shuksan seen from wildflower meadows of Skyline Divide, Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #53322Mount Shuksan from Skyline Divide #53322  Purchase

During the first two miles, the trail is moderately steep as it gains 1500′ through fragrant old-growth forest to the open ridge. The last half mile or so switchbacks through pretty meadows dense with False Hellebore (Corn Lily) and Valerian. Suddenly breaking through the woods onto the ridge crest can be a shock. The views in every direction are some of the most spectacular in the entire Pacific Northwest.

To the south is the massive white bulk of Mount Baker, east is Mount Shuksan, and the heart of the North Cascades. North is Church Mountain and Excelsior Ridge, and beyond are the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. West is the Salish Sea, SanJuan Islands, Vancouver Island, and the city of Vancouver.

Mount Baker seen from wildflowers meadows on Skyline Divide, Mount Baker Wilderness North Cascades Washington #54245Moon over Mount Baker from Skyline Divide #54255  Purchase

Hiking on Skyline Divide

Aside from the great views and enjoyable ridge hiking wildflowers are a big attraction. Early in the season just after the snow melts clear the first meadow is a carpet of yellow avalanche lilies. Time your trip well because these pretty flowers don’t last long.

After reaching the first ridge meadow the trail is a bit of a roller coaster. Passing the second of several knolls along the ridge it smooths out a bit and the views continue to improve. For the next two miles, every step takes you closer to Mount Baker. Along the way are more patches of wildflowers and a trail junction that drops to meadows of Deadhorse Creek, below Chowder Ridge. Take this trail if you want some solitude, however, the views of Mount Baker soon become obscured.

North Cascades seen from Skyline Divide, Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #53264Skyline Divide in the foreground, Mount Baker Wilderness #53264  Purchase

The last section of the trail climbs higher and higher to a small flat ridge immediately adjacent to Chowder Ridge. Just when you thought the views couldn’t get any better, they do! In front of you is a wild subalpine valley below Bastille Ridge with the Glaciers of Mount Baker seemingly close enough to touch. This is about as far as a hiker can travel, continuing on to Chowder Ridge requires some scrambling skills.

Sunset from Skyline Divide. Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #71746Sunset from Skyline Divide #71746  Purchase

Spending the Night on Skyline Divide

There are several great spots for camping along the ridge, but water can be a limiting factor. After the snow melts there are no dependable water sources. Although if you camp higher up near the end there are usually some permanent patches of snow.

It is absolutely essential that you choose a well-established site on bare ground. Do not under any circumstances camp on vegetation. Over the years I’ve seen the fragile vegetation and wildflowers slowly disappear under the boots and tents of thoughtless hikers.

Sunset on Mount Baker from Skyline Divide, Mount Baker Wilderness, North Cascades Washington #49922Mount Baker at sunset from upper Skyline Divide #49922  Purchase

Wherever you choose to set up camp you’ll be in for a visual treat. As the sun goes down the colors of glaciers on Mount Baker progress from white to yellow, to orange, and finally to pinks and purples. In the eastern sky after sunset look for the beautiful glow of the Belt of Venus over Mount Shuksan. This is the shadow of the Earth moving across the sky.

Look to the west and watch the sunset over the Salish Sea, turning the water to brilliant gold. And although you probably came to escape civilization you’ll be mesmerized watching the lights of Vancouver turn on and glitter in the twilight.
Of course, you’ll need a clear sky for all this, but it’s just as captivating watching clouds and fog swirl among the peaks.

Crescent moon over Vancouver British Columbia #71787New Moon and Venus over Vancouver #71787  Purchase

Tips for Hiking in the Mount Baker Wilderness

When to go: Both of these hikes and the North Cascades generally receive more snow than just about anywhere else in the lower 48 states. Most higher elevation trails are under the snowpack until early to mid-July. Of course, you can go sooner but be prepared for some route-finding. Some steeper slopes higher on the ridge may need crampons and an ice axe to negotiate safely.

Most wildflowers don’t appear until late July or early August. The exception would be avalanche lilies that begin to shoot up while still under snow.  By mid-August, most of the snow will be gone and you may need to pack in your own water for an overnight trip.

Skyline Divide is a particularly nice destination in early fall. The crowds are smaller and the meadows begin to take on some lovely fall color. A light early snowfall can also provide a dramatic effect on the surrounding mountains.

Permits:  A Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass is required for parking at the trailhead. However, Washington State Discover Passes are not valid. There are currently no additional permits needed for day-hiking or overnight trips.

Gear:  Check my post Backpacking Photography Gear Tips for suggestions and tips on hiking, backpacking, and photography gear.

Photography tips:  Check my post Backpacking Photography Tips for suggestions and tips on making better photos on your trip.

More information about these hikes can be found on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website.

For more hikes in the Mount Baker Wilderness and North Cascades National Park check out these posts:
Hannegan Peak Ruth Mountain
Lake Ann Ptarmigan Ridge Mount Baker Wilderness
Whatcom Pass Tapto Lakes North Cascades National Park

Twilight over North Cascades from Skyline Divide Mount Baker Wilderness Washington #71773Coast Range of British Columbia from Skyline Divide #71773  Purchase

Leave No Trace in the Mount Baker Wilderness

Please Please Please!  Don’t plan a trip to this or any other wilderness area unless you are willing to strictly follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). Mount Baker Wilderness and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children, grandchildren, and the Earth will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Mount Baker Wilderness Part 1 are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park

Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

Paradise Meadows Wildflowers Mount RainierParadise Meadows Wildflowers Mount Rainier #73268  Purchase

This post is the second of a two-part article about planning and photographing in Mount Rainier National Park Paradise Meadows. Read part one here.

A trip to photograph in Mount Rainier National Park or any other national park can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be a disappointing exercise in frustration. Good planning and having enough time available to meet your photography goals will increase your chances of success.

Since I’ve already given some tips on trip planning in my previous post, let’s start talking about locations and how best to photograph them. Mount Rainier is a big park with lots of great areas to photograph in. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus only on the Paradise Meadows area and a few adjacent locations.

Essential Tip #1:  All of the locations in the Paradise Meadows area provide excellent opportunities for both sunrise and sunset. In summer the sun will rise and set a bit further in the north. There will be slightly more light hitting the glaciers on Mount Rainier at sunrise than there will at sunset. Both times can provide some excellent side-lighting to wildflowers.

Paradise Meadows Skyline Trail Mount Rainier Skyline Trail Mount Rainier #72892 Purchase

But First a Lecture

Mount Rainier National Park receives over 2,000,000 visitors every year, and that number will continue to grow every year. The park service has gone to great lengths and expense (your tax dollars!) to make the meadows accessible for everyone, while also trying to keep them from getting trampled into oblivion.

Please take a minute to read the park’s Meadow Preservation page.

Many trails are paved and roped off, and all have numerous signs to keep people on the trails. Please be thoughtful and considerate to the plants and future visitors, stay on the trails!

It is absolutely 100% possible to get great images while staying on the trails. But every time I photograph here I see other photographers going off the trail and trampling the flowers just to get that seemingly better photo. If everyone did that then Paradise Meadows would be nothing more than Paradise Dust Pit.

I wish I didn’t need to say this but here it goes. Do not even think of visiting Paradise Meadows unless you plan on strictly photographing only from established trails and keeping off the meadows. If you can’t do that then you should probably stay home!!

Paradise Meadows Wildflowers Mount RainierParadise Meadows Wildflowers #73347  Purchase

Paradise Meadows Trails and Locations

There are numerous trails in the Paradise Meadows area that give access to all the best photo locations. I like to divide the trails in the area between the west and east halves of the Paradise Meadows area. Both sections have excellent photo opportunities, but the western half has a better-unobstructed view of Mount Rainier. I also feel that the west half often has better groupings of flowers and opportunities for compositions.

Download the Paradise Meadows Hiking brochure and map here.

Essential Tip #2:  Scouting is an essential technique for better photography. Always scout out the best locations in advance by spending the day hiking as many trails as possible. Make notes of the best spots and how long it will take to reach them in the morning and evening golden hours.

Essential Tip #3:  Keep in mind that to reach most of the best flower meadows there is an elevation gain of several hundred feet from the parking area. While the trails aren’t steep or difficult it will take some effort to reach the best spots, especially if you’re racing against time and chasing light.

Essential Tip #4: Photo compositions in the west and east sections of Paradise are sufficiently far enough apart as to exclude photographing in both areas during the same morning or evening golden hour. Stick to one area and come back the next morning or evening for the other.

Tatoosh Range, Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier National ParkTatoosh Range Paradise Wildflower Meadows #73159  Purchase

Skyline Trail: This is the main trail that makes a loop through the entire Paradise area. This scenic trail makes an excellent leisurely all-day loop. However, be aware that the higher elevation part of this trail traverses mostly rocky alpine terrain. Nearly all of the best flowers meadows are at middle elevations on the western parts of this trail.

There are many great compositions to be had around 5800′ elevation by using the trail network between Skyline and Deadhorse Creek Trails.

Deadhorse Creek, Moraine,  Nisqually Vista Trails: The main attraction for all of these trails are the views of Mount Rainier and the yawning chasm below the Nisqually Glacier. Deadhorse Creek trail connects with the Skyline trail so a loop will offer both glacier views and great wildflower photos.

Golden Gate Trail: This mile-long trail begins on the lower Skyline at Myrtle Falls, and ends at the upper Skyline Trail on Mazama Ridge. There are some great flower groupings all along this trail, especially near Myrtle Falls. Make sure you check out classic compositions of both Edith Creek from the footbridge and Myrtle Falls from the lower overlook.

The downside of the Golden Gate trail is that views of Mount Rainier are partially obscured by Panorama Point Ridge. However, this trail is great for including the Tatoosh Range in compositions instead. There are some wonderful flower groupings on the upper section switchbacks for use in such compositions.

Tatoosh Range and Skyline Trail Paradise Meadows Skyline Trail Mount Rainier Tatoosh Range from Mazama Ridge #73153

Mazama Ridge Paradise Meadows 

Mazama Ridge can be accessed by several different trails. It can be reached via the Skyline Trail from the Paradise Meadows parking area, or from below at Reflection Lakes. Keep in mind that if you are starting from Reflection Lakes you will have a considerable amount of elevation to gain before reaching the best areas.

Due to the nature of the snowpack melting out many of the best wildflower displays on Mazama Ridge often bloom a bit later than elsewhere in Paradise.

Skyline Trail on Mazama Ridge:  Access is either part of the Skyline Loop or from the end of the Golden Gate Trail. I feel the upper part of Mazama Ridge on the Skyline Trail offers the best photo opportunities. This is mainly due to the more open views of the Tatoosh Range.

Lakes Trail:  While there are some good photo ops on this trail they are mostly the upper half. One of the benefits of this trail is that the views of Mount Rainier are set back a bit.

Paradise Glacier Trail: This trail begins on the upper part of Mazama Ridge. For the most part, it travels through fairly barren rocky terrain. But there are some decent flower displays along the first half mile or so. The attraction on this trail is viewing the raw landscape that not too long ago was beneath glaciers.

Some of the best displays of Lewis’s Monkeyflowers are near the junction of the Paradise Glacier and Skyline trails. Here they grow alongside streams thick with bright green mosses. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to include a satisfactory view of Mount Rainier or the Tatoosh Range in photos from this spot.

Mount Rainier and Edith CreekEdith Creek Mount Rainier #3522  Purchase

Myrtle Falls Edith Creek Paradise Meadows

These classic locations are only a half-mile from the Paradise parking area on the Skyline Trail. Both photograph well in morning or evening light with a preference for sunrise.

Be aware that this is one of those locations that can be crowded not only during the day but during golden hour light. This is a very popular spot for photo workshops and wedding photographers. Please be considerate of other photographers, especially those photographing newlyweds.

Myrtle Falls Mount Rainier National ParkMyrtle Falls Mount Rainier #72865  Purchase

Also, use caution at the overlook to Myrtle Falls. It’s a small cliffside viewing area which can be a bit dangerous for you and your gear when surrounded by overzealous visitors. Early in the season dangerous snow bridges and slippery snowpacks can prove fatal, exercise extreme caution or avoid the overlook completely at this time!

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lakes Mount Rainier #73126  Purchase

Reflection Lakes

The roadside view of Mount Rainier from Reflection Lakes is one of the classic photographic vantage points in the park. One can easily argue it’s one of the most classic views in the entire Pacific Northwest!

To get here just take the road turnoff to Stevens Canyon just below Paradise Meadows, or follow Paradise Valley Road east from the Visitor’s center parking lot.

Essential Tip #5: This is a primarily sunrise location. Like many classic national park photo locations, it attracts hordes of photographers and workshops. Plan on setting up in the best spot at least an hour before sunrise. Bring a headlamp and a thermos of coffee! And of course please heed the signs and help preserve fragile areas by staying out of closed areas.

Landscape photography doesn’t get much easier than at Reflection Lakes. Parking is right alongside the lake so theoretically, you don’t even need to get out of your car! Of course, getting the best photos will involve a bit more than that. It will be to your advantage to scout out the best spots the day before so you won’t be guessing in the dark the next morning.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection Lake Paradise MeadowsReflection Lakes Mount Rainier #73103  Purchase

I feel the best spots are on the eastern end of the lake where small groups of wildflowers can be used in the foreground. This is also one location that will provide great photos whether you are there during or after wildflower season. On a cold fall morning, there are often thin sheets of ice on the lakes that are very photogenic.

Essential Tip #6:  Don’t make the mistake of setting up your tripod and photographing only one composition. Pick out the best primary spot and wait to photograph it in the best light, then move on to other compositions.

Bench Lake Mount Rainier National ParkBench Lake Mount Rainier #73143  Purchase

Bench Lake

This is a great sunrise location with wonderful views of Mount Rainier that not many photographers visit. The view of Rainier from Bench Lake shows more of the lower part of the mountain than at Reflection Lake. However, you are limited to a tiny stretch of sand along the lake for compositions.

Bench Lake is an extra doable location after photographing sunrise at Reflection Lake if you still have some nice early morning light to work with. Drive about 1.5 miles east of Reflection Lakes to reach the trailhead to Bench and Snow Lakes. The lake is about 1.25 miles along the trail with some minor ups and downs along the way.

Pinnacle Peak Trail Mount Rainier National ParkPinnacle Peak Trail Mount Rainier #72992  Purchase

Pinnacle Peak

If you have extra time during your trip a hike up to Pinnacle Peak is definitely worth the effort. The trail starts across from Reflection Lakes and is about 1.25 miles in length with about 1400′ of elevation gain. It feels longer than 1.25 miles but the increasingly dramatic views of Mount Rainier keep your mind off the work.

There are several good spots along the trail for photos which include wildflowers or hikers on the switchbacks. Just west of the saddle at the trail’s end there are a few spots to sit and get some pics. If you’re up for it you can continue the steep route to Plummer Peak. For the really adventurous photographer continue hiking east on a rough semi-exposed trail to a saddle above Pinnacle Glacier. The views of Mount Rainier from there are wide open.

Essential Tip #7:  Photography from the Pinnacle Peak trail is best in the evening light. Bring water and wear a hat, this trail can be very hot in the afternoon during the summer. Make sure to bring a headlamp for the way down if you’re planning on golden hour photography.

Christine Falls Mount Rainier National ParkChristine Falls #73210  Purchase

Christine and Narada Falls

These two waterfalls are an absolute must photograph when you’re in the area. Both are very easy short walks from the road and both offer perfect compositions from the viewing areas. As with most waterfalls, they are best photographed on an overcast day, or in the early morning or evening when they are in shade.

Essential Tip #8:  Like nearly every location in a national park try to avoid photographing these waterfalls during the crowded busy part of the day. Before 9:00 am or after 5:00 pm is best, then you’ll probably have them all to yourself.

Narada Falls Mount Rainier National ParkNarada Falls #72871  Purchase

Camera Equipment Suggestions 

What camera gear should you bring on a Mount Rainier photography trip? In a nutshell, everything you have. Ok, maybe not everything, especially if you’re a gear junkie with dozens of lenses and camera bodies. 

If you’re using a camera with a full-frame sensor the most useful focal lengths are 14mm-70mm. So basically ultra-wide to very slight telephoto should cover most compositions. The only time I used my telephoto lens was to zoom in on some glacier details.

Basic Essentials:

    • Tripod
    • Wide to ultra-wide lenses
    • Normal range lens
    • Telephoto lens; for landscapes up to 200mm would be good enough. Paradise Meadows isn’t really known for wildlife photography so long telephotos aren’t necessary.
    • Polarizing filter
    • Graduated Neutral Density Filters;  I still use these in the field in certain circumstances instead of creating the effect in post-processing. Although they are not always the best option.
    • Remote shutter release
    • Bug Spray!

Essential Tip #9:  Brush up on your focus stacking techniques. Since you’ll probably be photographing wide-angle compositions with wildflowers in the foreground and Mount Rainier in the background you’ll need to use methods that increase your depth of field.

Essential Tip #10: Mosquitoes, gnats, and other flying insects will be especially bothersome during times around sunrise and sunset. Exactly the same time when you will need to concentrate on your photography. Bring insect repellant or wear netting.

Essential Tip #11:   BE CREATIVE! Use your own eyes and mind. Just because there are 20 other photographers photographing the exact same scene, in the exact same position, with the exact same gear and settings, doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit. Photographing something in a unique and creative way could be as simple as just turning around to see what’s behind you!

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lake Sunrise Mount Rainier #73082  Purchase

In Conclusion

Combining all the information and tips in this post and Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning, you now should have everything you need to know to have a productive, safe, and enjoyable trip to Paradise Meadows. Now get out there and have fun!

Thanks for reading, feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Mount Rainier, Paradise Meadows Wildflowers

Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning

Mount Rainier, Paradise Meadows WildflowersParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #3485  Purchase

This post is part one of a two-part article about planning and photographing in Mount Rainier National Park Paradise Meadows. Jump to part two here.

One of the most popular locations for photographing wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest is Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier National Park. There are few mountain locations that have such an abundant display of wildflowers along with easy access to them. But at Mount Rainer, there are more than just subalpine meadows bursting with color. The views of the meadows include the hulking mass of a 14,411′ volcano and some of the largest active glaciers in the lower 48 states.

What is even more impressive is that there are numerous meadows of wildflowers around the entire circumference of the mountain. Some of them, like those at Paradise and Sunrise, are just a short walk on paved trails from the parking lot. While other locations like Spray Park are only accessible as longer day hikes or overnight backpacking excursions.

The most extensive and luxurious wildflower displays by far are found in the Paradise Meadows area. It is at this and adjacent locations I’ll be talking about in this post.

Mount Rainier, Paradise Meadows WildflowersParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #3499  Purchase

But First a Lecture

Mount Rainier National Park receives over 2,000,000 visitors every year, and that number will continue to grow every year. The park service has gone to great lengths and expense (your tax dollars!) to make the meadows accessible for everyone, while also trying to keep them from getting trampled into oblivion.

Please take a minute to read the park’s Meadow Preservation page.

Many trails are paved and roped off, and all have numerous signs requesting people to stay on the trails. Please be thoughtful and considerate to the plants and future visitors, stay on the trails!

Skyline Trail Mount Rainier National ParkSkyline Trail Mount Rainier #72982

It is absolutely 100% possible to get great images while staying on the trails. But every time I photograph here I see other photographers going off the trail and trampling the flowers just to get that seemingly better photo. If everyone did that then Paradise Meadows would be nothing more than Paradise Dust Pit.

I wish I didn’t need to say this but here it goes. Do not even think of visiting Paradise Meadows unless you plan on strictly photographing only from established trails and keeping off the meadows. If you can’t do that then you should probably stay home!!

Paradise Wildflower Meadows Mount RainierParadise Meadows Mount Rainier #73244  Purchase

Planning A Paradise Meadows Photography Trip

You can spend as little as a day in the park and come away with a few good photos. But if your goal is portfolio quality images you’ll need to schedule more time. So I would recommend at least three days. That way you can explore all the trails and photo opportunities in the area.

Ideally a better trip length might be 5-7 days. With a week available you’ll be able to scout out all the best locations and be able to photograph them in multiple lighting events. On my last trip to Mount Rainier, I photographed every day for a week but had only one morning and one evening of outstanding light. Because of this, I stayed in the Paradise area the entire trip to make sure I got the images I wanted.

Essential Tip #1: Always give yourself enough time and be flexible with your itinerary.

Tatoosh Range in winter, Mount Rainier National ParkTatoosh Range in Winter #5019  

Seasons in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

The road to Paradise Meadows and the parking area are open year-round. Although summer sees the most visitors, the winter season which stretches from November until May is also very popular. During those months Paradise is a magnet for backcountry skiers and climbers training for Alaskan or Himalayan expeditions.

For landscape and nature photographers late July to mid-August is the best time to plan a trip. However, timing varies every year due to the amount of snowpack.  But generally you can usually be sure of hitting the peak wildflower bloom in the first weeks of August.

Keep in mind that all species of flowers don’t bloom at the same time. Glacier and Avalanche Lilies are the first to bloom as soon as the snow melts away. Shortly after Lupines, Sitka Valerian, Paintbrush, Pink  Mountain Heather, and Western Anemone dominate the scene. After the Lupines begin to fade Asters and Arnica take over the show.

Essential Tip #2: Check out the Park Service’s Wildflower Status page to see what is currently in bloom.

One of my favorite wildflowers is Lewis’s Monkeyflower. These brilliant purple flowers grow in dense clusters along streams and marshy areas in the subalpine. You can often see them among mats of vibrant green moss. Note that Lewis’s Monkeyflower is often in full bloom later in the season.

Mount Rainier sunrise from Reflection LakeReflection Lakes Sunrise #73114  Purchase

Guided Workshop Or Solo Trip

At some point, you’ll need to decide whether to go with an established workshop/photo tour or do the trip on your own. There are many advantages and disadvantages for either option.

Photo Tour/Workshop Advantages:
-Led by a seasoned professional photographer with intimate knowledge of the park and the opportunity of learning new techniques from a pro.
-Meals, lodging, and transportation are usually included, someone else does the driving for you.
-Being part of a group dynamic can be creatively beneficial.

Photo Tour/Workshop Disadvantages:
-Limited freedom to photograph where and when you want.
-Inability to postpone trip or change schedules due to weather considerations.
-Daily schedules can be very rigid, there may not be any flexibility to stay longer in one location.
-Travel times and distances from lodging to locations can be great, making for very long days.
-Cost can be prohibitive

Solo Photo Tour Advantages:
-Unlimited freedom, photograph where you want when you want.
-Ability to postpone trips or change schedules due to weather considerations.
-Ability to lodge or camp where you choose, cutting down on travel time to locations.
-Huge cost savings.

Solo Photo Tour Disadvantages:
-Extra research is needed to find the best locations.
-Finding lodging on the fly on a daily basis can be difficult.
-Lack of assistance and input from a leader or group members.
-No one to share ideas or experiences with.

During my entire career as a professional photographer, I’ve traveled mostly solo. I love the freedom and flexibility associated with this mode of travel. And I know for a fact that I’ve been able to get better photos because of it. But of course, this is just my preference and it certainly won’t work for everyone. It’s up to you to decide.

Paradise Road Mount Rainier National ParkRoad to Paradise Mount Rainier #72878  

Trip Logistics Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier

Location, location, location. It’s all about location, and Mount Rainier National park is no different. Generally, you’ll have time to photograph only one location during the morning or evening golden hour. By the time you can reach the next spot the light will most likely have faded until the evening or next morning. And remember this isn’t a race or contest, slow down and appreciate where you are!

Keep in mind that it is about an 18-mile drive from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise Meadows. Since it is a slow winding mountain road allows about an hour for the drive. The closer you stay to your subject matter the better chance you have of being in right place at the right time. And you will be more relaxed and focused when you get there.

Essential Tip #3:  Set your alarm and get used to rising very early. Absolutely nothing is worse than planning on being at a certain spot before sunrise than being late because of hitting the snooze alarm one last time and then having a long drive ahead. Stopped for speeding, or worse, hitting a moose in the dark during your haste? Ughh!

Sunset over Paradise Mount Rainier National ParkParadise Sunset Mount Rainier #73203  Purchase

Lodging and Services

No matter where you stay, be it in a national park, a forest service campground, or a motel or resort, be prepared to make reservations well in advance of your trip, if possible. Even in the shoulder seasons vacancies in lodging and campgrounds can be difficult to find. Popular campgrounds will fill by early morning. Research and plan ahead. It’s no fun driving around in the dark after a long day trying to find a place to sleep.

Essential Tip #4: Plan and reserve accommodations far in advance.

Lodging: There are several options for lodging when photographing in the Paradise Meadows area. If you can afford it the most convenient option would be to stay at the historic Paradise Inn. Situated right at Paradise all the best locations are literally right outside your door! For this option, you’ll need to book well in advance. There is also the National Park Inn located lower down the mountain in Longmire.

Between the town of Ashford and the Nisqually entrance, there are several options for cabins and motels. For camping, the best and closest option is Cougar Rock, about a half-hour drive from Paradise Meadows. Reservations are recommended but you can usually get a site if you arrive before 9:00 am.  

Services: Gas and groceries are basically limited to Ashford which has one gas station and a couple of small convenience-type stores, and a small laundromat. In the park, Longmire has a small general store with limited supplies. So it is best to plan in advance and arrive with all the food you need for your stay.

Cell Signal:  While in the park cell service is limited to the Paradise area, where there is a pretty strong signal. Otherwise, you’ll have to travel all the way back down to Ashford.

Paradise wildflower meadows Mount Rainier National ParkPink Heather Mount Rainier #72905  

Fees Passes

The entrance fee to Mount Rainier National Park as of this date is $30 for a private vehicle and passengers and is good for seven days. An annual pass exclusive to Mount Rainier National Park is $55.

Consider purchasing an America The Beautiful annual pass if you photograph in many national parks and federal recreations areas throughout the year. This pass costs $80 and is good for National Parks, BLM lands, National Forests, and more.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share this post with your friends and colleagues!

Next up, is part two of this article, Photographing in Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier.

Want to learn more, or have a professional photographer guide you in the field? Then take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

All photos appearing in Photographing Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Paradise Meadows Mount Rainier Photography Trip Planning

Mount Shuksan from Baker Lake North Cascades

North Cascades Photography Workshop

North Cascades Photography Workshop

Mount Shuksan from Baker Lake North CascadesMount Shuksan and Baker Lake #53550  Purchase

Join me for a two-day workshop on creative visualization in the North Cascades.  Hosted by the North Cascades Institute, the Pacific Northwest’s premier organization for environmental learning. This will be a hybrid workshop, with the first part being a full day in the field. The second part will be an online Zoom session where we will discuss techniques of photo editing and processing.

The field segment will be a full day of photographing in the beautiful Old Growth forests along Baker Lake in the North Cascades. The lake sits below the towering summits of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Along the way, we will pass numerous streams flowing through a cool and fragrant forest of giant firs and cedars. Along with an understory lush with ferns and wildflowers there will be plenty of subject matter to work with.

Hidden Creek. Baker Lake Trail, North Cascades WashingtonHidden Creek North Cascades #65030  Purchase

During our time in the field, we will discuss and learn composition techniques. We will also explore focus stacking, exposure stacking, macro photography, and more. Above all, we will learn to develop and express personal visions of the surrounding environment. In the online Zoom session we will discuss and learn various editing and processing techniques to help convey creative your experience.

Although this workshop touches on some basic technical aspects of photography the focus will be on creativity and visualization. Participants should possess a working knowledge of their cameras. Participants should also have a basic understanding of image editing apps.

Due to pandemic restrictions, the field portion will be limited to eight participants.

 

Western Wake-robin (Trillium ovatum)Trillium #53779  Purchase

Suggested Photography Equipment

  • DSLR  preferred but any camera will be acceptable
  • Wide-angle to short telephoto lens
  • Polarizing filter
  • Tripod
  • Remote shutter release

Sunrise over Mount Baker (elevation 10,778 feet (3,285 m) and Baker Lake, North Cascades WashingtonMount Baker from Baker Lake  #53562  Purchase

North Cascades Photography Workshop

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness Orergon

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap reflected in Mirror Lake  #68776  Purchase

As part of the Summer 2020 Photography Tour, my first destination was the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeast Oregon. Over the years I’ve repeatedly passed over this rugged wilderness while on my way to other destinations further east. Every time I would drive by on Interstate 80 I’d glance at them and promise to visit them next time. This went on for over twenty years! However, on this trip the stars aligned and I finally worked it into the schedule.

The Eagle Cap Wilderness sprawls out over most of the Wallowa Mountains. At over 360,000 acres it is the largest wilderness area in Oregon. That’s quite a lot of territory for such a small mountain range. A couple of other things also sets the Eagle Cap apart from other Oregon wilderness areas. First is its geology. Nearly every other mountain wilderness in Oregon is made up of various forms of volcanic rock. In contrast, the Wallowas contain mostly granitic rock. Secondly, the Wallowas are in a higher range. Many of the peaks are  1000′ – 2000′ higher than those in the Cascade Range to the west. And of course, due to its eastern location, the climate is drier, although the peaks still receive copious amounts of winter snow.

Eagle Cap, Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap #68862  Purchase

Backpacking In The Eagle Cap Wilderness

Since this was my first trip, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before a return visit, I wanted to photograph in the most scenic locations. After poring over maps, online trip reports, and searching for photos of specific areas I settled on two destinations.

For nearly everyone, the central Lakes Basin is the prime spot for day hikes and overnight trips. This area is where the highest peaks and most of the alpine lakes are situated. Consequently, it is also the area that receives the most visitors. I chose two areas for this trip, and due to practicalities divided them into separate trips. The first would be an extended stay at Mirror Lake and several adjacent lakes, by way of taking the East Lostine River Trail. The second trip was to be a shorter one to Ice Lake via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Both trips would ensure excellent photo opportunities. The one uncertainty was the fact that despite it being nearly mid-July there still appeared to be a good deal of snowpack left in the alpine.

Since this was my first trip, and I wasn’t sure how long it would be before a return visit, I wanted to photograph in the most scenic locations. After poring over maps, online trip reports, and searching for photos of specific areas I settled on two destinations.

For nearly everyone, the central Lakes Basin is the prime spot for day hikes and overnight trips. This area is where the highest peaks and most of the alpine lakes are situated. Consequently, it is also the area that receives the most visitors. I chose two areas for this trip, and due to practicalities divided them into separate trips. The first would be an extended stay at Mirror Lake and several adjacent lakes, by way of taking the East Lostine River Trail. The second trip was to be a shorter one to Ice Lake via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Both trips would ensure excellent photo opportunities. The one uncertainty was the fact that despite it being nearly mid-July there still appeared to be a good deal of snowpack left in the alpine.

Lostine River Trail, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa Mountains OregonEast Lostine River Trail  #68765  Purchase

Hiking Into Mirror Lake

This trip was also to be my introduction to the realities of traveling during the COVID 10 Pandemic. Driving up the long, bumpy, and dusty Lostine River Road, where I was to spend the first-night car camping,  I found nearly every campsite was occupied. At the time I thought it was due to being the weekend. Later on, I would find out that where or when didn’t matter, crowds were everywhere. After finding a decent spot I sorted through and prepared all my gear for an early start in the morning.

The next day I hit the trail bright and early and brimming with excitement about the views and pictures awaiting me. The first half of the East Lostine River Trail is fairly uneventful and typical of a forest approach hike. The second half, however, is very pleasant and scenic. This is due to the fact it enters a very long nearly flat sub-alpine valley with wide-open views for over a mile. During this section the trail skirts along open meadows, ponds, and the lazily flowing Lostine River. At the head of the valley looms 9572′ Eagle Cap Peak. This is where I first worried about the timing and feasibility of my two trips.

Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Wilderness Cairn  #68822  Purchase

There were still numerous spots of avalanche snow left melting on the trail, and Eagle Cap, and the pass to Mirror Lake was nearly covered in snow. This left me thinking about the chances of successful photography, and of being able to visit all the lakes on my itinerary. The last mile or so to the pass was mostly over deep snow, although it was firm and post-holing was at a minimum. It was a pleasant surprise to find more open ground at the pass. Conditions at Mirror Lake were my main concern though.

Backcountry camp Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMirror Lake Camp Eagle Cap Wilderness  #68804  Purchase

Mirror Lake Camping And Photography

On approaching Mirror Lake at 7595′ I saw that its surfaces had about 75% ice on. Most of the open water was along the shoreline, which was good news for me. Also, the majority of designated campsites were still under snow. However, one especially attractive site near the lake was completely snow-free.

There probably wasn’t a better spot in miles. The view across the lake to Eagle Cap was outstanding, and if the light cooperated I was sure to come away with some great photos. As usual, I spent the rest of the afternoon scouting the area in advance for photo compositions. And while I found a few good ones the one near my camp was clearly the best, at least until all the snow melted.

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonAlpenglow over Eagle Cap  #68793  Purchase

Up until that time I planned to move on the next day over another pass to Glacier Lake. But it was obvious the way would be entirely over snow, and since Glacier Lake was even higher up it was certain to be nearly frozen over. Because of this I reluctantly made the decision not to go, and spend more time in the immediate area instead.

During the afternoon the sky had clouded over,  and I thought I would be out of luck for a photo session with good evening light. But towards sunset, it became apparent that the clouds were starting to clear in the west. Soon sun rays began to stream through and illuminate the lake area and Eagle Cap.

Backcountry camp Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMoccasin Lake Camp  #68814  Purchase

Moccasin Lake And Out

Since Glacier Lake was now out of the picture I went scouting higher up on the open slopes behind the camp and on the way to the other lakes in the basin. There was still too much snow to make the other lakes worthwhile so I went down to nearby Moccasin Lake. Even though it was only a few hundred feet lower there was considerably less snow. But unfortunately, I found only one established campsite. It was on a rock shelf above the lake with a great view, but it was also sorely overused. This must be the only site in the area since there was enough bare dusty ground for several parties.

I wasn’t as fortunate here with the light and compositions so I took advantage of clear skies to do some night sky Milky Way photography. The next day I decided to move back down the trail to the open meadows along the Lostine River. On my way in I saw some great photo opportunities in this area so I made this my final destination on this hike. After finding a hidden out-of-the-way campsite I was able to make several more evening photos.

Milky Way over Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonMilky Way Over Eagle Cap  #68819   Purchase

The next day I headed out with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was able to spend some time in one of the best locations in the Wallowas and make some wonderful images to boot. On the other hand, the lingering snowpack prevented me from photographing some other great areas.

Afterward, I drove to Joseph Oregon to have a good meal. I also had to decide if it would be worth doing the second trip to Ice Lake. After agonizing over the decision it was apparent that it was still too early in the season to make it worthwhile for the photographs I had in mind.

So the next morning I began the drive to the second major destination of the summer photo tour, the Cecil D. Andus-White Clouds Wilderness of Idaho. Check back to read a post on that incredible area!

Eagle Cap, Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Reflection  #68866 Purchase

If You Go:

Round trip to Mirror Lake from Lostine River Two Pan Trailhead:  14 miles
Elevation Gain:  about 2200′
Difficulty:  Moderate
Red Tape:  Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass required
Map: Green Trails Wallowa Mountains Eagle Cap Wilderness Map

The Two Pan Lostine River Trailhead is located about 18 miles south of Lostine Oregon, on Forest Road #8210. The last 10 miles are unpaved and can be rough in several places. Along Forest Road #8210 there are numerous small campgrounds and a few opportunities for primitive dispersed camping.

Note that Mirror Lake is only one of many backcountry destinations from this trailhead. Mirror Lake can be the only destination or be part of extended backpacking trips into the Wallowas. Check out the map in the link above for all the exciting possibilities.

The town of Joseph Oregon at the head of the very scenic Wallowa Valley makes a great base for trips into the Wallowas. It’s also a great jumping-off town for adventures in the Hells Canyon Recreation Area. It has everything you’ll need, from good food and lodging to brewpubs, a distillery, and outdoor recreation stores. There are also numerous local artists displaying their work in Joseph’s galleries. Make sure to check out the Josephy Center For Arts & Culture while you’re there.

Eagle Cap reflected in Mirror LakeEagle Cap Mirror Lake  #68801  Purchase

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting this or any other wilderness area unless you are prepared to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). The Eagle Cap and all other wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. Please do your part to tread lightly and help preserve these precious areas for future generations!

To learn more about the principles and practicing LNT please take a few minutes to visit the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

Seven Leave No Trace Principles

  • Plan ahead and prepare.                                       
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.                 
  • Dispose of waste properly.                                                                         
  • Leave what you find.                                            
  • Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire).
  • Respect wildlife.  
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Photo Gear Used On This Trip

Nikon D850
Nikkor Lens:
14-24mm 2.8G ED
24-70mm 2.8E ED
70-200mm 2.8E FL ED
Gitzo 1532 Tripod
Really Right Stuff B-55 Ball Head
Assorted Lee Graduated Neutral Density Filters
B+H Polarizing Filter
Vello FWM-N2 Remote Shutter Release

If you enjoyed reading Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains please share it with your friends and family.

All photos appearing in Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowa Mountains are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Coast Photography Trip

Oregon Dunes National Recreation AreaOregon Dunes National Recreation Area #44164  Purchase

This week we will be leaving for a ten day photo shoot on the Oregon Coast. Our usual plan is to photograph coastal locations in April or early May but this year we had to postpone it for obvious reasons. However after several months of enduring Stay At Home orders filled with endless home improvement projects we can’t wait to hit he road again and get back to work!

At this writing only about half of Oregon State parks along the coast are open for camping. So we’re a bit limited on our options. Fortunately a few choice locations are open, enabling us to photograph some areas we haven’t visited in a number of years.  We will be starting at Shore Acres State Park with its whimsical sandstone cliff formations, and Bandon Beach‘s iconic sea-stacks. Then we’ll move north to the Oregon Dunes, and finally on to the Cannon Beach area.

Shore Acres State Park OregonShore Acres State Park Oregon #48703  Purchase

If you’re also visiting any of these areas at the same time let me know, I’d love to meet up and chat!

While this long awaited trip to the Oregon Coast is exciting in its own right, it’s only just the beginning. Several days after returning home I’ll be leaving on an extended photo tour of the Rocky Mountains. In some ways it will be a continuation of last year’s epic trip to the Idaho Sawtooths and Wyomings Wind River Range.

Bandon Beach OregonBandon Beach Oregon #48491  Purchase

This trip will be backpacking oriented and destinations are still in the planning stage.  However they most likely will include the White Cloud Wilderness of Idaho, Wind River Range, and Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. If time and conditions allow a few backcountry spots in Glacier National Park may be included. After returning from the Oregon Coast I’ll post a formal announcement for this trip.

Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park OregonCannon Beach from Ecola State Park Oregon #5627b  Purchase

All photos appearing in Oregon Coast Photography Trip are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints

Want to learn more? Take your Creative Photography to the next level with  Private Instruction and Guided Photo Tours.

 

Mount Shuksan in winter North Cascades

Photographing Heather Meadows Winter Landscapes

Photographing Heather Meadows Winter Landscapes

Mount Shuksan in winter North CascadesMount Shuksan From Austin Pass #64716  Purchase

Heather Meadows Recreation Area is located adjacent to the Mount Baker Wilderness in the North Cascades. Magnificent scenery and numerous hiking trails are the highlights of this special place. In summer visitors can drive to Artist Point on Kulshan Ridge for incredible views of Mount Baker in one direction, and Mount Shuksan in the other. Further down is one of the most iconic mountain scenes in the world, Mount Shuksan reflected in Picture Lake.

In winter Heather Meadows is just as popular a place to visit. The adjacent Mount Baker Ski Area is open, and throngs of backcountry skiers and snowboarders search for untouched powder. January usually provides some breaks in the winter storms, so it’s a good time to make the trip up.

I’ve been visiting Heather Meadows in winter for over twenty years. Mostly for photography but also for the pure exhilaration of the views and crisp cold air. Even though I’ve skied up to Artist Point on Kulshan ridge numerous times I always find something new to photograph. Different lighting conditions and reshaping snow pack will always dress up the scene in a new way. All the photos in this post were made a few weeks ago on a crisp day in late January.

Mount Shuksan in winter North CascadesMount Shuksan and snowdrift Kulshan Ridge #64337  Purchase

Up near the ridge you can find wonderful shapes and patterns in the ever changing snowdrifts. If you are lucky enough to visit just after a heavy storm you’ll also see old growth mountain hemlock trees encased in snow and ice. Also, if you are extraordinarily lucky you may get a glimpse of a steam plume from Mount Baker’s volcanic crater glowing in the evening light!

Swift Creek Valley North Cascades WashingtonSwift Creek Valley from Kulshan Ridge #64728  Purchase

Winter Travel Gear Tips

If you go there are a few things to keep in mind. Snowshoes, backcountry skis, or split-board snowboards are the most efficient means of getting around. Skinny cross country skis, or booting it in for even a short distance from the parking lot is exhausting in the deep snow, you’ll be drenched in sweat within minutes. Artist Point is less than two miles and 900′ elevation gain from the parking lot. However, with all your extra winter travel gear that distance can seem much longer.

Don’t even think of going  during poor weather! Whiteout conditions, heavy wet snow, and increased avalanche danger does not make for an enjoyable outing. It seems every year there a couple of fatalities directly attributed to those types of conditions. The main route up to Artist Point and Kulshan Ridge is usually safe from avalanches. However, under certain conditions a few areas can  be dangerous.

I won’t get into too much detail regarding essentials, but make sure you take the following:

  • Extra warm clothes, it can be windy and much colder on the ridge.
  • Plenty of liquids to stay hydrated
  • High energy snacks
  • Insulated pad to sit on
  • Avalanche beacon, probe, shovel, and knowledge of how to use them.
  • Knowledge of current weather and avalanche forecasts
  • A partner, especially important if you’re new to the area in winter, or venture beyond Artist Point
  • Common Sense!

Nooksack Ridge in winter North Caascades WashingtonNooksack Ridge from Heather Meadows #64748  Purchase

Photo Gear and Tips

Just like photographing wildflowers in spring or colorful fall foliage, winter photography is all about timing. Maybe even more so. I’m always on the lookout for good conditions. Such as after a good storm covers the trees and peaks in a fresh blanket of snow. Of course it must not be too warm or the snow will quickly melt off the trees and leave them black silhouettes against the white snow.

Photographing from Artist Point, Mount Baker is best photographed in the early morning. Mount Shuksan is best photographed in late afternoon to evening. For Shuksan late winter or early spring is preferred, since the angle of the sun won’t be as low. You’ll get more light on the glaciers then.

For lower down in Heather Meadows morning light can be optimal. Some of the best conditions I’ve seen here are when low clouds or fog are just beginning to lift.

Backcountry skiing North Cascades WashingtonBackcountry skier and tracks North Cascades #64732  Purchase

If you are envisioning untouched pristine snow in your photos you’ll have to get there very early, and immediately after a good snowfall. Backcountry skiing and riding has exploded over the years. Therefore, even the most remote and steepest backcountry terrain is tracked out by midmorning. It’s now nearly impossible to make a photo anywhere in the Heather Meadows area without numerous tracks everywhere.

Before digital I often trekked the meadows and up to the ridge with a 4×5 large format camera, and all its the weighty accessories. Several times I even did it with a full overnight winter pack! Digital has simplified and lightened the load somewhat. Here are a few basic items I always bring along.

  • Tripod
  • Polarizing filter
  • Some form of remote release
  • Plenty of microfiber lens cleaning clothes, you will drop things in the snow!
  • Extra batteries

Want to Learn More?

Would you like to learn more about winter photography? I offer full day, half day, and multi-day photo tours and instruction. Check out my Private Instruction/Tours page for more info, or contact me directly. I would love to help you take your photography to the next level and shoot like a pro!

American Border Peak and Mount Larrabee in winterCanadian Border peak and Larrabee Peak #64754  Purchase

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington

Whatcom Falls Winter Photography

Whatcom Falls Winter Photography

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington Whatcom Falls Winter PhotographyWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64764  Purchase

This week much of western Washington was hit by a series of snow storms. Snow amount totals vary, but my home in Bellingham topped off with around 12″. What’s more is that it’s staying cold throughout the week, keeping it all from melting. For most areas of the country 12″ of snow isn’t a big deal. But for us living in the coastal lowlands snowfall of any amount is exciting!

Whatcom Falls Bellingham WashingtonWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64762  Purchase

Whatcom Falls is a Bellingham City park that is only about a mile from my home. The falls are the main attraction but the park also boasts a beautiful old growth forest with towering fir and cedar trees, and numerous hiking trails.

The last time I was able to photograph Whatcom Falls in the snow was around 2008. So to take advantage of the situation I visited the falls three times. Photographing the falls any time of year is ridiculously easy. There is a stone arch bridge spanning the creek at a perfect viewpoint. All you need is a tripod, a lens in the 24-55mm range and maybe a polarizer.

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington Whatcom Falls Winter PhotographyWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64765  Purchase

Whatcom Falls Bellingham Washington Whatcom Falls Winter PhotographyWhatcom Falls Bellingham, Washington #64761  Purchase

Want to Learn More?

Would you like to learn more about winter photography? I offer full day, half day, and multi-day photo tours and instruction. Check out my Private Instruction/Tours page for more info, or contact me directly. I would love to help you take your photography to the next level and shoot like a pro!