As hundreds of skiers and snowboarders rip downhill at Washington’s Mt. Baker Ski Area, snowshoers just feet outside the orange boundary markers are slowly and carefully plodding one foot in front of the other to reach Artist Point. I was one of those snowshoers, treading my way up the 2-mile, 1,000-foot ascent it takes to reach the hallowed ground. By this time of year, the snow trail is well-traversed and very doable for anyone in snowshoes. However, there are signs of the poor souls who tried to hike and ended up postholing more than a yard into the snow.
No other place in northern Washington offers such a stunning, snowy mountaintop lookout without needing to camp overnight to reach the summit. If the weather holds up and you have a clear shot of the vista that surrounds you, the view of the winter wonderland coupled with endless mountain peaks from Artist Point is like no other.Snowshoes create a wide footprint that spreads bodyweight out over the snow. This helps you stay on top of the snow instead of postholing. (Photo: Alec Sills-Trausch)
Hikers revere Artist Point not only for its views, but also for its perfect location. The neighboring Mt. Baker Ski Area is about three hours north of Seattle and 90 minutes from Bellingham, which is just far enough to deter the masses, who prefer the closer Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, or Crystal Mountain.
Although chains aren’t required for all-wheel-drive vehicles on the road to the ski resort, there was snow was in the forecast, so we brought them on our mid-January trip anyway. When we arrived, the slopes were much less crowded than we were expecting for a weekend. As much as I love to see people out and about, it’s always more fun to be on a somewhat less busy mountain.
Once we layered and geared up, we walked to the back of the parking lot, strapped on our snowshoes, and began the trek. The first three-quarters of a mile was a series of gentle uphills followed by flat terrain. We appreciated being able to warm up without being thrown directly into the gauntlet. But for the half-mile after that, the trail showed no mercy: The slope substantially steepened, and we began climbing as skiers and snowboarders on our left cruised down the final downhill of their run.
This short section was the most challenging of the excursion; the subsequent uphills continued at a much milder grade. The crew stopped at my request throughout our trek to take photos and soak up the views. I’m glad we did, because as we snowshoed higher, the clouds darkened, the temperatures dropped, and the snow closed in.
Because of the changing weather, we stopped snowshoeing about a half mile and 200 feet below Artist Point. (For those looking for a reference point, it was just past the Lake Ann trailhead.) As the group snacked and chatted about whether we should keep going. I launched my drone (there are no legal restrictions to using your drone on this part of the national forest) to see what it looked like up at Artist Point.
As you can imagine, the conditions were paltry up there, with little visibility of the surrounding peaks. Knowing that the views wouldn’t be worth the risk, we stayed low, enjoyed our company, and soaked in the winter wonderland around us.Out of any resort in the world, Mt. Baker receives one of the highest average annual snowfall with 641 inches. (Photo: Alec Sills-Trausch)
Even though we didn’t make it to the top, the gang had a fantastic time exploring the area, drinking in the fresh mountain air, and experiencing a popular trail in a different season. When the trail is this beautiful, even coming up short feels like a win.
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