A popular hike with amazing views every step of the way, around alpine lakes reflecting soaring cliffs and snow-capped summits.

Statistics

3 - 4

hrs

550

m

546

m

10

max°

Difficulty

FATMAP difficulty grade

Moderate

Description

Artist Point is one of the most photographed places in Washington, with views to Mounts Baker and Shuksan among volcanic cliffs and alpine lakes.

In the summer and fall you can drive right up to this panorama, but the scenery is multiplied tenfold by continuing on foot, on the Chain Lakes Loop.

It’s one of the most popular hikes in Washington’s North Cascades, for good reason.

You can’t expect complete solitude here, but the ample miles of trail and extent of lakeshores make it possible to disappear from the crowds if you want to.

The loop can start from one of a few parking areas, which are all connected by the highway and a trail called Wild Goose.

Where you park will determine the elevation profile of your hike.

Start at Austin Pass and you’ll face most of the uphill from the beginning, or start from Artist Point to save the climbing for the end.

If going counterclockwise from Austin Pass (as mapped here), you’ll first come to Bagley Lakes.

The water’s surface reflects snow-streaked cliffs above, and two stone arch bridges make an exceptional photo spot at the lake’s outlet.

From there the trail climbs steeply on rock-strewn slopes, and you may have to cross some snow before reaching a pass, where it finally levels out. From there the view is simply jaw-dropping.

Black lava cliffs bisect the vista, with Mount Shuksan on one side and Mount Baker on the other, in all their glacier-clad glory.

Next you’ll enjoy a rapid downhill to the chain of lakes.

Side trails lead to each of them, while the main trail wraps around Iceberg Lake, in which floating ice melts slowly through the summer.

You might search the side trails for a peaceful place to swim or have your lunch, or to select a campsite.

There are pit toilets in the vicinity, intended for use by backpackers. Passing Iceberg Lake, you’ll next come to the much smaller Mazama Lake, which has a stony beach and a few campsites of its own.

This is the last lake in the chain, after which the trail turns upward once more, traversing the talus slopes of Table Mountain.

A side trail ascends aggressively toward its summit, for those who are inclined to stand on top.

The main trail rounds the corner of this mountain, still with eyefuls of Mount Baker ahead, and makes a traverse to Artist Point.

The mountain slope is striped with the green and gray of grass and heather alternating with bare talus.

Some sections have exposed dropoffs.

Though the tread is wide enough, hikers should be careful, especially if there’s snow or ice.

All too soon the path rejoins the crowds at Artist Point, and Wild Goose Trail turns downhill to complete the loop. As with elsewhere in Mt.

Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, all users need a [Recreation Pass]( https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/mbs/passes-permits/recreation).

No additional permit is needed for backcountry camping, but backpackers are responsible for knowing and complying with all [wilderness regulations](https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mbs/recreation/?cid=fsbdev7_001639), which here include camping only in designated sites.

There are several good sites around the lakes, but they are limited in number while the total number of backpackers is not.

Thus, you might expect to share space with another group on a popular weekend. This loop can also be done with snowshoes or skis in the winter and spring, but requires starting farther down the road, at the Mount Baker ski area, when the extension to Artist Point closes with snowfall.

Even once the road opens, snow is slow to melt along the trail.

In early season you may need traction to safely proceed.

By early summer there’s still snow in patches, but it’s tracked enough to walk without special equipment. Sources: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mbs/recreation/recarea/?recid=17530 https://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/chain-lakes-3 https://www.mountaineers.org/activities/routes-places/bagley-chain-lakes