During summer months (July – September), Artist Point at the end of Mount Baker Highway (WA State Route 542 East from Bellingham) is abuzz with hikers, backpackers, families, and photographers. Offering unbelievable mountain views from the parking lot, it’s the jumping off point for many a summer adventure. Winter is another story. When the road to the top is closed due to snow, Artist Point becomes the destination rather than the launchpad – this time for a snowshoe trip. The only other people you’ll see up there are fellow snowshoers and skiers.
This winter, my partner and I decided to try something new: the classic snowshoe route to Artist Point. Since we typically stick to summer hiking, it was a fun challenge for us as beginner snowshoers. We rented snowshoes from Yeagers in Bellingham the day before (48 hour rentals for the win!) and got up bright and early to hit the road. The sun was out, avalanche conditions were low, and Mount Baker Ski Area was boasting the deepest snow base in North America. Perfect conditions for a snowshoe trip to Artist Point.
- 3 miles roundtrip
- 860 feet elevation gain
Start by driving Mount Baker Highway (WA-542) to its winter endpoint at Heather Meadows, just beyond Picture Lake. Turn into the large parking lot on the right, labeled “Bagley Lakes Loop” on Google Maps (GPS Coordinates: 48.861591, -121.682460). Your trek begins from the south end of the lot, just to the left of the restrooms. No permit is required for day use.
Various sets of tracks typically head south from the lot. You can follow the ski area’s groomed track (stay to the right if walking within ski boundaries), or follow the trails above Bagley Lakes. Either way, you’ll climb gradually. After about 0.5 miles, it’s worth a side trip to drop down to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center (closed winters). From here you can peer out over Bagley Lakes and up to Table Mountain before beginning your climb. The Visitor Center is also a good turnaround point if you’re looking for a short but sweet snowshoe option (we once turned around here in a blizzard!)
The route steepens considerably south of the Visitors Center. Stay outside of the ski area for this section, following its boundary closely. Because of the hill in front of you, downhill skiers won’t be able to see you until it’s too late! You should reach Austin Pass after around 1 mile of hiking. From here, continue southwest, crossing the upper stretches of Mount Baker Highway (often unrecognizable under several feet of snow). See if you can distinguish the Lake Ann Trailhead as you continue following the road up to Artist Point.
Around 1.4 miles in, the route swings west — away from the road — and begins the final ascent to Artist Point. Before you know it you’ll be there: standing at 5,000 feet, in the shadow of Mounts Shuksan and Baker. From here, it’s fun to pick out familiar features — from the summer parking lot to Huntoon Point, Table Mountain, and Coleman Pinnacle. You can continue to Huntoon Point, or call it a day next to the Artist Point parking lot. Return via the same route.
Consider snowshoeing to Artist Point during clear weather for safety (and the best views). It’s advisable to check avalanche conditions via the Northwest Avalanche Center before departing. REI also offers frequent, free courses at their Bellingham location about Snowshoeing Basics and Avalanche Awareness.
Forecast and Additional Info:
Gear and Maps:
Need to rent snowshoes? Check out our list of Outdoor Gear Rentals and Services in Whatcom County. Always pack the Ten Essentials when hiking or snowshoeing.
Finally, be sure to carry a proper map. Green Trails: Mount Shuksan No. 14 is most appropriate for this area. Digital maps are helpful as well — we tracked our hike using Gaia GPS for Android. GPS tracks are available here for reference.