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Ptarmigan Ridge

North Cascades > Mount Baker Area
48.8463, -121.6927 Map & Directions
Length
9.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain
1800 feet
Highest Point
6100 feet
Calculated Difficulty About Calculated Difficulty
Moderate/Hard
Mount Baker from the Ptarmigan Ridge trail. Photo by Ken Giesbers. Full-size image
  • Wildflowers/Meadows
  • Mountain views
  • Dogs allowed on leash
  • Ridges/passes

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

Rarely can hikers approach a climbers’ realm so easily, with minimal elevation gain, and enjoy beautiful views all along the way. Continue reading

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Hiking Ptarmigan Ridge

Day hike or backpack to get stunningly close to the east side of Mount Baker. The way is rocky from start to finish, lined with lupine and sedges, and patches of blueberries. There is very little shade. Total elevation gain is moderate, but the mile-high altitude can be a factor if you are not acclimatized.

From the northwest corner of the large parking lot at Artist Point, start out on the Chain Lakes Trail. At 1.1 miles is a junction. Go straight to start on the Ptarmigan Ridge trail. Crest over a ridge then drop 200 feet (now lower than the parking lot), to pass below a rugged rock face, then reattain the ridge on the far side.

Contour below the ridge top on the southeast side, climbing gently for half a mile, through a talus slope that often holds snow late into the season. At 2.9 miles, crest over the ridge at 5630 feet and change directions from southeast to due west. Weather permitting, Coleman Pinnacle and Mount Baker dominate the view to the west. The visible trail shows a continuing gentle ascent.

Pass beneath Coleman Pinnacle on slopes that usually retain snow patches late into the season, arriving at a junction 3.8 miles from the trailhead and at 5950 feet. The views here are fantastic, making this a popular resting spot and the destination for many day hikers.

To the south is beautiful green Goat Lake. The large plateau leading to the lake offers camping when water is available. But the trail down (once melted out) is loose, gravelly, and treacherous for the first 500 feet.

Should you go further? From here, the trail changes abruptly, both in direction and in character. It turns right, getting narrower and steeper as it climbs quickly to 6100 feet. Then it drops slightly over the next half mile, passing nondescript Camp Kiser along the way.

You can glimpse The Portals, the prominent rock formations known to climbers of Mount Baker’s northeast side, and access for the Park Glacier climbing route. At 4.5 miles and 5970 feet is a plateau suitable for camping, and what maps show as the end of the trail.

Beyond the plateau, a primitive boot trail continues up the rocky hill: East Peak (also known as The Portals East). It does not lead to climbing routes, but rather climbs above them to 6500 feet over 1.1 miles, fanning out into numerous social trails before dead-ending at a precipice with sheer drops. The up-close views are outstanding, but the path requires route-finding skills and possibly mountaineering experience (depending on snow conditions). Each hiker must decide where their stopping point is, before returning the way them came.

Note: The term “The Portals” is used to identify the rock formations flanking the climbers’ route. But they are also known by various names and compass directions, such as “West Portal” or “The Portals South” or “Portals East Peak”.

There are some camping restrictions here. All campers must be at least 1 mile from junction with Chain Lakes Trail May 15- November 14.

WTA worked here in 2018 and 2016!

Hike Description Written by
Ken Giesbers, WTA Correspondent

Ptarmigan Ridge

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 48.8463, -121.6927 Open in Google Maps

Before You Go

See weather forecast

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Northwest Forest Pass

WTA Pro Tip: Save a copy of our directions before you leave! App-based driving directions aren't always accurate and data connections may be unreliable as you drive to the trailhead.

Getting There

From I-5 exit 255, go east 34 miles on SR 542 to the town of Glacier. Public restrooms are available here, and the Glacier Public Service Center can provide current information on conditions. Continue another 24 miles to the end of SR 542 at Artist Point, elevation 5075 feet. The large parking lot has room for about 160 vehicles, including RVs and buses. There are vault toilets and bearproof garbage cans but no water.

More Hike Details

Trailhead

North Cascades > Mount Baker Area

Ptarmigan Ridge (#682.1), Chain Lakes (#682)

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Mount Baker Ranger District

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)

Download a map to plan your hike

Buy the Green Trails Mount Baker No. 13 map

Buy the Green Trails Mt. Shuksan No. 14 map

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Ptarmigan Ridge

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