For fantastic views of Mount Baker and the North Cascades head up to Damfino Lakes and beyond into the high country of Excelsior Ridge. Take the Mount Baker Highway, aka EAST 542, through the charming towns of Maple Falls and Glacier. “About 2 miles east of the Glacier Public Service Center, just beyond the Douglas Fir Campground, turn left onto Canyon Creek Forest Road 31. Drive to the marked and developed trailhead near the end of the road in about 15 miles,” -excerpt from Best Short Hikes in Washington’s North Cascades & San Juan Islands – The Mountaineers. By E.M. Sterling, Bob Spring, Ira Spring.
“From the trailhead begin at an old clear-cut, then quickly enter mature forest. Encounter a junction in 0.7 miles. The left fork is Canyon Ridge Trail #689, which connects to Boundary Way Trail #688. Take the right fork to reach Damfino Lakes in 0.1 mile. Tiny lakes are skirted by a puncheon bridge walkway and surrounded by blueberry bushes that turn a blazing scarlet in autumn. Stop and look for young salamanders in the shallows.”- Damfino Lakes Trail #625. We were fortunate to have gorgeous weather with blue skies and no wind. This made for the perfect conditions for the symmetrical reflection of the landscape on the tarnlike lakes. These lakes were named when a ranger who was asked the name of the lakes replied “Damn if I know.” – SummitPost.org
Our timing enabled us to catch the explosion of fall colors as we made our way up the 3 miles to our destination: Excelsior Ridge. I knew that the hike would be a “stretch goal” with my 6 year old daughter and that near the end, she may need a “sherpa” to get her to the saddle of the ridge. We sang songs and played word games to keep her mind off the distance, for a while. We didn’t share the details of the hike ahead of time, but Violet could see the elevation gain ahead. After some “discussion”, she found the lift needed to get her UP to a reasonable elevation.
Once up on Excelsior Ridge, we enjoyed a brief picnic and roaming the small network of trails that cross-cross the saddle. I had the urge to frolic through the open meadows as though we were in The Sound of Music singing The Hills are Alive. While inviting, we didn’t trounce the fragile landscape to help ensure that it is there for “our kids” in the future.
From vantage points on the ridge you can look in all directions- to the North, East, South and West (Violet reminds me to Never Eat Soggy Waffles) and capture the images of surrounding ridges, peaks and the grandeur of Mt. Baker rising above it all.
Ready to head back down with renewed energy, Violet said, “Dad, let’s GO!” and we started bounding down the trail. It was one of those proud parent moments when you are watching your kid excel in an activity. She was trail running with ease. The purposefulness of the placement of her little feet was exciting to watch. The confidence of her ability to navigate the roots and rocks and other obstacles provided swift passage down the trail that seemed so steep on the way up (even though I was carrying her).
As the trail mellowed out, so did we- resuming our longstanding trail game of hide and seek- in place of zooming through the forest. It helps slow us down to look more intently at our surroundings as we pass through. Before we knew it we were back to the trailhead and on our way down the “driveway” back to the highway.
We spent the better part of the day in the wilderness and were ready for some good grub. Fortunately, just down the road is Chair 9– where they always have cold beer and outstanding cuisine waiting for you on your way down the mountain. Perfect for family dining, they offer a huge selection of gourmet pizzas as well as buffalo burgers, steaks, and tasty appetizers. Their friendly staff and chill atmosphere makes Chair 9 a local favorite – a destination restaurant that should not be missed.