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!

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

Purcell Mountains Larches British Columbia

North Cascades Larch Madness

North Cascades Larch Madness

Purcell Mountains Larches British ColumbiaWestern Larch (Larix occidentalis) #25781  Purchase

Just about everybody knows that some of the best fall colors can be found in New England, or for that matter just about anywhere east of the Mississippi. The Colorado Rockies and California Sierra have their own spectacular displays of aspens, And even the Southwest can put on a good show with their cottonwoods. But in comparison, the Pacific Northwest isn’t exactly known for dazzling fall color.

Those not familiar with the Northwest may not know about the magical displays of yellow and gold put on by two kinds of trees. I’m referring to the Lyall’s or Subalpine Larch and the Western Larch. The needles of these two unusual coniferous trees turn a brilliant gold every fall before they are shed. Both varieties grow in very specific areas. And with the right lighting, they can put just about any Vermont forest to shame. But you’ll have to do your homework and legwork to find the best displays. In this post, I’ll be concentrating on the subalpine larch variety.

Liberty Bell Mountain North CascadesLiberty Bell Mountain North Cascades  #64568  Purchase

Locating the Subalpine Larch

The Lyall’s Larch resides in subalpine and alpine areas, generally above 5500′ on colder northeast-facing slopes, in a narrow band from the eastern slopes of the North Cascades to the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. They can also be seen in the Canadian Rockies, with Lake Louise roughly being their northern limits.

In the North Cascades, you’ll have to do some hiking to get to see the best displays. Some spots, like the Enchantments of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, demand a strenuous multi-day trek gaining over 5000′ feet of elevation along the way. Although there are some more accessible areas, such as hikes around Rainy Pass and Washington Pass on North Cascades Highway.

Hiking and photographing during the peak larch season on a calm sunny day is an experience you won’t soon forget. The sky at this altitude can be an intense blue contrasting beautifully against the vibrant gold of the trees. Tolkien fans will easily associate this experience with the Lord Of The Rings chapter on Lothlorien.

Pasayten Wilderness larches, North CascadesPasayten Wilderness North Cascades  #56448  Purchase

Timing Is Everything

Aside from finding and hiking to the desired location timing and weather is crucial. The Lyall’s Larch generally starts turning color in the last week of September. The colors peak in the first week of October and are gone by the middle of the month. The peak of the season can last anywhere from two days to a week, depending on the weather.

Since the needles of this tree are very soft and delicate, once they start changing color they can easily fall off in a wind rain, or snowstorm. Of course, this is also the time of year when the weather can be very unpredictable. However, seeing the larches on a clear day just after fresh snow can be a very rewarding experience.

Lake Ann North CascadesLake Ann North Cascades  #64599  Purchase

A good plan would be to stay in a prime location for several days near some lakes. Clear sunny weather followed by cloudy weather and then a light dusting of snow is optimal. This happened to me one year when visiting the Purcell Mountains of B.C. After six days I came away with a wide variety of alpine landscape images. I was a bit nervous on the last day since it was snowing heavily. I wasn’t sure if my vehicle at the trailhead would be snowed in! It turned out to be a close call, several more inches could have prevented my escape.

Leave No Trace

And now for a short lecture. Larches grow in sensitive easily damaged alpine environments.  With an ever-growing crush of people seeking them out, these areas can soon show signs of overuse. As I’ve been saying in previous posts, don’t even think about visiting a wilderness area unless you are prepared to follow the guidelines of Leave No Trace (LNT). All wilderness areas throughout the world are under incredible pressure from growing amounts of visitors. So 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.

Purcell Mountains Larches British ColumbiaPurcell Mountains Larches British Columbia  #25762  Purchase

If you enjoyed reading North Cascades Larch Madness please share it with your friends and family.

All photos appearing in North Cascades Larch Madness are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints. Click on any image to purchase, or contact me for more info!

Stormy sunset from Scab Creek Trailhead. Bridger-Teton National Forest Sublette County, Wyoming

New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho Wyoming

New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho Wyoming

Stormy sunset from Scab Creek Trailhead. Bridger-Teton National Forest Sublette County, Wyoming New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho WyomingStormy Sunset from foothills of Wind River Range  #69049  Purchase

I’m happy to announce that the first group of new images from my recent summer trip is now online! This group represents the first half of the trip which includes locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. Also included in the gallery are some floral photos, along with images from the recent Oregon Coast Trip.

Locations Included

  • Palouse Region Washington
  • Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa Mountains Oregon
  • Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness Idaho
  • Snake River Plains Wheat Fields SE Idaho
  • Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range Wyoming

Palouse Washington New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho WyomingPalouse Washington  #68703  Purchase

Aside from the photos from the Palouse Region of Washington all of the new image are from locations I’ve never visited or photographed in before. Although I’ve been to the Wind River Range of Wyoming many times this was my first trip to Upper Middle Fork Basin.

A selection of highlights is ready for viewing, licensing and print purchases in the New Images Gallery.  To see all the new images please visit my Archives at the following links: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming. Of course you can also Search the Archives by location and or keywords.

Eagle Cap and Mirror Lake Eagle Cap Wilderness OregonEagle Cap Wilderness Oregon  #68776  Purchase

White Clouds Wilderness IdahoWhite Clouds Wilderness Idaho  #68945  Purchase

Pronghorn Peak and Lake Donna. Bridger Wilderness, Wind River Range WyomingPronghorn Peak Wind River Range  #694198  Purchase

New Images Coming Up Next

The next group of new images from the second half of the trip will be coming soon. Locations in that set will include photos from the following locations:

  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Beartooth Pass/Highway
  • Upper Missouri River Breaks Montana
  • Glacier National Park

In the coming weeks I’ll also be writing multiple post detailing all the locations.

All photos appearing in New Images: Washington Oregon Idaho Wyoming are available for Commercial Licensing and Fine Art Prints.

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

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington Lime Kiln Point State ParkLighthouse at Lime Kiln Point#64945  Purchase

Lime Kiln Point State Park is located on the west side of San Juan Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Facing Haro Strait and Vancouver Island, the park is one of the best spots in the world to view wild killer whales from land.

The park is not very large, and it isn’t a quick drive destination. In fact it can take a bit of prior planning to make a trip worthwhile. This is mainly due to the need to take a ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Since the park and ferry terminal are on opposite sides of the island you’ll also need to take your vehicle along for the ride. But don’t think you can just drive up to the terminal and be loaded on the ferry! The San Juan Islands are a very popular destination, especially on summer weekends. So to avoid ruining your outing you’ll need to reserve a spot in advance. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for some travel tips!

Killer Whales San Juan IslandsKiller Whales off San Juan Island

Marine Life

If you’re visiting Lime Kiln Point for the marine life you won’t be disappointed. The surrounding waters are home to the Southern Resident Killer Whales. They are a group of about 75 killer whales, or orcas, that live for most of the year in this part of the Salish Sea. Aside from orcas, sea lions, seals, porpoises, and minke whales frequent these waters.  On our visit there were numerous sea lions playing close to shore. But don’t expect close up personal views of orcas, they swim farther off shore. Bring your binoculars or spotting scope for good views, predictably we forgot ours. The photo above is from several years ago on a whale watching tour.

It should be noted here that the Southern Resident Killer Whales are considered an endangered species. Their population has dropped from 85 to 75 individuals in recent years. This is mainly due to a drastic reduction of their prime food source, coho salmon. Their situation is compounded by numerous other factors, including increased stress due to noise levels from pleasure boats and freighter traffic. To learn more please check out the Center for Whale Research.

Roche Harbor San Juan Island Roche Harbor  #64910  Purchase

Touring San Juan Island

The park was our main destination for photos, but since we arrived early we had all day to explore the entire island for more subject matter. Another lighthouse at Cattle Point at the southern tip of the island was on my shoot list. However, lighting conditions there we not very good so I’ll need to return in the future to photograph it.

On the northwest tip of San Juan Island lies Roche Harbor, a historic seaside resort town. Here can be found Hotel De Haro, the states oldest continually operating hotel, in business since 1886. Judging by the looks of it Roche Harbor is the go-to destination for the yachting crowd. There is plenty of lodging and dining here, along with a general store well stocked with a variety of wines.

While on San Juan Island you can also check out English Camp and American Camp. These are part of San Juan Island National Historical Park. Not many people know that The United States and Great Britain nearly went to war in 1859 over possession of the island. The only casualty of this near conflict was a pig. Thus the incident went down in history to be known as The Pig War.

Container Ship Strait of Juan De Fuca Salish Sea Container Ship #64926  Purchase

Photographing at Lime Kiln

After our short tour of the Island we drove back to Lime the park in time for evening light and sunset. The lighthouse is the most obvious subject matter here. However, there are also great views south to the Olympic Mountains. I found them to work well as a backdrop for telephoto shots of freighters, and also on their own. Of course there is also the marine life. You’ll definitely need a good telephoto lens for photographing killer whales.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington Lime Kiln Point State ParkLime Kiln Point Lighthouse #64939  Purchase

The lighthouse photographs best in the evening and sunset. There are plenty of excellent spots on the rocky shore to set up different compositions. A variety of focal lengths will work here, from wide to short telephoto. The classic south side view of the lighthouse will be illuminated much better in winter, when the sun is further south. However, at that time you’ll need to create a wide panoramic to include the sunset and structure in the same frame. In summer the north side will be in sunlight. Then you can photograph the lighthouse looking south with the Olympic Mountains as a backdrop. Unfortunately from this angle there are few spots to set up your tripod, so getting a good composition may be difficult.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington Lime Kiln Point State ParkLime Kiln Lighthouse #64906  Purchase

How to get to Lime Kiln Point

As mentioned above, you’ll need to review the ferry schedule carefully and reserve a vehicle spot in advance. You can still drive on without a reservation, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. On a Friday or Saturday in summer it appears like everyone in the state is going to the islands. If you are just walking on or taking a bicycle you won’t need a reservation. But remember the park is not within walking distance from the ferry terminal at Friday Harbor.

Ferry approaching Orcas Island dockSan Juan Islands Ferry  #64889  Purchase

There are two ferry routes to Friday Harbor, one is a direct nonstop passage from Anacortes. The other makes three stops, at Lopez Island, Orcas Island, and Shaw Island. If you have the time I recommend the latter. It’s a much longer passage but more scenic as the ferry sails past numerous picturesque islands. If possible try and time your return ferry passage for the evening before sunset. There are excellent photo opportunities then, with the islands and Mount Baker bathed in warm light!

Lime Kiln Lighthouse San Juan Island Washington Lime Kiln Point State ParkLime Kiln Point Lighthouse #64955  Purchase

Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it. Please consider sharing it with friends family and colleagues!

All photos on this post are available as fine art prints, and for commercial licensing.

Liberty Bell Mountain North Cascades

New Images Autumn North Cascades

New Images Autumn North Cascades

Liberty Bell Mountain North CascadesLiberty Bell Mountains, North Cascades  #64469  Purchase

My final group of images from 2018 is now online and ready for viewing. As with the past several new releases I have added a selection of highlights to the New Images Gallery. You can see even more by visiting the Washington Gallery or searching by keyword/location.

This past year I have been very fortunate to have been able to visit some exciting new locations in the Midwest and Appalachian Mountains. However, it somehow seems fitting that the year is finishing up with a successful fall trip on my home turf. Washington Pass and Rainy Pass along North Cascades Highway are two of the most scenic sections of the state. This area holds many fond memories for me, so I’ll jump at any chance I can get to photograph there. On this most recent visit in early October I was lucky to have both fresh snowfall and sub-alpine larches at their peak color.

Liberty Bell Mountain North CascadesLiberty Bell Mountain from Washington Pass Overlook  #64568  Purchase

The other location included in this set is even closer to home, Heather Meadows Recreation Area. Just an hour up the road, I’ve been their many dozens of times, for photography, skiing, and hiking. This area of easy access can be very crowded in every season. So on this occasion I hiked the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on a quiet Monday in spectacular fall weather. The next morning I photographed near the ski area just as a few clouds drifted in to herald a change of weather.

Alpine Larches North CascadesSub-alpine Larches North Cascades  #64608  Purchase

Cutthroat Pass Larches, North CascadesBlack Peak and sub-alpine larches, North Cascades  #64521  Purchase

Table Mountain North Cascades WashingtonHeather Meadows Recreation Area #64649  Purchase

Heather Meadows in autumn North CascadesTable Mountain, Heather Meadows Recreation Area  #64642  Purchase

 

Lady Washington and Mount Baker, Semiahmoo Bay, Washington.

Lady Washington

Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay, Washington.Lady Washington Semiahmoo Bay  #62496  Purchase

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take an evening cruise on an authentic tall ship. The Lady Washington and her companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, were spending the weekend in Blaine Harbor. Both of these ships are owned by the Grays Harbor Historical Society, in Aberdeen Washington. Throughout most of the year they cruise to ports in Washington and Oregon, and down to California in the fall. When both are in a port at the same time they offer an afternoon mock battle cruise and then an evening sunset cruise.

The Lady Washington is a replica of the original eighteenth century ship. She was the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America. Her smaller companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, was built in 1988 for cargo trade in the Hawaiian Islands. Fans of the Pirates of the Carribean movies may recognize the Lady Washington as the ship featured in The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Lady Washington and Mount Baker, Semiahmoo Bay, Washington.Lady Washington and Mount Baker  #62509  Purchase

Sailing in Semiahmmo Bay

I’m a great fan of historical sailing ships. During my youth one of my hobbies was building scale models of various eighteenth and nineteenth century ships. Back then I could rattle off the names and function of all the sails and rigging. So I took advantage of their visit to Blaine Harbor and bought a ticket for the evening sunset cruise. Of course my other motivation was to make some photos of the ships at sail in the evening light.

Most folks on the evening cruise that day chose to sail on the Lady Washington. That was also my first choice since it is the bigger and more dramatic looking of the two. However, since I was out to make some photos, I chose the Hawaiian Chieftain. That way I could photograph the Lady Washington at sail. My choice in vessels was perfect, as we set out to sail the Lady Washington was out in front with a beautiful golden sky as a backdrop. Even the crew took time to grab their cameras!

Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay, WashingtonLady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay  #62537  Purchase

The cruise went on for about three hours out in Semiahmoo Bay, and I was able to make many photos in the changing light. Some of the most notable were of the Lady Washington with Mount Baker as a backdrop. However, the only disappointment was the lack of wind. There was only an occasional slight breeze to fill the sails and push us on at 1.5 knots per hour.

If you would like to know more about the ships and their schedule please check out the Grays Harbor Historical Society website. I hope you enjoy these photos, I’ll definitely be adding more the next time these ships are in port!

Hawaiian Chieftain masts rigging and sails.Hawaiian Chieftain Sails and Rigging  #62582   Purchase

Hawaiian Chieftain Square Topsail KetchSailing on the Hawaiian Chieftain   #62515  Purchase

Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay, Washington. A historic replica of the original 18th Century brig. Owned and operated by the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, Aberdeen, Washington. 3 pound gun swivel mounted gun on the Hawaiian Chieftain is in the foreground.Lady Washington at sail in Semiahmoo Bay  #62523  Purchase

Ferry crossing Admiralty Inlet, Washington

Fort Casey State Park

Ferry crossing Admiralty Inlet, WashingtonFort Casey State Park  #62178b  Purchase

Back in late April I made a brief visit to Fort Casey State Park located on Whidbey Island. Years ago, when we lived on South Whidbey I would make regular trips to this scenic and historic park. Later we would bring relatives there when visiting from back east. But although I’ve always wanted to spend some time photographing the park it never seemed to fit into the schedule. That is until this April, when I planned an Olympic Park coast trip. Coming down from Bellingham I stopped for the day at Fort Casey before taking the Keystone Port Townsend Ferry, adjacent to the park, the next morning.

Fort Casey State Park is an attractive destination for several reasons. First, it sites on the west side of Whidbey Island with a commanding view of the Olympic Mountains, the Strait of Juan De Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet. One could spend a day sitting on the bluff just watching ships sail by. With the right timing you can even witness an aircraft carrier from the Home Port in Everett sail by. With exceptional luck and a good set of binoculars it’s possible to even see a Trident submarine.

10 inch gun, Fort Casey State ParkFort Casey State Park Battery Worth 10″ Disappearing Gun  #62165   Purchase

Fort Casey State Park, part of the Triangle of Fire

Aside from the views and ships the next biggest attraction of the park is the fort itself. Fort Casey if one of the three coastal forts forming the “Triangle of Fire”. Built around 1890 the forts guarded against invaders attempting to make their way into Puget Sound. At the time the forts were armed with a variety of artillery including state of the art 10 inch guns mounted on disappearing carriages. However, these guns became obsolete in less than twenty years. Most were sold for scrap or placed in forts in the Philippines, but two were eventually brought back years later as historic display pieces.

Fort Casey State Park, WashingtonFort Casey State Park Batteries and Bunkers  #62170   Purchase

Fort Casey State Park, battery bunkers.Fort Casey State Park Bunkers  #62105   Purchase

A visit to Fort Casey wouldn’t be complete without checking out the guns and the concrete bunkers of the batteries. These bunkers are a hands down favorite for families and their children. On a busy summer weekend kids will be running in and out of the bunkers, having a blast playing hide and seek.  If all of the above isn’t enough, there is also Admiralty Head Lighthouse to explore. Plus long stretches of driftwood strewn cobblestone beaches, camping and picnic areas.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse, WashingtonAdmiralty Head Lighthouse  #62218   Purchase

The kid in me loves all of this, but on this trip I also wanted to enjoy making long overdue photos. Fortunately on this visit the weather was beautiful and I had some nice evening light to work with. The park can offer a pleasant afternoon of fun, but I recommend staying a night or two. That way you can enjoy the sunset, and maybe take the Ferry over to Port Townsend the next day. Don’t forget your State Parks Discovery Pass, and to make reservations in advance for camping or for driving on the Ferry. Have fun!

Fort Casey Officers residence, Whidbey Island WashingtonOfficers Residence Fort Casey  #62141  Purchase

10 inch gun, Fort Casey State ParkFort Casey State Park Battery Worth 10″ Disappearing Gun  #62087   Purchase

Forty Casey State Park WashingtonFort Casey State Park Battery Turman  #62083  Purchase