This hike in our series of Best Hikes with Dogs represents some of the best combinations of trail features you’ll find in the Pacific Northwest.
At Skyline Divide, you get to explore high alpine country, but you also get much of the climbing over with during the drive to the trailhead. Here, you will experience pristine old forests and sprawling alpine meadows. The local scenery is blessed with a plethora of flora and fauna, and the distant views are filled with stunning peaks and glacier-covered volcanoes. And the trail is short enough that you can enjoy sunrise and/or sunset from the route during a simple day hike if you want. The one thing this route doesn’t have is a lot of water—so pack plenty for you and your dog.
To get there, drive north on Interstate 5 to Bellingham and exit 255 (Mt. Baker). Turn east onto State Route 542 (Mt. Baker Highway) and continue 31 miles to the town of Glacier. Continue another mile to Glacier Creek Road/Forest Road 39. Turn right (south) and take an immediate left on Deadhorse Road/FR 37. Drive 13 occasionally steep, narrow miles to the trailhead, which has parking for about two dozen vehicles.
The trail starts fairly high (elevation 4300 feet) but still gains 2000 feet over its three-mile length. It isn’t muscle-popping steep, but it does climb enough to put some pain in the thighs and sweat on the brow. The first two miles of trail angle upward through a low forest of subalpine firs and small meadows with occasional peeks out for views toward Mounts Baker and Shuksan. At two miles, the trail leaves the timber behind and slopes southward into a vast ridgetop meadow (5800 feet) with endless views. Visit in early summer and you’ll likely find lingering patches of snow. If your pooch is anything like mine, she’ll appreciate a game of fetch-the-snowball on the bigger patches, because it not only lets her romp and play, but cools her off at the same time.
As the trail continues upward through the fields of wildflowers, the views grow ever more expansive. The glacier-clad slopes of Mount Baker slide higher and Mount Shuksan punctuates the southeastern horizon. Look west and you can see out over the San Juan Islands and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Note the gray-green massif of Vancouver Island to the north of the Strait and the shimmering peaks of the Olympic range to the south. Turning and looking north along the route you’ve just climbed, you’ll see British Columbia. And all around you stretch fields of wildflowers.
As good as this stretch of trail is, if you keep hiking, it keeps getting better. Finally, at three miles from the trailhead, you’ll top out on a small knob of rock, at 5900 feet. From here, Mount Baker looks close enough to touch—or at least close enough that you might catch a whiff of sulfur wafting out of the summit crater. Enjoy the views here, or stay for an afternoon nap in the warm sunshine. Stay until late afternoon, and enjoy the colorful alpenglow on Mount Baker.
Turn around at this point and enjoy the hike back down. Even though you’ll be retracing your steps, you’ll enjoy all new views as you head north, now looking across into Canada rather than up to Mount Baker. Late August is typically the time to come to enjoy the peak of the wildflower bloom, but late September has even more to offer. By early autumn, the crowds of hikers have thinned out, the clouds of flies have died out, and the fall colors have come out. The green heather, the red leaves of the low-bush blueberries, and the scattered gold and russet colors of the vine maples and slide alder provide a wonderful display of autumn splendor.
MORE INFORMATION Round trip: six miles; hiking time: four-plus hours; high point: 6215 feet; elevation gain: 2000 feet; best hiking time: late July through early October.
Contact: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Glacier Public Service Center, 360.599.2714
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Located in Seattle, Mountaineers Books, publisher of Best Hikes With Dogs series, was established in 1960 by volunteers of the Mountaineers Club to encourage people and their pooches to get out and enjoy the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
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about the author
Dan Nelson is the author of numerous guidebooks, and creator of three best-selling national series: Snowshoe Routes series, Best Hikes with Dogs series and new Day Hiking series. He served as the executive editor of Signpost for Northwest Trails, published by Washington Trails Association, between 1992 and 2003. He currently serves as the Public Information Officer for the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, and heads The Gear Institute, a network of outdoor gear testers in America dedicated to providing professional, objective, and helpful advice. He writes “Getting in Gear” as a columnist for The Seattle Times, and is a frequent contributor to Backpacker.