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Baker Lake offers accessible outdoor adventure year-round

A place to go to avoid post-holing through snow in June

Mount Baker glows with the morning sun above Baker Lake
Mount Baker glows with the morning sun above Baker Lake
By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

The snow is melting, Mount Baker Highway is cleared and the itch to return to the North Cascades has once again settled in my soul. 

My desire, however, to post-hole through lingering snow piles or skate across slick snow (ice) fields is nonexistent. Luckily, I’ve found solace along the shores of Baker Lake and upriver along Baker River for my outdoor needs this spring.

The lake lies just north of Concrete, about an hour and a half from Bellingham. With a lowly 705-foot elevation, when it does snow, it doesn’t last. Much of this area is accessible for outdoor activities year-round with ample opportunities for car camping, dispersed camping, hiking, backpacking, swimming and fishing alongside clear views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and the surrounding hills.

photo  A washed-out section of the Baker River Trail can be confusing for hikers, but a more accessible bridge is available just up the hill. The 5-mile trail lends views of the icy-blue river and Mount Shuksan. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

In the Baker Lake area, hikers and backpackers can access approximately 17 miles of low-elevation trails, from the southmost tip, to the lake and up Baker River.

The Baker Lake Trail runs 14.3 miles along the east side of the lake from the southern tip to the northern tip, with parking at both ends (Northwest Forest Pass required). Due to the accessibility from both ends, hikers and backpackers can choose their own adventure and determine the length of the hike with numerous spots to aim for.

On a recent overnight backpacking trip, I began from the south parking lot, skipped Anderson Point (a campground 2 miles in) and landed at Maple Grove Campground at the 4-mile point. With minimal elevation gain on the trail, we completed it in just about two hours. 

We pitched a tent at one of the six lakeside campgrounds complete with a bear box, picnic table, fire ring and outhouse — all luxuries while backpacking.

photo  On a recent backpacking trip, I enjoyed a quick two-hour hike from the south parking lot to the Maple Grove campground. We spent the afternoon and evening lounging on the shores and splashing in the icy lake. The trip was an easy overnight getaway. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

We lounged around in the peace of the lakeside, taking in the expansive view of Mount Baker reflecting off the lake and watching motorboats with fishermen fly by. We enviously watched as other campers pulled up in canoes, pulling out barbecues and floaties to take full advantage of the sunny afternoon on the lake. 

As the evening went on, other backpackers and their inquisitive dogs passed through, claiming spots and pitching tents. In the morning, we watched the sunrise light up Mount Baker and hit the trail to head home, rounding out an 8-mile overnight journey.

Had we wanted to extend our trip, we could have journeyed to Silver Creek Campground (8.5 miles) or gone on to the Noisy Creek Campground — the full length of 14.3 miles. The trail ends on the northern tip of the lake and leads to Noisy Creek Trail, the northern parking lot and the start of the Baker River Trail.

photo  The icy blue waters of Baker River rush through the North Cascades. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

The Baker River Trail is a 5-mile, out-and-back journey along the river to the foot of Mount Shuksan. Backpackers can extend their trip (17 miles one way from the south parking lot), or day hikers can start their morning parking at the northern lot before jumping on the trail.

I made the journey on a recent day trip and enjoyed the glacial blue waters snaking through the hills. We crossed streams and enjoyed the extensive foliage and old-growth trees — richer than the western bank of the lake due to the shadow cast by Mount Baker. 

In the last mile, the trail crosses into North Cascades National Park, leading to Sulphide Creek trickling down from the majestic Mount Shuksan, jutting high up above the ravine. Sulphide Creek offers a small campground that requires a backcountry permit through the National Park Service.

photo  Mount Shuksan towers over Sulphide Creek Saturday, June 24, in North Cascades National Park. Baker Lake Trail leads to the creek bed with views of the mountain peaks. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)  

On our drive down Baker Lake Road (Forest Road 11) on the west side of the lake to the northern parking lot, we passed a slew of reservable campsites for those who don’t wish to backpack. We also passed a litany of camper vans and tents pitched between the road and the lake. Dispersed camping — camping outside of campgrounds with amenities — is allowed in National Forests.

Numerous other trails begin near Baker Lake with varying accessibility throughout the year, depending on conditions and elevation. 

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