This hike takes you uphill through a forest on the flanks of Mount Baker to Coleman Glacier Lookout. The lookout sits atop Heliotrope Ridge and provides extraordinary views of the Lower Coleman Icefall.
There are four prominent creek crossings on this trail that can be dangerous during high water. Know your limits and be prepared to turn around if conditions are unsafe!
You will have a better chance of getting across during late summer and early fall, from August to October.
I have been fortunate to do a lot of hiking in Washington State and this one ranks high on my list. If you are looking to see a massive glacier on a nontechnical hike, this is a great choice.
The Blue Glacier overlook in the Olympics is similarly superb but requires a multi-day, 37-mile hike to see.
Like Heliotrope Ridge, Panorama Point on Mount Rainer is the same distance (5 miles out and back). It is equally glorious but typically more crowded.
Caution: You must drive up Glacier Creek Road to get to the trailhead. It is a paved road but it is steep, has lots of potholes, and can only accommodate one direction of traffic. There are periodic pullouts to help with this but please drive slow and stay alert!
- Distance: 5.3 miles
- Hike Time: 3 hours
- Elevation Gain: 1736 feet
- Fee: Northwest Forest Pass
- Dogs: Yes
- Difficulty: Moderate
Hiking to Heliotrope Ridge
In September 2020, I hiked with my dog Arrow to Coleman Glacier Lookout via the Heliotrope Ridge trail.
We started at 4:20 p.m., kept a steady pace, and reached the lookout at 5:50 p.m.
We reached the Kulshan Creek crossing at 5:00 p.m. Arrow was a bit nervous about it, but he followed my lead and was able to jump across rocks without getting wet.
The West Fork of Heliotrope Creek was not difficult for us to cross.
Heliotrope Creek proved to be the most challenging. I bombed through it in trail runners and held Arrow’s collar as he waded through, just in case he got swept away.
The problem with these crossings is how steeply they cascade down below the trail. If you lose your footing, you are going to fall a long way.
The final crossing wasn’t bad. By this point, the forest canopy has been replaced by high alpine meadows and Mount Baker comes into full view.
Once you are on top of Heliotrope Ridge, you get an inexplicably beautiful view of the Lower Coleman Icefall and Coleman Glacier.
From here, you can continue along the ridge to get different angles, or you can backtrack and find a spur trail down to the icefall.
From Seattle, get on I-5 and head north for 66.8 miles, then take exit 232 for State Route 9.
Turn onto State Route 542 at the traffic circle and head east.
Just pass the town of Glacier, turn right onto Glacier Creek Road.
Continue for 7.8 miles and turn left to park in the lot.
- Day Hiking: North Cascades by Mountaineers Books
Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.