This summer we seem to have had a bit of a thing for hiking to glaciers. There was Wedgemount Lake and Wedge Glacier and the Heliotrope Ridge Trail which goes up to the Coleman Glacier on Mt Baker in Washington. This hike is one of those that gives you great views towards the end for not a huuuuge amount of effort making it one of the best day hikes in Washington. It’s not super steep, nor extremely long. If you’re planning to hike the heliotrope trail near Mt Baker then be sure to check out this guide so you know what to expect.
About the Heliotrope Ridge Trail
The Heliotrope Ridge Trail is a popular hike in the Mt. Baker Wilderness area. The trail takes you through dense, old-growth forest to avalanche chutes and over rocky moraines to the alpine zone. You’ll cross four creeks on this trail that don’t have bridges and your feet will get wet on the third for sure!
This hike is often pretty busy at weekends. You may see people hiking just this trail, doing some glacier exploration, or preparing to take Mt Baker climbers’ route to the summit of Mount Baker which starts by doing the Heliotrope Trail.
Do you need a recreation pass for the Heliotrope Trail, WA?
Yes, for most Mount Baker hiking trails you need a pass and you will need a recreation pass for hiking the Heliotrope Ridge trail. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass for visiting National Parks you’re covered. If not, you can buy a Northwest Forest Pass which costs $5.
You can buy a Northwest Forest Pass online here (you need to print it out), at REI in Bellingham, or from the Glacier Public Service Center. Be aware that the Glacier Public Service Centre doesn’t open until later in the morning so if you plan to hike early in the day you’ll be best off with an e-pass.
Where is the trailhead for the Heliotrope Ridge trail?
The trailhead for the Heliotrope Ridge trail is 8 miles up the Glacier Creek Forest Road #39. The Glacier Creek junction is about 1 mile north of the town of Glacier along the Mt. Baker Hwy.
The road is paved and has just a few potholes here and there. It’s easily accessible in a 2 wheel drive.
You can see conditions and any closures of the forest service roads around Mt Baker here.
Getting to Mount Baker from Vancouver
The best border crossing to take is usually the Sumas crossing as it tends to be quieter than Peach Arch. From downtown Vancouver to Mt Baker, take the Trans Canada Hwy eastbound to junction 92 for the US Border.
Turn left onto Sumas Way/BC 11 and then on to WA 547 south. Follow this road, and signs, to the town of Glacier and then see instructions above.
Hiking the Heliotrope Trail
Once you’ve navigated to the trailhead for Heliotrope Ridge you’ll need to make sure your recreation pass is on display and then look for the information sign that marks the beginning of the trail.
You’ll begin by crossing over Grouse Creek and over a bridge before hiking uphill through old-growth with a fairly gentle incline.
After a while, the forest thins out a little and you’ll climb uphill more past berries and streams. The first two stream crossings are pretty easy to do without getting your feet wet. Just be careful balancing on the rocks and use poles or a hand if necessary.
On coming out of the forest you’ll be greeted with incredible views of Mt Baker straight ahead, and the valley below to your left. Unfortunately when we hiked we didn’t get to enjoy quite the same views, but the clouds rolling in and out of the valley still kept things interesting. The terrain here is rocky with lots of wildflowers and streams.
It’s once you’re out in the open that you’ll have one of the larger stream crossings. The crossing is doable if you’re careful, but don’t try it if you’re nervous. The water is very, very cold and you can’t cross this stream without getting wet shoes or feet. The depth of the streams changes a lot depending on weather conditions. They’re usually lower in the mornings and can grow a lot by the afternoon due to snowmelt from above.
After crossing the creek you’ll continue across a moraine deposited by receding glaciers and soon come out to an overlook for the Coleman Glacier; one of the best known Mt Baker glaciers. The view is incredible and you can see ice blocks and caves. If you look closely you’ll probably also spot some climbers practising their ice climbing skills too.
If you wish you can continue hiking uphill for an even better view of the glacier. This is more of a scramble but it’s fun to explore.
Heliotrope Trail statistics
This is one of the most popular Mt Baker hikes. AllTrails marks it as hard, but the hardest part is the stream crossing. In terms of elevation, it’s not too difficult.
What to pack for the Heliotrope Trail
Before you head out on one of the best hikes in Washington State, make sure you’ve packed these essentials!
- Bug spray: There are a tonne of bugs in the summer.
- Sun cream: You’re going to want suncream no matter what season you hike in. This one is my favourite.
- Bear spray: Ideally with a holster as it’s useless if you can’t get it out of your bag quickly!
- Hiking poles are useful for the rocky sections and to balance on the river crossings!
- Lots of snacks & food
- Plenty of warm layers & waterproofs
- Good hiking boots or shoes
- Camera or phone
Things to know before hiking the Heliotrope trail near Mt Baker
Before tackling any Mt Baker hiking trails, but especially this one, here are a few things you should know.
- Can I take my dog on the heliotrope trail?: Yes, dogs can hike this on a leash.
- Best time to hike this trail?: Summer and Fall.
- Creek crossings: Be safe and don’t attempt it if you’re unsure. Some of these river crossings can be dangerous.
- Be adventure smart: Remember to respect the terrain, environment, and other users while you are enjoying the trails. Follow the three Ts—trip planning, training, and taking the essentials. AdventureSmart is a great resource to help you get informed before heading outdoors.
- Pack your 10 essentials
- Remember to leave no trace
- Check the Heliotrope trail conditions before hiking so you can be prepared. You can see Mt Baker weather here.
Looking for more things to do nearby? Check out these posts
- Since you’re doing one of the hikes near Bellingham, why not check out these fun things to do in Bellingham too?
- Visiting Seattle – here’s my pick of the best things to do in Seattle.
- Just want more hikes? Here’s a tonne of hikes near Vancouver and other hikes near Mt Baker including: Artist Point.
- Check out the North Cascades National Park