Fall is definitely in the air, especially up high in the mountains. We feel the internal drive to get out to see fall colors and enjoy the high country before the snow comes and we are stuck down low for the winter. Gabe requested a trip to Artist Point again, as he remembered it being scenic and he wanted photos of the mountains. I had the Chain Lakes trail on the top of my list for awhile now, so I was happy to get up there.
It’s a long drive from our home, so we got an early start and made good time getting up there. The parking lot was not full, but there were a lot more people up there for a Friday than I had expected to see. It was supposed to be the last sunny day before we got several days of rain, so I think that might have encouraged folks to go, just like us.
Most descriptions of this hike describe it as a loop, starting at the Bagley Lakes trailhead and crossing over Herman Saddle (or starting at Artist Point and descending steeply to Bagley Lakes.) We followed the easier route in Joan Burton’s Best Hikes with Kids book, which describes the hike as an out-and-back from the Artist Point parking lot. We found it to be plenty long and interesting, though someday I do intend to try the loop.
The hike starts out on the west side of the parking lot, next to the Table Mountain trail. A ranger was set up under a canopy, answering questions and directing people.
It descends gently in the beginning, then you can see the first mile as it traverses the side of Table Mountain and veers upward to the saddle. Annika still has some fears of exposed hiking, after having vision troubles in her younger years that led to vertigo and issues with 3D vision. Though her vision is much better, she holds fear in her body and doesn’t care for exposed trails. She has expressed those fears on the past several hikes we’ve been on, but she has done just fine on the trails, without any outward signs of trouble, so I talked her through, and she did fine on the mountainside. I kept reassuring her, and she also knows that trekking poles help her significantly in those situations.
The fall colors were beautiful, forming stripes alternating with rocky slopes.
The Cascade blueberries were turning scarlet, glowing in the sun.
Annika proclaimed them the most delicious huckleberries she has ever had! (I always get confused which are huckleberries and which are blueberries, so I call them all huckleberries.) We really enjoyed being able to see Mt. Baker in our faces for the majority of the way along this first mile.
We looked down into the Baker Lake valley, seeing a peek of blue water through the gaps.
I found some of the volcanic formations reminded me of the Pinnacles area near Crater Lake in Oregon.
Soon enough we made it to the saddle, where the trail branches to the left for the Ptarmigan Ridge trail.
We’d be going to the right to get to the Chain Lakes. We found a spot to sit and have a snack, since it was close to noon and we needed some food. We could see Mt. Baker to our left, ridges of forest and meadows in front, and the trail down to the first Chain Lake to our right.
The kids were not happy about having to descend after climbing, but I kept reassuring them that they were up for it.
After our snack, we made our way down to the first lake. We were surprised to find pockets of summer-like plants, streams and seeps that sheltered summer wildflowers while the rest of the mountain was putting on autumn garb. Every time we crossed a talus slope, we heard pikas meeping, but we couldn’t see any among the rocks.
We didn’t stop at the first lake (Mazama), though there are camps there if you want to spend the night.
We continued on toward Iceberg Lake, where I had told the kids we would stop for lunch. Along the way, we crossed the most delightful stream, with monkeyflowers and other blossoms looking like an enchanted garden.
The trail climbs a bit again between the first lake and Iceberg Lake, but soon enough we arrived, and almost gasped at the beauty. We sat on the southern end of the lake; you can access the water there.
If you want to sit somewhere with a nice overview, you can continue on the trail just for a minute or two, and you will find some nice spots farther along. The water was so blue, and though no icebergs floated in the lake, there was snow on the far side. It was warm and pleasant as we ate our sandwiches and rested up.
I somehow convinced the kids to hike down to the third lake, Hayes, after lunch. They just wanted to turn around and go back. It really isn’t very far (Gabe said 1000 feet or so) and it is worth the view.
I couldn’t convince them to continue to the last lake, which is just as well, since Gabe had an event that evening we needed to get back for. Hayes Lake has even deeper blue water than Iceberg does, and looks like a sweet place to spend a night or two.
After enjoying the view, we turned around and began working our way back to the first lakes, then up to the saddle, where we rested again. As we had been hiking, the weather was starting to turn, and grey clouds were building up around Mt. Baker.
It cooled, and a breeze picked up. We sat at the saddle and rested and ate some more. We got chilled in the breeze, and pulled out our warmer layers to bundle up.
I may have said something equivalent to “I told you so!”, since my kids have been complaining that I make them carry more stuff than they think they should. (Really, I don’t ask them to carry too much! I just want them to be safe in case of weather or other situations.)
We made pretty good time over the last mile back to the parking lot.
I was really happy with this hike. The views can’t be beat, and the fall colors were glorious. I found it fulfilling. My trip stats said right around 5 miles and just over 1000 feet of elevation gain and loss. That’s a bit more than I was expecting from the book’s description; but it’s definitely do-able for kids. The hazards on this hike are the steep slopes, and the trail is rough and rocky. I’m so glad we were able to fit this trip in! And we made it home just in time for Gabe to shower and get to his event that night.
If You Go:
This trail, from the Artist Point parking lot, is about 5 miles (to Hayes Lake) and 1013 feet elevation gain and loss. You’ll need a NW Forest pass to park. There are privies at the trailhead. Expect crowds on sunny summer days. It is open from mid-summer to early fall.