by Bob Kuntz

revised by Randy Robinson and Fanter Lane

Mount Baker is the northernmost volcano in Washington and, at 10,778 feet, the highest peak in the North Cascades Range. A good highway to the 5,000-foot elevation, and numerous trails reaching alpine habitats around 6,000 feet, make this one of the state’s most accessible locations for White-tailed Ptarmigan and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Mount Baker is popular with hikers and campers (four Forest Service campgrounds along the highway) on summer and fall weekends. Consult the Washington Trails Association web site ( for detailed information about the hikes. Hit the road and trails early in the morning to beat the crowds. Be prepared for any kind of weather at any season. Ninety-five feet of snow fell on Mount Baker in the winter of 1998–1999, setting a world record. In a normal year, upper-elevation trails are snow-free by the middle or end of July, and the birding season extends to early October. The road to the ski area is kept open all winter but you will not find many birds at this season.

The Mount Baker Highway (SR-542) runs east from I-5 Exit 255 in Bellingham to its end in about 60 miles. During migration, check in appropriate habitat along the road for Eastside species such as Least Flycatcher, Western and Eastern Kingbirds, Nashville Warbler, and Lazuli Bunting, which have all been reported in the area.

From December to February, one of the best eagle-viewing areas in Washington is east of Deming. From the SR-9 intersection at the east edge of Deming turn right from SR-542 in a half-mile onto Truck Road (no sign at the intersection). Drive 0.6 mile on Truck Road and turn right into Deming Homestead Eagle Park. The park encompasses 100 acres of braided channels of the Nooksack River. To see the eagles, turn left (east) at the gravel path, then look for paths which lead east through the small cottonwoods and brush to the river (rubber boots advised). The edge habitat of the park yields passerines in season. Least Flycatcher has been reported here. From the park, or along Truck Road, look for Black Swifts over the river in June and July.

Continue 1.7 miles on Truck Road to Mosquito Lake Road. Turn right and immediately come to a bridge crossing the North Fork Nooksack River. As many as 50–60 Bald Eagles can be seen at one time on the exposed gravel bars or in the trees lining the river, where they congregate to feed on spawning and dying salmon. Continue south from the bridge 0.1 mile and turn left onto North Fork Road. This less traveled road has excellent eagle watching too. Return to SR-542 via Mosquito Lake Road.

The Glacier Ranger Station, run jointly by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, is located 17 miles east of Mosquito Lake Road on SR-542 or 19 miles east of the SR-9 intersection on SR-542. (An America the Beautiful or Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at trailheads beyond this point and you may purchase one here.) Shortly after you leave the ranger station (0.6 mile), turn right onto Glacier Creek Road (FR-39), then almost immediately left onto FR-37, which winds upward 12 miles to the Skyline Divide Trailhead (elevation 4,000 feet). The three-mile Skyline Divide Trail brings you to superb subalpine meadows (elevation 6,000 feet) that in July are carpeted with wildflowers. Here you may find species such as Golden Eagle, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Pipit, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (fall).

Twelve miles farther east on SR-542, on the left, is a Washington Department of Transportation facility. At the east end of the facility is a sign for Twin Lakes Road (FR-3065), which leads to the Yellow Aster Butte trailhead in just over four miles (elevation 3,700 feet). This hike starts in forest where American Three-toed Woodpecker has nested next to the trail. In 1.8 miles, the trail breaks out of the forest near the intersection with the Tomyhoi Lakes Trail. Stay left at the intersection and look and listen for Sooty Grouse. In another 1.8 miles (elevation 5,600 feet) a rock and heather basin below the trail holds some snow until late in the season. Ptarmigan nest in this basin. The trail splits here, the left branch leading down into the basin and the right branch up to Yellow Aster Butte. Climb the butte (elevation 6,180 feet) scanning the steep snowfields on the flanks of the butte for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

Continue on SR-542. When you come to a fork in 7.8 miles at Picture Lake, stay right. There are many areas to park along this much-photographed lake, rimmed with Mountain Hemlock and with Mount Shuksan in the background. Check the Sitka Mountain Ash thickets for Pine Grosbeak and migrant songbirds, especially in fall. At 0.5 mile from the fork, turn right just before Chair #1 and drive another 1.7 miles to reach Artist Point (elevation 5,100 feet) near timberline. From here several trails traverse the northeast side of Mount Baker. Ptarmigan breed in the rock slabs and heather at the top of Table Mountain. The trail is only one mile long, but in places it is steep and exposed. It can also be very crowded.

The Chain Lakes Loop Trail is an easy five-mile hike (out and back) across alpine meadows past a chain of six lakes, including Iceberg Lake. (The loop is nine miles.) Ptarmigan Ridge Trail follows the Chain Lakes Loop Trail for one mile, then veers left onto Ptarmigan Ridge, reaching Camp Kiser in a little more than three additional miles. Parts of this trail may be under snow until early August. The best place for finding White-tailed Ptarmigan is the first two to three miles of Ptarmigan Ridge. To improve your chances, get up the trail early, before other hikers have spooked the birds. Other alpine species seen along these trails include Golden Eagle, Black and Vaux’s Swifts, Horned Lark, Mountain Bluebird (uncommon), American Pipit (more likely on the Chain Lakes Trail), Lapland Longspur (rare in fall), and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Hoary Marmots and Pikas are common. Pay attention to whistling marmots, as they may signal the approach of a Golden Eagle. Mountain Goats are fairly common and often seen along the southeast side of Ptarmigan Ridge.