Seattleites, with your shorts and your hiking shoes and your intent to hike up to Artist Point this time of year, you amuse the folks who live In the foothills of Mount Baker.
As Rebecca Boonstra, who staffs the visitor center off the Mount Baker Scenic Byway, likes to correct wide-eyed city dwellers who stop in for directions: “You’re not hiking this time of year. You’re snowshoeing.”
The sun may be shining more, but those scenic trails on Mount Baker haven’t thawed out yet. The popular Artist Point, Skyline Divide and Heliotrope Ridge trails aren’t open until July — maybe mid-June if you’re lucky.
Spring is a slow season around Mount Baker, as skiing is winding down and most trails are still closed or accessible only by snowshoe. It’s a transitional season for this popular playground in the North Cascades. Motels are vacant. The Mount Baker Highway is an open road.
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But it’s not like the locals here hibernate until summer.
If you follow their lead, you can do a quiet, cheap family getaway, with canoeing and hiking — yes hiking, not snowshoeing — around the Mount Baker region.
Silver Lake is your base
You can easily pull off an overnight stay for a family of four in the area for under $200. Just rent a cabin at Silver Lake County Park in Whatcom County, an hour west of the ski area. The six lakeview cabins rent for as little as $88 a night. If you go midweek, during the offseason, it’s 25 percent off. (Whatcom County residents get an additional discount on top of that.)
And within a 25-minute drive from the cabins, you can hike from these trailheads:
• Horseshoe Bend Trail (Milepost 36 off Highway 542). It’s a three-mile trail, doable for young children, at least the first mile anyway. It’s the best snow-free Mount Baker hike during the spring. Along the trail, you might see rafters on the Nooksack River. The first-third of the trail is flat and well maintained, with wrens and sapsuckers hovering around the western hemlocks and moss-covered big-leaf maples. Rangers rate the hike “easy to moderate.” But the trail gets steeper farther along and can get muddy and slick, even with the stairs and bridges. It’s a lush landscape the farther you go, with Douglas firs, hemlocks and cedars.
• Nooksack Falls(Milepost 40). If your children won’t hike, hit this viewpoint at the north folk of the river. A scene from “The Deer Hunter” was filmed here. Park near the bridge and walk across the dirt road to the fence-lined walkway to the edge of the cliff. You can watch a roaring waterfall drop about 100 feet over rocky outcrops.
• Excelsior Pass Trail (Milepost 41). One of the first high-elevation trails to melt out, Excelsior is a 4.5-mile hike with more than 3,500 feet of elevation gain. Part of the trail is still covered in snow, but your kids would have difficulty completing the entire lung-burning hike anyway. You can still take this trail to the campsite by the stream and circle back, about three miles round-trip. (In summer you can reach the meadows of Excelsior Pass and access more trails from there.)
More fun at the lake
The advantage of staying at Silver Lake is that you also have kid-friendly hikes and water recreation a few feet from your front door.
The 412-acre park was once a farmstead and a private fishing resort — thus the cabins — before Whatcom County took it over 48 years ago, turning it into a recreation hub with swimming, fishing and boating along the 5,700-foot freshwater shoreline.
You can rent a canoe, rowboat or pedal boat for $7 a half-hour and enjoy the tranquil lake, possibly all to yourself this time of year.
Or you can spend a lazy afternoon on your cabin’s deck, feet plopped up on the railing, and read a book or take in the lake view while your kids roam the playground or beach.
There’s also a handful of marked and unmarked trails ranging from a half-mile to 1.7 miles, including the scenic Horse Camp Trail with a thicket of towering trees with beards of moss hanging on their boughs.
The dirt trails are mostly flat. Your family can take a trail to the park entrance and cross the street to the Black Mountain Forestry Center, which has a small museum commemorating this former logging site.
About two miles from the park is a popular local hike, the Maple Falls-Glacier Trail, adjacent to the town church in Maple Falls. The three-mile hike is easy to moderate, with only a couple of steep climbs after you cross the pedestrian bridge over the creek.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle