Heliotrope Ridge

Mt Baker
View Photos

Heliotrope Ridge

Distance: 5.6mi
Elevation: 1,558ft
Time: 3-4h

Difficulty Rating:

This popular hike up Heliotrope Ridge crosses several creeks before reaching a spectacular overlook of Coleman Glacier. Along the way, hikers share the path with mountaineers attempting to summit Mount Baker.

Getting there

From Bellingham, head east on Mount Baker Highway (HWY 542) to milepost 34. 1.6km after passing Glacier Public Center, turn right onto Forest Rd 39. Follow for 12.9km to the parking lot: a Northwest Forest Pass is required here.

About

When to do

Summer / Fall

Backcountry Campsites

Yes, Harrison Camp, Hogsback Camp

Toilets

Yes, at trailhead

Family friendly

No

Route Signage

Average

Crowd Levels

Moderate

Route Type

Out and back


Elevation


Detailed Description

To begin, set out east from the parking area, dropping immediately to cross the bridge over Grouse Creek. Tree cover provides shelter from the elements. The trail climbs towards Mount Baker. Reach the first bridge-free creek crossing at 1.6km, rock-hopping your way across carefully.

Then, you’ll climb a set of switchbacks before crossing Kulshan Creek. From here on out you’ll encounter several creeks of varying width, depth, and flow.

The trail climbs to a flat site where the Kulshan Cabin (built in 1925 by the Mount Baker Club) once stood. At around 3.2km, the former cabin site is now used for camping with a backcountry toilet nearby. Shortly thereafter the trail crosses the West Fork of Heliotrope Creek, then reaches a junction with the Climber’s Trail at 3.9km.

Continue straight to stay on the Heliotrope Ridge Trail. Mount Baker comes into view as you leave the forest behind, crossing the various braids of Heliotrope Creek. It’s easy to lose the trail in this section, so pay close attention. Your destination is a knoll at 4.5km, at the moraine’s edge. Alternatively, you can follow any of the various paths up to the edge of the moraine.

The final climb to the knoll is steep, with loose rocks underfoot. At the top, you can meander up and down the ridge, but take care to stay away from the edge. It’s a long way down!

Once you’ve reached the overlook, peer out over the sea of glacier-blue ice. This is the Lower Coleman Icefall, part of the greater Coleman Glacier. Those giant ice chunks in front of you are called seracs. Often formed by intersecting crevasses, they can be as big as a car – or even a house. Above, Mount Baker stands tall at 3286m. Bastille Ridge is visible across the moraine.

Return the way you came, taking care to watch your footing on the way down from the knoll.

Insider Hints

  • Consider a side trip up the Climber’s Trail on the way back for more Coleman Glacier views. The route is steep, climbing about 0.8km to the viewpoint. Hikers should not proceed beyond this point without mountaineering, training, and climbing gear.

  • Stay off the glacier at all times.

  • Bring your trekking poles and an extra pair of socks - there’s a good chance you’ll get your feet wet while crossing several creeks along this trail.

  • Visit this trail early in the morning if possible. Creek levels tend to run higher and faster in the afternoon heat, which can make for challenging crossing conditions.

  • The Climber’s Trail is a good alternative for those who feel uncomfortable crossing Heliotrope Creek.

Similar adventures

Yellow Aster Butte

Difficulty:
7.1mi
2549ft
4-5h

The Yellow Aster Butte hike has summer wildflowers, fall colors, twinkling tarns and 360-degree mountain views. All that adds up…

Skyline Divide

Difficulty:
7mi
2001ft
4-5h

Skyline Divide is a rolling ridgeline hike that offers panoramic views from Shuksan-to-Baker. You might hear some whistling marmots. You…

Chain Lakes Loop

Difficulty:
6.2mi
1804ft
4-6h

Chain Lakes Loop is a classic summertime hike near Mount Baker. This alpine circuit offers massive mountain and lake views,…