If trailhead in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie forest is blocked by snow, hike the access road instead

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 12, 2013 

These longer, sunnier days and the promise of summer make serious hikers thirst for scenic trails in the higher elevations that have been snow-covered and mostly inaccessible since fall.

But now that the weather's improving, if the trail is blocked, hike the trail's access road instead, U.S. Forest Service rangers and others say.

"There's still a lot of access to trailheads that are blocked - mostly by snow," said Jordan Hoss, a representative of the nonprofit Discover Your Northwest, who is working at the Forest Service's Glacier Public Service Center.

Glacier's ranger station serves the portion of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest that is accessed via the Mount Baker Highway.

Most of the area's popular trails are blocked by snow about two miles before their trailheads, Hoss said.

"They're starting to clear out," she said.

Hoss, who moved to the Northwest recently from Vermont, said she is eager to hike trails in the area, especially ones in the higher elevations once the Mount Baker Highway is cleared to its terminus at Artist Point - the starting point for several popular summer routes. The road remains closed at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Hoss is unsure when access to those trails might improve.

"We are hopeful," she said. "The snow was slightly above average this year. It looks like most of those trails will open around the end of July or early August."

In the meantime, Hoss said some people are still snowshoeing, although the quality of snow depends on the weather this time of year. Hoss recently talked to two hikers who took the Lake Ann Trail, one on foot and one by snowshoe. It sounded like the person who wore sturdy hiking boots fared better.

"It's all personal preference," she said.

Still, hikers are itching to get on the trails, and last weekend's fair skies saw a push of visitors, Hoss said Sunday.

"This weekend has been pretty busy," she said.

Many seasonal hikers simply see the snow as a challenge, she said.

Hoss said Hannegan Pass is open to the trailhead and the Nooksack Cirque is open but the river is very fast and crossing it could be dicey.

Glacier Creek Road, which offers access to the popular Heliotrope Ridge Trail, is closed by washout - with little hope that it will be repaired this year, she said.

Hoss said Canyon Creek Road offers a nice day hike - and it's also good for biking.

In addition, Wells Creek Road, the access road to Nooksack Falls, offers a nice out-and-back hike.

"You can walk around and still access the area, but in a different way," she said. "A mile in, there's a large avalanche last year, and you can still see the slide path. There's great views of Baker if it's clear."

Hikers can also see Wells Creek Falls farther up the road, she said.

These are sights that visitors normally would miss by driving to the falls - and you don't have to worry about cars.

An easy hike, especially for families with small children, is the Horseshoe Bend Trail, a fairly level and well-maintained route along the Nooksack River.

"It's really mellow and easy," Hoss said, noting that it could be a bit muddy.

The Horseshoe Bend Trail is about two miles past the Glacier ranger station, near the Douglas Fir campground. Wells Creek Road is about seven miles past the ranger station.

A day-use or annual Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at trailheads or along roads on most national forest land. Passes are available at the Glacier ranger station, which is just east of Glacier on the Mount Baker Highway.

The center has clean restrooms and rangers offer a wealth of information about trails and conditions in the national forest. There's also a section of an old-growth Douglas fir to marvel at, and a small visitor center with a relief map of the national forest and a few natural-history exhibits.

It's open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily through Labor Day. Call 360-599-2714 for more information.

Robert Mittendorf is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Contact him at 360-756-2805 or at robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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