This enchanting trail offers a combination of natural beauty, meandering through meadows, and opportunities for backpacking or day hiking near the majestic Mount Baker.
It was actually the first backpacking trip I took my sister on when she moved to Washington!
Let’s delve into what makes this hike a must-do in the Pacific Northwest. This guide includes everything you need to know about accessing the trailhead, hiking the trail or backpacking it, and since it is a classic hike, we will determine if it belongs on this prestigious list!
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Complete Hiking and Backpacking Guide to Chain Lakes Loop Trail
Whether you decide to hike or backpack Chain Lakes Loop, you’re absolutely making the right decision by just being on the trail. You can always come back to spend a night or two on the trail if you decide to day hike it!
Where is Chain Lakes Loop?
Chain Lakes Loop is located on the ancestral lands of the Cayuse, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Nooksack tribes. We are grateful for the stewards of this land past and present. We are honored to be and recognize that we are guests on this land.
How to Access the Trail
Hiking the Chain Lakes Loop Trail does require a little advanced planning. Here’s what you need to know:
Getting to the Trail
To get to the trailhead from the south, head north of Interstate 5 and take exit 255 onto WA-542 E/Mount Baker Highway. Continue on the Mount Baker Highway until the road ends. You’ve reached Artist Point!
The trailhead has a large parking lot which fills up by 8am on the weekend during the summer months. There is a toilet facility which features pit toilets and hand sanitizer.
There are garbage cans as well.
Season to Visit
The season for visiting Chain Lakes is extremely short. Sometimes the road to the trailhead never clears of snow because the snow is present so late in the summer and begins again in early fall.
The road to the trailhead last year was open for only 4 months.
If this trail is on your to-do list, plan on completing it in Early August. That seems to be the sweet spot for missing snow. When I completed the trail at the end of July this year(2023), there was still snow on the trail at the higher altitudes.
The trail is located in the Mount Baker Wilderness Area which is a designated National Forest…I know I was also surprised to find out it was not a National Park.
If you frequent National Parks more than THREE times a year, I would suggest purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass which grants unlimited access to National Parks AND Forests for an entire year. The cost is $80 which pays for itself in three visits to National Parks in a year. An America the Beautiful pass works in National Parks and Forests.
If you would like to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, you can purchase one here!
The best advice I can give you for preparing to hike Chain lakes is to call the ranger station to check road and trail status especially during shoulder seasons.
Hiking Chain Lakes Loop
There is a reason Chain Lakes Loop is considered one of the best hikes near Mount Baker and it is because it has it all. From panoramic views of Mount Baker and Shuksan to the North Cascades.
Many people opt to park at Artist Point, but you do have the option to park at Heather Meadows if you choose to; the Wild Goose section of the trail bridges the gap between the two parking lots.
Check Out Another Favorite Hike in Mount Baker: Lake Ann
Beginning at Artist Point
Hiking counter-clockwise you will tackle the Wild Goose section first which climbs down steep switchbacks towards the Heather Meadows Visitors Center.
I personally prefer this option, because climbing up Wild Goose at the end of the hike is BRUTAL.
The trail leads you along Bagley lakes and a boulder field before elevation gain begins. The switchbacks have a moderate grade and lead to Herman Saddle which overlooks the surrounding area.
When you reach Herman Saddle, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and the North Cascades.
From Herman Saddle, the trail leads you through idyllic meadows, heather, and blueberry bushes to Hayes Lake. Here, you’ll find amazing options for lakeside rest, swimming and even campsites…if you’re spending the night.
As you continue along the path you will go past Iceberg Lake and the Mazama Lakes offering a glimpse of the region’s natural beauty at every turn.
On a warm day, you will find plenty of people jumping into each lake! Pack your swimsuit just in case!
Hiking out of the Basin
The hike out of the basin is relatively straightforward and the skyline is dominated by Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. There is a short section of gradual elevation gain where the trail meets up with another popular trail, Ptarmigan Ridge.
The final stretch of trail leading to Artist Point is stunning.
Backpacking Chain Lakes Loop
Here are some commonly asked questions about backpacking Chain Lakes Loop:
Do you need a permit to backpack Chain Lakes Loop?
You do not need a backcountry permit for camping overnight at Chain Lakes Loop. Leave your America the Beautiful or National Forest Pass in your windshield and you’re good!
Where can I camp along the Chain Lakes Loop?
Camp at the designated campsites located at Mazama and Hayes lakes only.
Is there a toilet on the trail?
There is a pit toilet located between Iceberg and Hayes Lake. If you use this toilet you are required to pack out your wipes or toilet paper. Otherwise you should bury your solid waste 200 ft from the closest water source.
Can I have a campfire?
No! There are no fires allowed in this area except for a self-contained cooking stove.
Are there bears in the area?
Yes, so all food and scented items need to be stored in a bear safe food container.
New to backpacking? Check out what to pack here!
This is a fantastic beginner backpacking trip. If you’re new to backpacking and are not sure what to bring, here is a guide with save and splurge items!
Should Chain Lakes Loop be a 100 Classic Hike?
I am hiking all “100 Classic Hikes of Washington”. But the question is, Should Chain Lakes Loop be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington?
Chain Lakes Loop offers hikers a glimpse at everything Washington has to offer: mountains, alpine meadows and lakes, stunning vistas and gorgeous wildflowers. While accessible as a day hike and great for a beginner backpacking trip, Chain Lakes Loop should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington. Do you agree?
Let me know in the comments if you think Chain Lakes Loop should be a 100 Classic Hike of Washington!
Happy Hiking, Outdoor Bestie!