Heliotrope Ridge: a Hiking Guide

The Heliotrope Ridge hike, in a nutshell, is ultimately an intriguing foray into the Mount Baker wilderness area. A little more than an hour’s drive from Bellingham, the hike is an excellent way to enjoy a riveting immersion in the Great Outdoors. On the drive up to the trailhead, the forest trees and foliage gradually envelop you, eventually dominating the atmosphere. The intrinsic ambience begs the remembrance of a simpler time, when Glacier, WA was nothing but a few paved roads and a promise of prosperity.

About 9 miles from Glacier is the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead. The first section of trail is flush with nature, weaving around old trees and over bridged creeks. The best season to hike Heliotrope Ridge is during the summer, as there will be minimal snow on the trail. However, you will have to be mindful of the creeks that grow in size in the summer; there will be a few spots without a bridge where you will have to hop on rocks to cross. Crossing the creek can sometimes be tricky, so make sure you have lined up a secure path to cross. At about two miles and 4700 feet elevation, you’ll pass the site of the former Kulshan Cabin, built in 1925 by the Mount Baker Club.

Beyond the first few creek crossings, your climb continues, and the density of the surrounding trees begins to thin. In their place, caches of wildflowers sprout in clearings, with accompanying butterflies and bumblebees to tend to them. Soon enough, you will reach the last and largest crossing point at Heliotrope Creek. Take extra caution in crossing this one. The water is swift, the rocks are slick, and good crossing routes are sometimes hard to come by. At this point in the hike, the trail provides plenty of splendid views of both the peak of Mount Baker and the skyline layered with mountainous terrain in the distance.

Wildflowers along the Heliotrope Ridge trail
Wildflowers along the Heliotrope Ridge trail

After crossing Heliotrope Creek, the final ascent begins. Now you have reached a vast meadowland, with wildflowers blanketing patches of the slope. Nearing the timberline, old alpine saplings are strewn about, perpetually dwarfed by the growth allowance of the altitude. At this point, the peak of Mount Baker is in view, and Heliotrope

Heliotrope Ridge Mount Baker
A view of Mount Baker from one of the trail’s creek crossings.

Ridge is just a short walk uphill. On the way up, you are intimately adjacent to the Coleman Glacier, the most active glacier on Mount Baker. Here, the glacier is crinkled with seracs (intersecting crevasses of glacier). It is truly a magisterial sight, seeing one of nature’s most ancient influences actively at work in the present day.

Heliotrope Ridge is a beautiful slab of flat rock the juts vertically out from the slope of Mount Baker. Atop the ridge, there is an awe inspiring 360-degree view that incorporates all of the spectacles you experienced along the way. Below you is the lush forest land and creeks you traversed. In the distance, mountains cast their purple silhouettes against the golden sunset (a great time to reach the peak is when the sun begins setting). To the north is the massive Coleman Glacier, still within a stone’s throw of your spot on the ridge. Above you is the rest of Mount Baker (the peak appears to be very close, though in reality it is still quite a walk).

In summary, the Heliotrope Ridge hike is of mild difficulty and includes huge payoffs when you reach the top. The hike is about 5.5 miles round trip with 1400 ft of elevation gain, perfect for casual hikers. The views at the top are gorgeous vantage point of the Mount Baker wilderness area. Please note that if you begin the trip in the earlier hours of the day, the flow of the creeks can become quite torrential in the later hours, so be prepared to cross with especial caution on the way back.

Mark Frye Pro Tip: To finish off a hearty day of hiking, be sure to stop by the rustic North Fork Brewery in Deming on the way back. The brewery is known for their delicious handmade pizza, considerable beer selection and on-tap root beer.


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