Chain Lakes Loop Hike

Mt Shuksan and Artists Point -

September brought more challenges to 2020. Local wildfires combined with smoke from those in Oregon and California conspired to keep us hunkered down in our homes avoiding the less than fresh air.

With October, the local fires were controlled. Oregon and California’s contribution to our air pollution from their fires was tolerable. Aside from the haze, the skies were clear, the temperatures warm. Too nice not to pick up the camera gear and go on an adventure.

The Shadow of Mt Rainier

On the map we are less than thirty miles Northwest of the Mt Rainer. It tends to dominate the skyline. It also tends to dominate our thoughts on places to go and hike at the expense of other places in the Cascade Mountains.

Hey, we can be at the Sunrise Visitor Center in an hour.

One of our recent wildfires has closed WA-410 east of Enumclaw. That quick hour just turned into three or four.

Well… If we are going to spend that amount of time driving, lets drive somewhere different. How about going north. How about Mt Baker. Some of the photos I have seen of Mt Shuksan are awesome. The road closure opens the eyes to new opportunities.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Checking the Forest Service web site, and several other resources, the Chain Lakes Trail (fs #682) looked like a winner. Only 6 miles. A loop. Great.

The Drive

Getting to the trailhead is a no brainer these days. Google Maps or another preferred navigator will get you there. Just ask for Picture Lake or Artist Point.

Once we had made our way through the Friday morning Bellevue traffic, the drive north on I-5 was uneventful. Google had us turn east onto WA-20 at Burlington, then north on WA-9 to WA-542. WA-542 ends at Heather Meadows.

With the requisite fuel stops and potty breaks for Liddy and I, we arrived at half past noon.

The Weather

October 2nd was great. The drive north was low overcast as the fog dissipated. Climbing from sea level to the meadows at 4200 feet, we entered the smoke layer that has drifted up from Oregon and California. You will see how this impacted the photo opportunities. It wasn’t quite as bad as a few weeks ago when Washington contributed to the gray skies, but it was a factor.

Aside from the smoke, the skies were clear, and the air was a balmy 70 degrees F.

A wonderful day for a hike.

Bagley Lakes

We parked at the Bagley Lakes Loop Trailhead. A big overflow parking lot for ski season. I sent a text message, via my Garmin InReach, to my wife to note where the Prius is parked and that we were heading out onto the trail.

We followed the trail south, keeping Bagely Creek to our right. This was the view north, behind us.

 Reflection of Table Mountain

The trail brought us to this tarn, just below the Heather Meadows Visitors Center.

The map labels it as Austin Pass Lake. How this small tarn was christened a lake, I can only imagine.

The fall colors and the reflection of the alpine fir in the lake are what caught my eye.

I posted a previous article about how I made this photo here.

Wrong Turn

From here we followed the trail north down to Bagley Creek and the larger of the Bagley Lakes.

I had meant to hike the loop in a clockwise direction, but the lakes distracted me, so I missed the turn that would have taken us up to Artist Point.

The trail hugs the mountainside on the right of the picture. You can see the people down on the lower right enjoying the lake. Those few snow fields are all that is left of Table Mountain Glacier.

The Climb

Bagely Lake is at about 4300 feet. We were about to climb to the saddle you can see at the top, to the right of Table Mountain. The trail crosses the saddle at 5358 feet. The one thousand feet elevation gain is spread over 2.5 miles.

When I was younger, those one thousand feet would have been totally unremarkable. When I was younger.

Today, I am not long past my 69th birthday and I enjoy a wonky heart. Climbs like this… Well climbs like this give me pause. They are also slow. Plodding comes to mind 😊

Liddy, on the other hand.

Liddy never broke any dog-sweat.

She gets to carry her water in, and her deposits out 💩

While the climb was a bit of a struggle, the reward was absolutely wonderful!

I have to think that Liddy was also impressed.

The Other Side – Iceberg Lake

Once we crested the ridge, this is the view we were treated to.

Well maybe a bit more smoke and haze than I show here. I have done a wee bit of post processing so that Mt Baker shows up on the skyline.

The campsite above Iceberg Lake makes the scene. I love the way the sun caused the opening in the tent to light up. Perfect.

Looking back across Iceberg Lake at the saddle we had crossed a short while ago. Table Mountain towers above the lake on the right.

It was getting late. Sunset at 6:45. Obviously we were going to be hiking back to the Prius in the dark.

Mt Baker Sunset

Our last photo of the day. Another view of Baker just at sunset. The sun has just dropped below the last ridge over to the right.

Wrapping it up

Below is a map of the area showing our trip. I copied it from the Lightroom Map Module. It shows our track, and the places we took our photographs from.

You can move the slider left or right to see either a satellite view or a terrain view of the area.

Chain Lakes Hike Sat Map - Chain Lakes Hike Terrain Map -

It got dark pretty quick. The light from my headlamp reflected back off of Liddy’s saddle bags so I could follow her as she led me along the trail. We reached Artist Point at around 7:00 pm. The parking lot was fairly full. Not surprising it being a Friday night on what was likely to be the last warm, dry weekend of the year.

From the parking lot, I missed the trail in the dark, so we did most of the hike down along the highway. Because it was late when we got back to the Prius I decided to sleep over. Something I was prepared for.

In the morning we stopped at Picture Lake to shoot reflections of Mt Shuksan at sunrise, but the conditions were just not appealing.

That’s OK! Now we have an excuse to go back another day.


Here are links to some of the resources I used while planning this hike.

  • Washington Trails Association – Chain Lakes Loop
  • All Trails – Chain Lakes Loop Trail
  • The Creaky Knees Guide Washington, 2nd Edition by Blair Jr, Seabury. Sasquatch Books. Kindle Edition. (amazon)

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