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Yellow Aster Butte - Intermediate Hike

Yellow Aster Butte (#699)
North Cascades -- Mount Baker Highway
Mount Baker Ranger District
Roundtrip 7.5 miles Elevation Gain 2550 ft Highest Point 6150 ft
Fall foliage
Mountain views

Find supreme wildflower gardens and a high-country plateau speckled with shimmering tarns-but that's not all. Spectacular alpine vistas abound too-of Baker, Shuksan, and all those rugged and craggy peaks straddling the 49th parallel. Yellow Aster Butte may be a misnomer (those yellow-petaled delights are actually daisies), but you definitely don't want to miss hiking here.

Sharing a start with the Tomyhoi Lake Trail, begin on a steep course alternating between cool old-growth forest and warm brushy avalanche slopes. Views out to Goat Mountain and big ol' Baker aren't bad from the brushy openings. Shortly after entering the Mount Baker Wilderness, the grade thankfully eases up. The tread remains excellent, the result of a lot of volunteer work over the years on this heavily traveled trail.

The way soon breaks out into a basin bursting with berry patches. Do this hike in September and you're sure to be caught red handed (and mouthed) partaking in gluttonous behavior. But these antioxidants sure make a better choice than chips! In 1.4 miles come to a junction (elev. 5150 ft) with the Tomyhoi Lake Trail. Head left for Yellow Aster on trail constructed in the 1990s that replaced the deeply eroded (but beloved by many) Keep Kool Trail.

Slab around the basin on a fairly level course, flushing rodents, birds, and perhaps a weary hiker or two out of the bountiful berry patches. As you round the basin, Mount Shuksan reveals her beauty. Baker flaunts his as well from across Austin Pass. After moderate climbing across boulder-strewn heather meadows, the trail drops about 100 feet into a snow-harboring basin. Showy penstemon and monkey flowers spruce up the stark gulch with touches of purple and gold.

Climb more steeply, now, rounding Yellow Aster's south shoulder. Catch your breath-not from altitude, but from multitude-a beautiful multitude of peaks, ridges, and tarns spread out before you. At 3.5 miles reach a junction on a ledge overlooking the glacier-scoured tarnished plateau below. Head left, dropping about 200 feet to explore this water-pocked pocket; or take the way trail right, steeply climbing 400 feet in 0.25 mile to ascend the butte.

From this 6150-foot promontory, look out over an amazing landscape of emerald ridges, verdant valleys, snow-capped spires, and glacier-clad giants. Winchester, Larrabee, American Border, and Canadian Border peaks are particularly striking. So too is Tomyhoi, the big broad behemoth dominating the north viewscape.

Driving Directions:

From Bellingham follow the Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) east for 34 miles to the Glacier Public Service Center. Continue east another 13 miles, turning left onto Forest Road 3065 (signed "Twin Lakes Road"; the turnoff is just beyond the Department of Transportation's Shuksan garage). Immediately bear left at an unmarked junction and continue on FR 3065 for 4.5 miles to the trailhead located at a sharp switchback with tight parking (elev. 3600 ft). Privy available.

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  • LynchGirl

    This was a gorgeous, very worthwhile hike. Fall colors were gorgeous! Worth every step!

    October 9, 2012

  • Gretchen

    Well worth the long drive indeed! The views and fall colors on this hike can't be beat.

    October 8, 2012

  • Kathy L.

    Awesome day to do this. Amazing views. A long drive but worth it.

    October 8, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Don't wait for us. Buddy tuckered out after only a few miles hiking today - may not be up to hike tomorrow.

    October 6, 2012

  • Kathy L.

    Leslie, you could ride with me. Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station Park and Ride good with you. I will confirm time a little closer when I figure out how long it will take to get there (I am think 2 1/2 hrs or so)

    September 26, 2012

    • LynchGirl

      Great! Thanks Kathy! :) I will try to make arrangements to get to the MTFS P/R. Tricky on a Sunday with no transit service (I don't have a car), but I can probably work it out. Thanks!!

      September 26, 2012

  • LynchGirl

    Hi! I would love love love to do this hike! I grew up in Bellingham, but haven't hiked around Baker, so this would be super fun for me. But, I need carpool from Edmonds if anyone is available to scoop me up (Aurora Village Transit Center??) No pooches with me on this one.

    September 25, 2012

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