Skyline Divide! What can I say for the jaw-dropping views, the endless vistas, and the snowcapped peaks nearby and far away? Every time I thought we’d gotten to the best of the best views, we crossed another high point on the ridge and were awe-struck again by the grandeur around us. Mt. Baker is at the head of the ridge – becoming closer and grander the closer you get – and Mt. Shucksan is a couple valleys away. Meanwhile, the Canadian Cascades are beyond the end of the ridge. The trail length is variable, but we hit what I’d consider the best of the views just before mile 5. We went another half mile further for a total hike of 10.1 miles (anyone else have the problem that their GPS at the end of the hike isn’t reading double the amount it was reading when you turned around?)
I have to admit, I like ridge walks to begin with, so Skyline Divide was high on my list of “must do” hikes while in the Mt. Baker area. It was listed as being one of the best hikes by the WTA website, and now that I’ve done several of their “recommended” hikes, I’d have to say they list some of the best of the best. But it still didn’t prepare me for the incredible scenery along the ridge.
The first 2 miles are quite uninteresting – just a steep trail through a forest. Still, it’s over pretty quickly, so I can’t complain too much. At 2.0 miles, enter the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area; 0.1 miles later, crest the Skyline Ridgeline amid lovely meadows that would be filled with wildflowers in season.
This is where the majority of the hikers turn around. But I can’t fathom that. The views are good, don’t get me wrong. In fact, they’re very good. But even turning right and walking over the next hump in the ridge has so much better views (with even better views the further you go) that it’s worth the extra miles to do, even if you don’t have much time!
Before truly hiking along the ridge, we turned left along the deeply eroded trail for about 0.1 miles to overlook the Canadian Cascades. If you don’t have time, I wouldn’t bother with it, but I did enjoy the stillness of the meadows this early in the morning (I think it was around 7am PDT) and the views from this area.
Then we turned back and started walking along the Skyline Divide Ridgeline toward Mt. Baker. I’ll mostly let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will say the further you go, the better the view.
I’d say that the trail isn’t maintained beyond entering the Wilderness. However, it does go along the top of the ridgeline in more or less good shape. Trying to go over some of the humps in the ridge can be exciting, but often there is a trail around the humps if you’d rather. We also ran into some snow patches in late July, but considering what it usually looks like in July, I think we made out pretty well.
The only thing you really have to worry about is a trail split at 3.8 miles. Take the right trail, which continues along the top of the ridgeline, rather than taking the left trail, which descends into the valley.
At 4.9 miles, after an especially steep, rocky climb (not through bushes anymore), reach what looks from here to be the high point on the ridge at 6,520ft. (It actually does get higher, but this looks high as you stand on it.) I would call this the best of the best of the views. From here, the trail diminishes, and only Mt. Baker becomes grander as you climb closer and closer to it.
We continued another half mile to another viewpoint (about 4 miles as the crow flies from Mt. Baker’s cone) where we could see snowboarders enjoying a large snow cornice below us. Cool!
Then we knew we had to turn around. As much as some of us would have loved to continue on the trail, it was getting snowier and we’d already hiked 5.5 miles…
Overall, I can’t recommend this hike more. It definitely came out on top of my favorite vacation spots on that trip…even over the other totally spectacular hikes in the Mt. Baker area!
Round Trip Trail Length: About 10 miles
Lowest Elevation: 4,296 ft. (trailhead)
Highest Elevation: 6,525 ft. (about 5 miles from the TH)
Net Elevation Gain/Loss: 2,229 ft.
Facilities: Restroom and a couple picnic tables at the parking area.
Fees: $5/day (must purchase daily pass at the visitor center in Glacier – the machine is open 24 hours). Alternatively, America the Beautiful (Interagency), Senior (Golden Age), Access (Golden Access), Volunteer, Military, and Northwest Forest Service Annual Passes can be displayed. Per the park ranger, leaving your pass number in your windshield is not acceptable and the area is frequented by park rangers who ticket vehicles without passes in their windows. Apparently pass theft isn’t a problem here (we left ours in the window for about a week and never had an issue). Discovery Passes not accepted!
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Key GPS Coordinates for the Skyline Divide Trail
Parking: 48.88101N / -121.86445W (48° 52′ 51.636″ / -121° 51′ 52.02″) (4,249ft.)
Trail Beginning: 48.88046N / -121.86501W (48° 52′ 49.6554″ / -121° 51′ 54.0354″) (4,296ft.) (ended 10.1)
Begin the meadows: 48.86747N / -121.85233W (48° 52′ 2.8914″ / -121° 51′ 8.3874″) (5,547ft.) (1.6)
Enter Mount Baker Wilderness: 48.86822N / -121.85059W (48° 52′ 5.592″ / -121° 51′ 2.1234″) (5,783ft.) (2.0)
Skyline Ridgeline: 48.86776N / -121.85001W (48° 52′ 3.9354″ / -121° 51′ 0.0354″) (5,813ft.) (2.1)
Viewpoint off of main trail: 48.86922N / -121.84940W (48° 52′ 9.1914″ / -121° 50′ 57.84″) (5,839ft.) (2.2)
Back to main trail: 48.86770N / -121.85001W 48° 52′ 3.7194″ / -121° 51′ 0.0354″) (5,921ft.) (2.3)
Trail Split: 48.85324N / -121.85036W (48° 51′ 11.6634″ / -121° 51′ 1.2954″) (5,960ft.) (3.8)
High point: 48.84231N / -121.85773W (48° 50′ 32.3154″ / -121° 51′ 27.828″) (6,519ft.) (4.90)
Turn around viewpoint: 48.83769N / -121.85427W (48° 50′ 15.684″ / -121° 51′ 15.3714″) (6,525ft.) (5.5)
The gpx file for Skyline Divide can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.
Skyline Divide GPX Download File size: 249.7 KB Downloaded 102 times
(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website. Thanks!)
Getting to the Skyline Divide Trailhead
From the Glacier, WA ranger station, drive east on the Mt. Baker Highway (WA-542 E) for 0.7 miles. Turn right onto Glacier Creek Road / NF-39. Shortly after, take the first left onto NF-37 (NF-3) and drive 12.6 miles to the end of the road and the parking area – the parking area is near the restroom; the road continues to the trailhead. After the trailhead, the road has been blocked off (for quite some time, I’d say). The road itself is not exactly well-maintained (watch for potholes and washboard on NF-37), but it seems to be ok for low-clearance vehicles (judging by the number I saw in the parking area).
This Week’s Featured Product!
If you’re looking for a book with more hikes in the Mt. Baker and northern Cascades area, this one certainly covers some of the best. Besides Skyline Divide, it also features other trails around Mt. Baker, North Cascades National Park, and the San Juan Islands.
Wed Nov 22
Periods of rain. Temps nearly steady in the mid 30s. Winds SSW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 80%.
Thu Nov 23
Windy with rain and snow in the morning, becoming snow in the afternoon. High 41F. Winds WSW at 20 to 30 mph. Chance of rain 100%. 1 to 3 inches of snow expected.
Fri Nov 24
Snow showers. High 36F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 60%. Snow accumulations less than one inch.
Sat Nov 25
Variable clouds with snow showers or flurries. High near 35F. Winds S at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 70%. Snow accumulations less than one inch.
Sun Nov 26
Snow showers. High near 35F. Winds SW at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of snow 50%. Snow accumulating 1 to 3 inches.