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Damfino Lakes - Excelsior Peak

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Excelsior! Always upward! And certainly that would be true if you tackled this former lookout site on the High Divide from the North Fork Nooksack Valley. That access would cost you nearly 4000 vertical feet of sweat and toil. But by hiking to this expansive-view-granting promontory via the Damfino Lakes Trail, all of that alpine glory can be yours for a mere song-and only 1500 feet of elevation gain.

Despite the long forest-road access to this trail, don't expect to be alone. With spectacular North Cascades views and resplendent alpine meadows so easily attained, half the hikers in Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia, head this way on sunny summer weekends. Oh well-that's the price you pay for convenience. Put on your happy face and enjoy the hike.

After an easy 0.7 mile through pleasant forest, come to a junction (elev. 4600 ft). Save the trail left for when you want to be alone, and instead head right, dropping 100 feet in 0.2 mile to the tiny Damfino Lakes. The lakes purportedly received their name many moons ago from a ranger's response to a query as to what they were called. His answer: "Damn if I know."Damn if I know why they're called lakes! In berry season, however, they make a damn fine destination.

Pass the small water holes and continue for another mile or so, a little bit of climbing required, through more pleasant forest. At 2 miles the countryside begins to open up. Soon find yourself on a verdant rolling carpet sprinkled with dazzling blossoms. Continue upward through magnificent meadows, reaching 5375-foot Excelsior Pass and a trail junction at 2.8 miles. Views! But they get even better. Head left up the High Divide Trail for about 0.3 mile, locating the short spur heading straight for 5699-foot Excelsior Peak.

From this little knoll at the edge of the Mount Baker Wilderness, views reign supreme. Mount Baker breathes down upon you. Scan the emerald lawns of the High Divide. Locate Church, Bearpaw, Cowap, and the Border Peaks. Stare straight down into the North Fork Nooksack Valley and be grateful you didn't start this hike from there.
Driving Directions:

From Bellingham follow the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) east for 34 miles to the Glacier Public Service Center. Continue east for another 2 miles, turning left onto Forest Road 31 (Canyon Creek Road) just after passing
the entrance to the Douglas-Fir Campground. Follow FR 31 for 15.1 miles to the trailhead (elev. 4250 ft)-the pavement ends at 7.8 miles, bear left at 9.9 miles, and bear left again at 14.5 miles. Privy available.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 33 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Damfino Lakes - Excelsior Peak — Jul 20, 2013 — wolfwoman
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Bugs
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On the trip today were Blissman and the Transporter, and what a day! This is such a great hike and I...
On the trip today were Blissman and the Transporter, and what a day! This is such a great hike and I've usually done it in late spring. This was the first time I'd hiked it without snow. In either case, it's great anytime. There are a couple of different ways to do this trip, but I always like the trailhead that comes up from the highway because it has the least driving and the most hiking. The trail is in great shape and there seems to be some very recent work being done to keep it that way. It's a steady up trail, but that's what it takes to get to the high country. There's a nice slab waterfall about a mile in that's quite refreshing.......especially on the trip down. We could barely pry Blissman away. The only downside might be that you are in the trees right up until that last 1/8 to the pass, but the shade was welcome today. Once you reach the pass, the fun begins since you can run the ridge east or west and it's all good. So, after a quick bit of lunch we headed west to get better views of Bearpaw and Church Mt. to add to our already fabulous views of Baker and Shuksan. After topping a couple of high points, we turned east and climbed up to the highest point on the ridge for dessert and a little rest plus views of Yellow Aster Butte, Tomyhoi, Larrabee, Goat, Border Peaks, and on and on and on. We then continued along the ridge with a down and an up and another down and well.....we ended up getting a pretty good workout! I'm thinking once you get up to the ridge and do all the up and downs, you've probably done about 10 miles with 4500' gain. It sure felt like it. We only saw a couple of people today and had a long chat with a nice fellow "Neil", who had a lot of info about some more obscure destinations in the area. The giant flies were annoying at times and seemed to like me in particular. It must have been my lavender scented sunblock.......or maybe they liked DEET. The trip down though was rather horrendous since the small biting flies were chowing down on us pretty good. Still we survived to hike another day. Our new buddy, Neil gave us a tip on where to have dinner on the way home. Apparently the hot spot is "Chair 9" shortly east of Glacier. I have to say the burgers were fantastic and atmosphere especially fine.
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Nooksack River to Excelsior Pass, Damfino Lakes - Excelsior Peak — May 10, 2013 — Barry Brower
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail | Snow on trail
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On a warm, sunny day Stan Miller and I decided to see how far we could get on Excelsior. The trail ...
On a warm, sunny day Stan Miller and I decided to see how far we could get on Excelsior. The trail begins at about 1800 feet elevation of the Mt. Baker highway and we ultimately hit our first patch of snow at 3600 feet. A few hundred more feet of gain and the trail is obliterated. It essentially becomes a cross-country trek from that point. We chose to stop at about 4000 feet, where there was 4-5 feet of snow underneath us, and have our lunch. NOTE: don't attempt to travel very far from the known trail if you do not have off-trail skills. It's very easy to get disoriented, even with the tracks of others to follow, and your best efforts to remember landmarks. It all looks different going back downhill!

Trail notes: The trail to 4000 feet is mostly in the woods, where it begins to open up a little. Along the way we encountered what _may_ be a bear or animal den immediately adjacent to the trail at about 2300 feet. Be careful! This is a large, deep hole. With the exception of a few, inconsequential blowdowns, and some water higher up the trail is in good condition until the snowline. At about 2800 feet there is a lovely waterfall, pictured here. We had some peekaboo views of Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan, and the Black Buttes at our lunch site, but no great shakes for the most part. In that regard it would have been nice to get higher but the good news is that the warm weather is melting the snow pretty fast.

All in all, a good early season hike to get your conditioning improved, and your muscles unpacked.
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Damfino Lakes - Excelsior Peak — Jul 27, 2012 — WOTeva
Day hike
Issues: Washouts | Road to trailhead inaccessible
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The access road from the Mt. Baker Highway is closed and blocked with huge boulders due to the road ...
The access road from the Mt. Baker Highway is closed and blocked with huge boulders due to the road being washed out. We were told this road has been closed for two years. We chose a different hike in the area instead.
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Damfino Lakes - Excelsior Peak, Nooksack River to Excelsior Pass — Apr 27, 2012 — Aubrey
Day hike
Issues: Water on trail | Snow on trail
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Excelsior Pass Trail (Mile 41.2 off Mount Baker Highway) Snow Report: Trail is dry to about 2,800'. ...
Excelsior Pass Trail (Mile 41.2 off Mount Baker Highway) Snow Report: Trail is dry to about 2,800'. Patches of snow between 2,800' and 3,500'. Above 3,500' the trail is mostly covered with snow, decently packed (didn't use snowshoes). Saw the last sign of the summer trail at 3,800'. Beyond that, it was all snow. Snowed on us a bit. Lots of freshly fallen snow above 4,000', at least a few inches. Postholing (about a foot deep) became too tiring, so we turned around at 4,600'.
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Damfino Lakes - Excelsior Peak — Dec 04, 2011 — wolfwoman
Day hike
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Chippie and her doggie friend Jess accompanied me this day on a hike/snowshoe to Excelsior Ridge. We...
Chippie and her doggie friend Jess accompanied me this day on a hike/snowshoe to Excelsior Ridge. We started out from Mt. Baker Hwy. 542 on steep trail. The snow didn't begin for 1/2 mile or so, but then became quite icy. It was very cold all day so the snow didn't melt an iota, but remained crusty and slippery except for the last mile or so when there was a bit of powder covering the crust. There's probably 3 feet of snow at the ridge at least. This is a very scenic area, but there are avalanche slopes below the pass and ridge which seemed pretty benign today. Still, a jaunt to the right once you've gotten to the open area below the ridge will take you to a point with a safe approach and views. This is a great area for snowshoeing since there is easy trailhead access year round. We didn't use our snowshoes, but it was marginal since whenever we got off the packed trail we began postholing. We saw only two parties including one group of young people who were heading up looking for a lunch spot when we were heading down. Since we felt that we were cutting it close ourselves time wise, I encouraged them to turn around and head down. Especially when they told us that they didn't have headlamps or flashlights. They didn't look that well equipped or experienced either so we worried about them a bit. There's really no margin for error this time of year with freezing temperatures and short days. I hope they're OK. I forgot my camera so no photo this time! No dinner stop today, but a long drive home and Tasty Bites in the microwave!
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Looking west from Excelsior Peak Whidbey Walker.jpg
Looking west from Excelsior Peak. Photo by Whidbey Walker.
Location
Damfino Lakes (#625), (#)
North Cascades -- Mount Baker Highway
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - Glacier Public Service Center
Statistics
Roundtrip 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain 1500 ft
Highest Point 5699 ft
Features
Lakes
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Ridges/passes
User info
Northwest Forest Pass required
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Mount Baker No. 13

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