Home Trip ReportsDayhike Chain Lakes Loop

Chain Lakes Loop

by Amanda Phillips
Woman walking next to Bagley Lakes with fall foliage

This October has been a gift. In August, I expected to have amazing back-to-back weekends in the high alpine. No smoke, no bugs, nothing but perfect summer nights where daylight fades to twilight and the heavens fill with stars. But instead, wildfires raged and lungs burned. Perfect weather weekends were wasted as the only option was to stay indoors. I thought sunny hike weekends were a thing of the past; it was time to bust out the raingear and microspikes and prepare for a moody and wet fall. Instead, weekend after weekend, the sun shines in the mountains and this weekend at Kulshan doing the Chain Lake Loop was no different.


After two larch weekends where sun lit up the golden needles, two days on the last week of September with sun so magnificent it was too hot for yoga pants, and a weekend gallivanting around Mt. Rainier, I didn’t expect another dry weekend. The chores I pushed off week after week, saving them for rain, are starting to stack up. The homework that is rather critical to my success as a grad student is feverishly being finished in stolen moments in the evening or a lunch break. I have no regrets. I have lived in Washington long enough to know that the grey always comes and when it comes, it stays. I will chase the sunshine until it dips behind the horizon for the last time. 

Chain Lakes

Herman Pass & Bagley Lakes

We arrived at Artist Point to a full parking lot. Avoiding cars, humans, and dogs we set out on the loop counter-clockwise. After crossing the road we found the permanent cairns for the Wild Goose Trail and began the steep descent. A few road crossings later, we arrived at the shelter near Bagley Lake and left the parking lot behind.

Bagley Lakes in the Mount Baker Wilderness
Woman walking through fall colors on the Chain Lakes Loop hike in the Mt. Baker Wilderness
building near chain lakes in Mt. Baker Wilderness

The lakes looked spectacular from the birds-eye view and before too long we were along the lakeshore. Everything became instantly more scenic as we maneuvered icy rock slabs and wandered among the fall foliage.

Bagley Lakes in Mt. Baker Wilderness
Woman crossing bridge over Bagley Lakes on the Chain Lakes Loop
Woman walking through fall colors on the Chain Lakes Loop hike in the Mt. Baker Wilderness
Mt. Shuksan on the Chain Lakes Loop Trail
Woman walking through fall colors on the Chain Lakes Loop hike in the Mt. Baker Wilderness
Woman stretching in front of Mt. Shuksan

We crossed a stone bridge that seemed out of a fairy tale and set up towards Herman Pass. We moved through a rainbow of colors from golden grasses to red huckleberry bushes. Kulshan was not yet visible, but Shuksan reigned supreme at our back. After several switchbacks and a little huffing and puffing, we reached the pass.

Iceberg & Hayes Lake

Woman walking on trail in front of Mt. Baker
Mt. Shuksan with lake in the Mt. Baker Wilderness
Kolshan with Iceberg Lake in the

Table mountain dominated on our left, while Kulshan stood at full glory straight ahead. A few of the lakes we would be visiting as we continued the loop were also visible. It was a perfect spot to stop and soak it in.  

After eating a little lunch and giving side-eye to the large group flying an illegal drone, we decided to move on. Descending into the lake basin, golden meadows glowed in the sunlight with Kulshan as a background. Iceberg Lake came into view with Table Mountain behind it. With the turquoise water and unique peak shape, for a moment it felt like we were in a different part of the country.

Woman laughing in front of Mt Baker and Iceberg Lake
Reflection of trees in tarn near Chain Lakes
Woman standing in front of Mt Baker next to fall foliage
Iceberg Lake with Mt. Baker in the Background
Woman doing yoga in front of lake in Mt Baker Wilderness
Iceberg lake in the Mt. Baker Wilderness

As Hayes Lake came into view, however, we seemed to be clearly back in the Mt. Baker Wilderness. It looked like the perfect swimming lake, but it wasn’t quite warm enough to convince me to shed my layers and jump in.


We rounded the corner and saw the two Mazama Lakes, bringing our lake total count up to six so far, plus a few picturesque tarns. Then we began our climb out of the basin. It was easy to ignore the elevation gain when we stopped every few feet to admire the view. It was the first weekend not doing a “larch march” in a bit, but it was great to remember how beautiful high-alpine fall foliage is, even when the golden trees aren’t around.

Twin lakes in front of Mt. Baker
Woman hiking in front of Mt. Shuksan
Mt. Baker seen from the Chain Lakes Loop trail

Soon we reached the point where Ptarmigan Ridge meets the Chain Lakes trail and the trail became intensely crowded. The views were spectacular and I see why it was so popular. We could see the parking lot at this point and were ready to head back, but had to get in the very slow line. I wished a little that we had done the route in the opposite direction to avoid the busyness of the trail at that moment. After some slow line-walking, we made it back to the car and a trailhead that was about 4 times busier than when we left it.

Woman relaxing at Artist Point in front of Mt. Baker
Two women standing on a rock at Artist Point

We booked it out of Artist Point and went to Bellingham for a little post-hike ice cream for dinner at Mallards. It was delicious, as per usual. Then back home and relaxing after a long day.

Artist Point parking lot with Shuksan in the parking lot.

Baker or Kulshan?:

Mt. Baker became known as such in the late 1700’s but was well-known in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years prior, as it is a prominent peak on Washington’s horizon. The Lummi and Nooksack tribes both had a name for the peak: Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan (Lummi: Qwú’mə Kwəlshéːn, NooksackKw’eq Smaenit or Kwelshán).

The exact translation of the phrases has been debated, with names including the common translation the “Great White One”. Other translations include “a bleeding wound, where one is struck”, perhaps referencing active volcanic activity.  Another translation includes “shot at the end”.

The peak earned the name Mt. Baker in 1972 as George Vancouver surveyed the Salish Sea. When 3rd Lieutenant Jospeh Baker spotted the peak, Vancouver thought it apt to name it after him and the tradition has been continued by many.  My thoughts echo those of Theodore Winthrop, an author that visited the Lummi tribe in 1853.

Stay Connected.

Sign up for my newsletter and never miss a blog update through e-mail.

You may also like

1 comment

Gabby October 25, 2018 - 12:16 pm

Love that quote at the end! After living in Bellingham for 4 years for college, I typically associate Kulshan with the brewery named so, but will try to keep the proper name in mind. I’m glad it’s becoming a trend to ‘correct’ names back to their original, like Mt. McKinley/Denali.


Leave a Reply to Gabby Cancel Reply