When the snow is cleared on the Mount Baker Highway, opening up the road to popular Artist Point, Heather Meadows Visitors Center at Austin Pass Picnic Area offers an excellent launch point for hikes for all abilities and interests. Enjoy this Accessible Adventures video from a wheelchair friendly perspective.
Once you arrive at Austin Pass, you can pick your adventure and go from there! You may choose to just chill and enjoy a picnic with amazing views. Or get your boots on and hit the trail.
Head to the Heather Meadows Visitors Center for insightful help on choosing your path. The trail conditions are posted inside and give you an idea of how much snow is covering the trail of your choosing.
“The Civilian Conservation Corps built the Heather Meadows Visitor Center in 1940 for a ski warming hut.Â Workers used to rock and heavy timber to meticulously restore the buildingâ€™s architectural lines to blend into the surrounding environment. The center sits on a rock ledge at the edge of the Austin Pass Picnic Area and overlooks Bagley Lakes in the Heather Meadows area located along the upper reaches of the Mt. Baker Scenic Byway, State Route 542.
The building is accessible and opens mid-July to late September on a daily basis from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can buy books, maps and other sales items including federal recreation passes.” – US Forest Service.
Two easy hikes from Heather Meadows are the Fire and Ice Trail and the Bagley Lakes Trail.
Fire and Ice Interpretive Trail
When you take the Fire and Ice Interpretive Trail, stop along the various viewpoints that offer insight into the geology of the area. “During the last half million years volcanic kilns repeatedly forged new land and glacial chisels carved it into peaks and valleys. When lava cooled and ice abated, life coated each sculpture with a delicate glaze,” one of the signs informs.
At the end of one path, is a viewpoint completed in the CCC fashion, using pieces of columnar basalt to build it up. The integration of these man-made structures into the local landscape is a compliment to nature and the workers that pieced it all together.
Off-trail, but walking on snow, so as not to impact the fragile flora competing for life, a view back to the viewpoint and to the north is easily afforded. The lunar landscape of columnar basalt almost camouflages the man-made platform.
The Fire and Ice trail is a nice walking loop that starts and finishes from the former ski warming hut. Enjoy the expansive views and insightful signs along the way.
“The Bagley Lakes Trail travels .75 mile one-way along the eastern shore of Bagley Lake. Table Mountain and Mt. Herman tower above this family-friendly lakeshore hike. Waterfalls, wildflowers and spectacular autumn colors grace a landscape shaped by volcanoes and glaciers. Sandpipers and water ouzels are just two of the bird species frequently you can see by this lake. To form a two-mile loop, the trail can link with Chain Lakes Trail or the Wild Goose Trail, which follows the bench above the lake.” US Forest Service.
The trail, often covered with snow in July, descends from the Heather Meadows Welcome Center and loops the lake. In the background, Table Mountain looms over the water below, adding snowmelt to the pools.
The bridges over the lake provide access to the other side and points beyond. Another hike on your list should also be to get up on top of Table Mountain above. Check out Table Mountain – The Icing on the Cake for how much fun you can have up there!
While the landscape provides spectacular backdrops, I am enthralled by the craftsmanship of the bridge builders and the integration of local materials.
Wooden boardwalks provide for passage through the wet landscape. Below a couple and their dog (in the chest carrier) enjoy the mountain scenery.
This walk is a photographers paradise, with grandiose views of majestic mountains and close-ups of cascading waterfalls up close (and far away).
In Bagley Lakes, I was surprised to see a fly fisherman casting his line. At the end of the lake is a dam that keeps the water levels relatively high. Off the backside, the meltwater makes its way downstream and joins the Nooksack River as it flows into Bellingham Bay below.
As I made my way back to the hut, others were headed out for adventure! These guys were prepared with boots, packs and hiking poles- very helpful to help with some of the snow crossings on the trails.
My Bagley Lakes loop complete, I ascended to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center to thank the Forest Ranger for the insight into the conditions and natural history of the area for my hikes.
Check out the Heather Meadows Visitors Center webpage for current information.