Skyline Divide is a trail that I could return to over and over again. As it is, this was my third time up to it. The first time was almost exactly two years ago and the second was a late spring snowshoe to the ridge.
Hike Name: Skyline Divide
Date: Friday September 16
Location: Mount Baker Wilderness
Approx. drive time from home: 2 hours
Distance: 9 mi. / 14.5 km (return)
Elevation gain: 2213 ft / 675 m
Max. elevation: 6563 ft / 2000 m
Time on trail: 5 hours
Washington Trails Association has a wonderful write-up about the trail, which starts with a Lummi legend about Kulshan (the native name for Mt. Baker) and his two wives, Tahoma (Mt. Rainier) and Shuksan. While you don’t get any views of Rainier from Skyline Divide, you are treated to the beauty of Kulshan and Shuksan, as well as views of many of the other peaks of the North Cascades.
We left home just before 8 a.m. and turned onto the gravel road near Glacier, WA, just after 9. Then it was nearly 40 minutes of slow, rocky, pot-holed road, driving 13 miles and gaining over 3000 feet. We made the trailhead just before 10.
The first 2 miles of trail climbs (sometimes steeply!) through a hemlock and fir forest. Upon gaining the ridge you’ve already climbed 1500 feet. We stopped for a short break, relaxing in the ridge-top meadows and taking in the view before us. Many hiking groups will turn back here, having found the hike up to be more challenging than expected!
We were eager and prepared to go forward. The next couple miles travel up and down along the divide, passing over half a dozen knolls and down into saddles and notches. You’re travelling mostly southward, facing Mt. Baker the entire time. As we hiked over each knoll, we gained a bit more elevation, and got a little closer to Mt. Baker.
The views on all sides were fantastic, with the Sumas Valley to the west, the Border Peaks to the north, Mt. Shuksan and the peaks of North Cascades National Park to the east and of course Mt. Baker to the south! We were also treated to an array of fall colours: yellows, oranges, golds and reds!
Coming up onto the last knoll we were pretty well above tree line, with an awesome view of Mt. Baker in front of us. We continued along the trail another quarter mile before settling in for a lunch break.
I often dislike out-and-back hikes, finding them a bit boring and repetitive on the return trip. However I am grateful that Skyline Divide is an out-and-back, because the views on the way back along the Divide are as awesome as on the way out, even when not facing towards Mt. Baker.
I would definitely count Skyline Divide as one of my favourite hikes. It is a perfect distance for a day hike, not too easy but not too hard either, and offers insanely beautiful views for the better part of the trail. There is also so much variety to be found along a ridge line through the seasons, as the snows recede, the wildflowers move in, and then the fall colours take over. I can’t wait to make it back there again soon!