I’ve hiked Chain Lakes Loop in the summer and in the winter. The hike looks completely different in different seasons. You wouldn’t recognize it in the winter.
My birthday is in late August so my GF and I headed up to Bellingham for a little getaway! She had never hiked at Mt. Baker so we left early to spend the day at Mt. Baker. We originally planned on Heliotrope but there were some recent trip reports talking about the river crossings being pretty challenging due to ice melt. We decided we better not push it and went for Chain Lakes Loop instead.
I was surprised there weren’t many cars in the lot when we arrived. After a 5 minute discussion of which trail actually took us to chain lakes loop, we headed out. The trail is nice as it runs along Bagley Lakes. There are a couple nice stone bridges at the beginning. The water level is really low this late in the summer so it seemed closer to a creek or pond. The trail meanders along the water for the first mile or so before it turns into the hillside and you begin a long and steady climb up to the saddle. In the summer this section is lined with wild blueberries. They are a nice pick me up along the way as this section is pretty dry with no sun cover.
We did have some distant clouds so Mt. Shuksan was covered pretty much the entire time we were hiking. We did get some nice peek a boo views of Mt. Baker along the way. At the saddle you get to see Mt. Baker and overlook two large lakes down in the valley. Both of them are great spots for overnight camping. We did see quite a few tents around the lakes. We stopped for lunch at one of the lakes and soaked in the view for some time.
The second half of the trail heads out of the meadows and into a much drier section of the mountain. The backside has meadows in the distance, but the trail is dry, surrounded by rock fields as you head up to Ptarmigan Trail. The views on this side though are pretty phenomenal. Mt. Baker had some cloud cover rolling through so we had some good on and off views as we traversed the side of the hill. At the top you have the choice to head out the Ptarmigan Trail for an up close view of Mt. Shuksan or head towards Artist Point. We already knew the could were covering Mt. Shuksan so we headed towards Artist Point. At this point the trail was getting pretty crowded. A lot of people start from Artist Point so it can be a bit of a train line. The view heading to Artist Point is pretty nice. You get nice sweeping views with the small views of Lake Diablo. It stands out because of the color. You immediately know what lake you are looking at, at soon as you see it!
Pretty sure I’ve sold my GF on more hikes at Mt. Baker! We will definitely be back for some snowshoe hikes in the winter/spring!