The Heliotrope Trail (aka Heliotrope Ridge Trail) is a very popular hiking trail in Mount Baker Wilderness. The trail is moderate difficulty – just a bit over 4 kilometres in length one way with around 500 meters elevation gain. The best time to hike is in summer and fall when there’s no snow on the ground. At the end of the trail, there’s a spectacular overlook of Coleman Glacier as well as many other peaks in the area.
Max elevation: 1767 m
Min elevation: 1114 m
Total climbing: 887 m
Total descent: -861 m
Average speed: 3.58 km/h
Total time: 00:13:10
Heliotrope Trail Challenges
Even though the trail itself is well-maintained and is climbing steadily, there are several bridge-free creeks crossings which may be quite challenging. The water depth of these streams will vary due to various conditions such as glacier melt, recent rainfall and time of the day. Keep in mind that creeks tend to run higher and faster (especially on a warm day) in the afternoon than in the morning. Bringing trekking poles as well as an extra pair of socks is a good idea. Poles will help to keep balance on slick rocks and socks are just in case your feet get wet while crossing the creeks.
There are two backcountry campgrounds – Harrison camp and Hogsback camp. Both campgrounds are mostly filled with mountaineers who during the day climb the glacier with proper equipment and training. Harrison camp is located in a dense forest next to glacier lookout. There are no amenities except a backcountry toilet. Water can be taken from a nearby flowing Heliotrope creek and then treated or boiled on a stove (campfires are prohibited here). And, as always, leave no trace, pack it in – pack it out.
Hogsback camp is located a bit higher than Harrison camp and can be reached if taken a steep Climbers route at the trail junction which situated at about 3.5 kilometres from the trailhead.
Getting to the trailhead
From Mount Baker Highway (WA-542) turn onto Glacier Creek Road (NF-39) and keep driving up for 13 kilometres until you reach the trailhead. The Glacier Creek Road is pretty narrow but quite well maintained and partially paved allowing pretty much any car go up. National Forest Recreation pass is required to park here. It costs $5 for a day pass (this one can be bought online and printed at home) or $30 for an annual pass which can also be purchased online but received only by regular mail. The annual pass can be used in all Washington and Oregon Forest Service day-use sites so it might be worth buying it in advance if you plan on doing more hikes in the area.