As we wound through valley roads alongside sheep hunkered in frosty fields, the first morning’s light crested the North Cascades and Mount Baker revealed her snowy flanks. Just as suddenly, she disappeared behind another twist in the road. It was hard to believe on this frigid morning, driving on a road that felt like a secret, we would spend the day on sunny slopes with hundreds of other people enjoying endless views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan.
Dawn was quiet in the valley and provided the solitude and introspection that I crave by being in the mountains. However, when the sun stood high in the sky, it was rather spectacular to be joined by so many mountain revelers in 50°F weather (thank goodness for inversions). It is hard to begrudge crowds in the snow where it is easy to forge your own path and everyone is so gosh darn happy. A sense of community arises when everyone is incredulous at their good fortune to be here, on this day, able to see such a stunning display in every direction.
Artist Point is a lovely snowshoe with fantastic views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Few places have this kind of payoff for such little work. An awesome trail to visit if you are new to snowshoeing (though there are some avalanche risks), or when you tire of forest and road walks and simply want to see some spectacular peaks. Artist point is also a well-known snow camping area, so if you don’t mind sharing your view, it is a pretty fantastic place to wake up in the morning.
Artist Point Snowshoe
We arrived at the Heather Meadows parking lot after a beautiful drive through the Skagit Valley. Thanks to the incredible inversion layer that Washington has been experiencing lately, we enjoyed leaving the cold, frosty weather behind as we climbed up to a balmy 40°F at the ski base.
We followed the hordes of snowshoers to find the start of the Artist Point trail. I made sure we had two copies of the trail description, a topo map on my phone and a printed topo map after failing to find Mazama Ridge the previous weekend. However, there were so many people and the sky was so clear that we could see nearly the entire route. There were many social trails and even though it started pretty crowded, it was easy to branch off and find a spot for a bit of seclusion.
We wandered upwards, taking the trails that seemed most interesting and least likely to be in avalanche terrain. Table Mountain loomed above and it we walked out on the largest hill above the valley. Fully surrounded by snowy peaks, this view would have been plenty for most snowshoes, but there was more to come! After reveling in the views and enjoying the quaint summertime picnic structures covered in snow, we turned to make our way up to Austin Pass.
The route narrowed and began to resemble a conga line as everyone was funneled to the trail next to the ski region. The short but steep climb to Austin Pass was best dealt with by putting your head down and putting one foot in front of the other.
Eventually, the trail leveled off. At this point, we had two choices: take the road to the left that gently climbed and switchbacked to the summer parking lot for Artist Point, or switchback steeply on the snow face directly above Austin Pass. We were feeling up to the challenge and excited about getting to the views of Baker and Shuksan, so we chose to do the steeper route.
The steep face gave way to pillowy mounds of snow. Baker and Shuksan began to loom on the skyline and we were overjoyed. After cresting the last snowy hill, Artist Point came into view!
We rounded the last snowy hill to see the summer parking lot of Artist Point with Mt. Baker and Table Mountain in the background. The highest hill on the right was full of people, so we decided to traverse Artist Ridge to Huntoon Point for lunch.
The views seemed to get better and better as we continued across the ridge. In addition to Mount Baker, and Mount Shuksan, we could see down the valley to Baker Lake on the far Southern end.
We reached the end of the ridge and all that was left was a climb to Huntoon Point. Another short series of switchbacks and we were at the high point.
Huntoon Point was also super crowded, so we continued to make our way across the ridge to a little bench that someone had carved into the snow. We ate our lunch and sat for half an hour while we reveled in the sunshine. It was so warm and beautiful that it was hard to leave! Eventually, the idea of returning to the lodge with hot cocoa began to sound lovelier than sitting in the snow, so we packed up our gear and made our way down the trail.
The way back to the car went much faster than the route up, and plunging down the slope we worked so hard to climb was ridiculously fun. Views continued to be astounding all of the way back to the car. We were back to the car by 2:00 pm and enjoyed a very slow drive home to Seattle.