Artist Point opens to hikers, more than a month earlier than usual

Hikers, lace up your shoes and get your gorp ready.

The road to Artist Point opened for the season Thursday, May 14 — more than a month ahead of the earliest opening on record of June 29, 2005.

Washington Department of Transportation crews clearing the last 2.7-mile stretch of Mount Baker Highway to where it ends in the parking lot of Artist Point usually find 30 to 50 feet of snow over the highway. This year, most of the road had snow less than 10 feet deep, according to a department news release.

The snowpack has been low statewide, making for a dismal winter for skiers and snowboarders. Mt. Baker Ski Area closed April 20 and promised a 30 percent discount to pass holders who were disappointed by the lackluster season.

But the lean winter enabled transportation crews to start clearing snow from the highway earlier. Crews began clearing the parking lot April 7, and started on the rest of the highway April 20, after the ski area closed.

“We usually start clearing the road in late May or early June, but with so little snow in the mountains, it made sense to open this popular location early,” Tony Hernandez, the department’s maintenance superintendent for the area, said in a news release. “This is definitely an unusual event. I don’t think a mid-spring opening will become an annual event.”

With little snow in the mountains, people started calling the department in February to ask whether the agency would open the road early. Still, more snow fell after crews started clearing the highway.

More than 5,000 feet above sea level, Artist Point is a popular viewpoint with 360-degree views that include Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. It’s also the jumping off point for stunning mountain hikes.

The road to Artist Point is usually open from mid- to late July until the first substantial snowfall of the year in late September or early October. Last year, it opened July 1 and didn’t close until Oct. 23. That 115-day season was the longest on record.

Because the last stretch of the highway opened so early this year, the department is reminding drivers going to Artist Point between now and the end of June to prepare for winter driving conditions. Motorists should carry tire chains, food, water, warm clothes and blankets in case of sudden changes in the weather, and check WSDOT’s Artist Point page online before heading out.