I LOVE taking a trip up this dead end road at any time of the year! It is not very far up the Skagit Valley from Highland Garden House Bed and Breakfast and is a REAL change of scenery. You can drive right up into the mountains, mostly on a paved road, and really get away. As you may have noticed, this post is under a LOT of my Categories. If you have an interest in at least ONE of these, this little trip will be worth your time. I recommend that you just drive the road to the end and maybe take a picnic and a little hike the first time. You will find other interesting things to discover that will bring you back.
Below is a nice map of the area that this post is talkin’ about. You drive east on SR 20 from Burlington for about 25 miles and then turn north on Baker Lake Road. That is the blue line on the map. The entire distance of that blue line is another 25 miles. The last 5 miles are a bit rougher and not paved but most passenger cars will not have a problem.
Notice on the map how close you are to Mount Baker? Pretty dramatic! And you are seeing the mountain from the opposite side that is normally seen from the I-5 freeway and points to the west. As you drive up the Baker Lake Road, you will see some really spectacular views of this mountain and others.
One of the first places that you can visit is the Upper Baker Dam. You can drive across it. Above this dam is Baker Lake. Before the two dams were built, there was a much smaller Baker Lake at the far north end. This is the end where the road ends. There is a free boat launch at the camping area near the Upper Baker Dam. Just follow the signs.
If you are interested in the volcanic and geologic aspects of this area, there is no other expert than Dave Tucker, his blog is here. I also have a link to a detailed geologic paper of this exact area here. From this abstract: “The best exposures of volcaniclastic flank assemblages from Mount Baker are found in the Baker River valley. The Boulder Creek assemblage formed a thick fan between the end of the Vashon glaciation and the deposition of the SC tephra. Now deeply trenched by Boulder Creek, lahar and block-and-ash diamicts can be seen with some effort by ascending the creek 2 km. A tiny vestige is exposed along the Baker Lake Road.
Much younger deposits are also accessible. In 1843, tephra set YP, erupted from
Sherman Crater, was deposited in the valley. In ca. 1845–1847, the Morovitz Creek
lahar swept down Boulder, Park, Morovitz, and Swift Creeks and inundated much
of the current location of the Baker Lake reservoir. This lahar is an example of the
most likely future hazard at Mount Baker as well as the most common type of lahar
produced during the Holocene at the volcano—clay-rich or cohesive lahars initiated
as slope failures from hydrothermally altered rock. They commonly increase in volume by entraining sediment as they flow. When thermal emissions from Sherman
Crater increased in 1975–1976, the level of the reservoir was lowered to accommodate
inflow of lahars such as the Morovitz Creek lahar. Renewed activity at Sherman Crater
will again trigger reservoir drawdown. In 1890–1891, and again ca. 1917–1932,
debris avalanches from pre–Mount Baker lavas flowed down Rainbow Creek. The
largest, which flowed 10.5 km, can be visited at the Rainbow Falls overlook. Here,
the peak discharge of the flow, derived from reconstructed cross sections defined by
well-exposed lateral levees and from reported velocities of equivalent modern flows,
is estimated to have been greater than the peak discharge of any historic flood in the
If you just can imagine looking up toward Sherman Crater from the Boulder Creek Bridge and think of the entire area being washed over with ice, mud, trees, rocks, deer, racoons, etc!
The end of the road is at the parking area for the Baker River Trail #606 and the Baker Lake Trail #610. This parking area requires a Annual Forest Pass parking permit. These are currently $30 and are good for the 12 months following the month of purchase. They can be moved to any vehicle, not like the Washington State Discover Pass, which can only be used on two different vehicles.
The Baker River Trail is a nice ‘short’ trail that does not gain much altitude and meanders along the Baker River with side trips along Lake Creek and Sulphide Creek. I have a geologic trail guide for the Baker River Trail. I want to thank Dave Tucker again for the use of this document. It was one of his past blog posts. Even if you do not understand much of the technical stuff, you will enjoy the area more with some insight of what you are looking at.
Took a drive on Feb. 19, 2013 on this road to see how far I could go. The entire road was plowed to within a half mile of the Trails parking area. But, lo and behold, I remembered to throw my snowshoes and poles in the roof box, and I was set! Snowshoed up the road and dipped down onto the gravel outwash area of the Baker River. The snow was about 18″ deep but with a nice hard top crust; no sinking! Not another person in sight, just the river and mountains all around, and a beautiful sunny day.
’til next time,
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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