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Hiking GuidesWashington

Hiking Guide: Heliotrope Ridge

Heliotrope Ridge

Overview

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.

Mount Baker and the Lower Coleman Icefall
Mount Baker and 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!

Arrow takes a breather above the Coleman Glacier
Arrow takes a breather above the Coleman Glacier

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!

Arrow and I on Heliotrope Ridge
Arrow and I on Heliotrope Ridge. Photo taken by Erica An

Quick Facts

  • 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 Kulshan Creek crossing
The Kulshan Creek crossing

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.

Heliotrope Creek
Heliotrope Creek

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.

The first view of Mount Baker from the trail
The first view of Mount Baker from the trail

Once you are on top of Heliotrope Ridge, you get an inexplicably beautiful view of the Lower Coleman Icefall and Coleman Glacier.

Lower Coleman Icefall
The Lower Coleman Icefall

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.

Map

Location

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.

Get Directions

Resources

Topographic Maps

Guidebooks

Links

 

Photos

The Coleman Glacier
The Coleman Glacier
We got above the smoke haze that day
Fireweed and Mount Baker
Fireweed and Mount Baker
Heliotrope Creek
Heliotrope Creek

Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.

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