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The Skyline Divide Trail, Mt. Baker — September 2009

By Erin Meier

Wear bug spray. Wear bug spray and bring a flame thrower perhaps. If you hope to make any observation of the native plant life along the Skyline Divide Trail in late July, these items are imperative. Despite the unruly hordes of biting black flies, you’ll see a wealth of native plant life. A mere two miles from the trailhead, you will emerge onto a ridgeline lustrous with wildflowers and even better, a stiff breeze deterring the aforementioned bloodthirsty insects.

When you arrive you can visit the rustic facilities in the parking lot, which you will most likely need to do after 13 twisting, scenic miles on Forest Service Road 37. We sighted a lovely stand of Alnus rubra as we drove to the trailhead. From the start of the trail the grade rises steeply, the total gain in elevation is about 2,000 feet. Luckily, you are walking through forest for the first mile or so. Shaded by trees like the Tsuga heterophylla, the trail winds through patches of glossy-leaved Ribes lacustre and Rubus spectabalis. Several types of wildflowers bloom along the trail such as Aquilegia formosa and Tiarella trifoliata. My husband was particularly taken by Clintonia uniflora, commonly known as Queen’s Cup.

The real show begins once you emerge into the meadows that dot the trail near the ridgeline. Arnica latifolia, Lupinus latifolius and Valeriana sitchensis all wave lazily in a dazzling tapestry of gold, sapphire and snowy white blooms. This time of year the Veratrum viride is just preparing to flower. Nonetheless, I am quite fond of their ribbed chartreuse leaves which are showy enough in their own right.

Prepare yourself when you climb over the last hill and walk out onto the ridgeline. After battling winged predators for two or so miles you will not be prepared for the glorious alpine splendor that awaits you. Mt. Baker stands out in sharp relief against the blue sky and fields of Lupinus lyalli that coat the mountainside like a purple beard. Walk south and enjoy the views. Phlox diffusa grows profusely on the rocks here and Phyllodoce empetriformis is in bloom. The Skyline Divide Trail truly feels like a different world from Seattle, a real getaway, and it is certainly reasonable for a day hike. Just don’t forget the bug repellent.

Driving Directions: From Seattle take I-5 N up to Bellingham. You will get off on Exit 255 and take Highway 542/Mt. Baker Highway to the town of Glacier. One mile past Glacier take a right onto Glacier Creek Road/ Forest Service Road 39. Take an immediate left onto Dead Horse Rd/ Forest Service Road 37. Drive about 13 miles to the trailhead.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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