The Chain Lakes Loop, with incredible views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, is a must do hike in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Chris & Mac
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Length: 7.39 Miles
Trailhead(s): Heather Meadows Visitor Center Overflow Parking
Elevation Gain: 1,687’
Trail Type: Loop
Permit Required? No
Considerations: Multiple trailhead starting points are possible; Trails hold snow well into July and, even, August, so prepare accordingly.
Season: July to Late September/Early October
The Chain Lakes Loop, with incredible views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan as well as numerous lakes and wildflower filled meadows, is a must do hike in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. If you are anywhere near Bellingham, Washington, go out of your way to do this outstanding hike. You will be glad you did!
What Makes the Chain Lakes Loop so Outstanding?
Views, views, views . . . and more views! This is one of those hikes where around every corner the views change and they are virtually all outstanding. Whether it is dramatic mountain landscapes, beautiful sub-alpine lakes, rugged terrain, meadows, or wildflowers you seek, you will find it on this hike.
But wait, it gets better – the Chain Lakes Loop is only a 7.39 mile hike. Packing in this much beauty in that short a distance almost seems unbelievable, but trust me it’s true. There are not many hikes that give you this much bang for your effort, so take your time and soak it all in.
A Note about the Chain Lakes Loop Before We Begin
Because the Chain Lakes Loop is a loop hike and passes three trailheads, you can start the hike from a number of different areas. Many start the hike from the Artist Point Trailhead. We did not, however, as Artist Point was under feet of snow when we did this hike on AUGUST 2ND (!), as you can see from the pictures below.
You can also start the hike from the Chain Lakes Trailhead, but it is often packed with cars. On the day we hiked the Chain Lakes Loop, this trailhead was also closed.
Fortunately, not only was the Heather Meadows trailhead open, but the trail here starts from the relatively uncrowded overflow parking area of the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. We found starting at this trailhead and traveling the Chain Lakes Loop counter-clockwise to be an excellent route that gave us really dramatic views and enabled us to finish the hike descending, as opposed to ascending. I definitely recommend starting the loop at the Heather Meadows trailhead and traveling counter-clockwise.
Hiking the Chain Lakes Loop
At 7.39 miles with only 1,687′ of elevation gain, the Chain Lakes Loop is not a particularly rigorous hike, particularly if done from Heather Meadows. The trails are well maintained, easy to follow, and have a grade in many areas that makes the elevation gain completely doable for most hikers. All this, while constantly revealing incredible views.
Starting from the back of the Heather Meadows overflow parking, take the Chain Lakes Trail past the beautiful lower Bagley Lake. In early August, this stretch will likely have an abundance of beautiful wildflowers, so enjoy them and take lots of pictures.
A little further down the Chain Lakes Trail you will reach the upper Bagley Lake. Framed by granite peaks, this lake too is very pretty and worth spending some time enjoying.
Continuing on the Chain Lakes Loop, the trail begins climbing after leaving upper Bagley Lake. Relatively soon, you will enter the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Wilderness. As you climb toward Herman’s Saddle, behind you are additional views of upper Bagley Lake, but more impressive are the views of the massive and gorgeous Mount Shuksan. This will not be your only view of Shuksan on the Chain Lakes Loop, however, which is awesome because it is one of the most dramatic mountains in the west and one of the most photographed mountains in the world.
Reaching the top of Herman’s Saddle, Mount Baker comes into dramatic view. If you are lucky and have a clear day, Mount Baker will be visible to you for much of the remaining hike on the Chain Lakes Loop. In addition, you will have a view of a sea of north Cascades peaks including the closer peaks of Mount Herman and Table Mountain.
Continuing on the Chain Lakes Loop, Iceberg Lake comes into view below on your left. The lake is deep blue and is ringed with granite peaks and gorgeous pines as Mount Baker looms above the entire scene. The view is both dramatic and beautiful.
Continuing down from Herman’s Saddle, you will pass Hayes Lake on the right and reach a junction with the Hayes Lake Trail. The Chain Lakes Loop (and Chain Lakes Trail) continues straight. You can, of course, take the Hayes Lake Trail to check out the lake and go to where it passes between Hayes and Arbuthnet lakes, but save your lunch or snack for Iceberg Lake up ahead.
Just a little further along the Chain Lakes Loop from the Hayes Lake Trail junction, you will reach easy access to the beautiful Iceberg Lake shoreline. This is a great spot to have lunch or a snack and catch a swim if the weather is warm. You’ll be glad you did, because the climbing starts again as you work your way out of this basin.
After a break, continue on the Chain Lakes Loop past the two Manzama Lakes on your right. If you desire, take a quick side trip to check-out the lakes, then continue your climb out of the lakes basin.
At the top of your ascent, you will reach a junction with the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail. (Note: Ptarmigan Ridge is also an outstanding hike. Read about it here.) Stay left at the junction and prepare to be blown away. In terms of mountain scenery, this is my favorite part of the Chain Lakes Loop. You will, of course, have views of Mount Baker, but Mount Shuksan will be right in your face all the way to Artist Point. I can’t tell you how much I love Mount Shuksan. It is incredibly dramatic and beautiful. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
When you near Artist’s Point, don’t be surprised if you encounter snow. On August 4, 2018, when we hiked Ptarmigan Ridge, there was quite a bit of snow, but we at least were able to park at Artist Point. On August 2, 2020, when we hiked the Chain Lakes Loop, Artist Point was under feet of snow and inaccessible by car (the pictures in the slideshow below tell the tale). None of this, however, detracts from the amazing views at Artist Point. With Mount Shuksan and an endless sea of other mountain peaks in full view, you will have no doubts about why this spot is called Artist Point.
The Chain Lakes Trail ends at Artist Point, but the Chain Lakes Loop does not. The trail ends at a junction with the Table Mountain Trail. Take a right and enter the parking area. Go through the parking area toward the restroom facility. To the right of the restrooms, you will see the Wild Goose Trail.
It is on the Wild Goose Trail that you will finish the Chain Lakes Loop. The trail is steep in spots and, frankly, a little weird, as you will descend through the Chain Lakes Trailhead on pavement and through the Austin Pass Picnic Area. That said, the views continue to be outstanding, making the weirdness less notable.
The Wild Goose Trail and the Chain Lakes Loop terminate back at the Heather Meadows overflow parking area where you started your journey. I hope you will have enjoyed the hike as much as we did.
Final Thoughts about the Chain Lakes Loop
The Chain Lakes Loop is truly an outstanding hike. Rarely can one get so much beauty and drama in a 7.4 mile hike. If you are anywhere near Mount Baker, I enthusiastically recommend you make a point of taking this hike. Better yet, make a week out of it and take a number of the awesome hikes linked in the “Articles About Other Regional Outventures” section below. Outventure on!
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Chain Lakes Loop Slideshow
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Articles About Other Regional Outventures
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