Hikers should expect early-season conditions and be prepared for lots of snow.

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The Washington State Department of Transportation plans to open access to Artist Point this Thursday, giving drivers access to a renowned, 360-degree view that includes the glaciated peaks of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. The popular and scenic location, which opens most summers to great fanfare, is about three hours northeast of Seattle in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Road crews have been working seven days a week since May to dig out the final 2.7-mile stretch of Mount Baker Highway (State Route 542) that winds up to Artist Point.

Crews have, at times, been hampered by low visibility and have had to navigate the road by GPS coordinates, said WSDOT spokeswoman Andrea Petrich. When they started, as much as 70 feet of wind-whipped snow blanketed the route, she said.

“There’s still probably more than 40 feet in some areas of the parking lot,” she said. “The restrooms that are up there … are still completely buried.” 

Those will need to be dug out by hand later. But by 5 p.m. on Thursday, one of the best drive-up views in the country will be accessible to anyone with a vehicle.

About 600 drivers a day make the trip up Artist Point when it’s open, Petrich said.

This year’s opening will be on the early side for this stretch of highway. Opening dates typically range from late June to late July, according to WSDOT records.

In 2015, a drought year, Artist Point opened May 14. When 1999 saw record snowfall that nearby Mount Baker Ski Resort still boasts about, it never opened.

Drivers heading up on Highway 542 can expect some delay getting to Artist Point. WSDOT is installing a new bridge over Hedrick Creek, replacing a narrow culvert. The upgrade will improve fish habitat, Petrich said. The road will be restricted to one lane at the construction site, and the speed limit will drop to 25 mph.

Until Thursday, Petrich said, backcountry travelers should avoid the closed roadway up to Artist Point. WSDOT crews aren’t expecting hikers, skiers or snowshoers on there while they work.

Hikers unprepared for early-season conditions might want to look elsewhere to recreate. Just two trails along the Mount Baker Highway corridor are snow-free, said Casey Proctor, a forestry technician with the Mount Baker Ranger District.

“You will encounter snow at some point, say two to three miles in,” Proctor said. The Horseshoe Bend and Nooksack Cirque are the only snow-free routes, Proctor said.

Anyone traveling near Artist Point should be prepared for heavy snow and melting conditions.

“If they’re going to go up there to walk around in the snow, have good shoes, good boots. There are lakes that are melting out that are sometimes hard to see,” Proctor warned.