Offering unbelievable mountain views from the parking lot, Artist Point is the jumping-off point for many summer hiking and backpacking adventures. Winter is another story. When the road to the top is closed due to snow, Artist Point becomes the destination rather than the launchpad. The only other people you’ll see up there are fellow snowshoers and skiers. And the views of Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker, and the surrounding North Cascades are simply spectacular in the snow.
A couple of winters ago, my partner and I snowshoed to Artist Point for the first time. Since we typically stick to summer hiking, climbing through the snow was a fun challenge for us as beginner snowshoers. We rented snowshoes from Yeagers in Bellingham the day before (48-hour rentals for the win!) and got up bright and early to hit the road. The sun was out, avalanche conditions were low, and Mount Baker Ski Area was boasting the deepest snow base in North America. Perfect conditions for a snowshoe trip to Artist Point.
This snowshoe route is recommended during clear weather for the best views and safest conditions. See the avalanche safety and forecast resources below before beginning your trip!
Start by driving Mount Baker Highway (WA-542) to its winter endpoint at Heather Meadows, just beyond Picture Lake. Turn into the large parking lot on the right, labeled “Bagley Lakes Loop” on Google Maps (GPS Coordinates: 48.861591, -121.682460). Your trek begins from the south end of the lot, just to the left of the restrooms. No permit is required for day use during winter.
Hungry? Stop at the Wake N Bakery in Glacier for great coffee and quick, hot breakfast options. Get sconed!
- 3 – 4 miles roundtrip
- 800 – 1,000 feet elevation gain
Because there is no single defined trail to the top, your mileage may vary on this route. Various sets of tracks typically head south from the parking lot. Follow the ski area boundary south, staying to the right, outside the groomed ski tracks.
After about 0.5 miles, it’s worth a side trip to drop down to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center (closed winters). From here you can peer out over Bagley Lakes and up to Table Mountain before beginning your climb. The Visitor Center is also a good turnaround point if you’re looking for a short but sweet snowshoe option (we once turned around here in a blizzard!)
The route steepens considerably south of the Visitors Center. Continue to walk outside of the ski area for this section, following its boundary closely. You should reach Austin Pass at about 1 mile from the trailhead. From here, continue southwest, crossing the upper stretches of Mount Baker Highway (often unrecognizable under several feet of snow). See if you can distinguish the Lake Ann Trailhead as you continue following the road up to Artist Point.
Around 1.4 miles in, the route swings west — away from the road — and begins the final ascent to Artist Point. Before you know it you’ll be there: standing at 5,000 feet, in the shadow of Mounts Shuksan and Baker. From here, it’s fun to pick out familiar features — from the summer parking lot to Huntoon Point, Table Mountain, and Coleman Pinnacle. You can continue to Huntoon Point, or call it a day next to the Artist Point parking lot. Return via the same route. For more detailed route instructions, reference the Artist Point Snowshoe page on WTA.
Consider snowshoeing to Artist Point during clear weather for safety (and the best views). It’s advisable to check avalanche conditions via the Northwest Avalanche Center before departing. REI also offers frequent, free courses on Snowshoeing Basics and Avalanche Awareness. Some of these classes are being held virtually for the 2020-2021 winter season.
Gear and Maps
When renting or buying snowshoes, go for a more aggressive “hiking” or “rolling terrain” model. You don’t need top-of-the-line snowshoes but may want to opt for more than the cheap Amazon or Costco snowshoe package. REI offers a good primer on how to choose snowshoes including features and sizing.
Pro tip: use snowshoes with a heel lift for the steep uphill sections along the Artist Point snowshoe route.
Always pack the Ten Essentials when hiking or snowshoeing. Bring plenty of extra layers, food, and water to be prepared for changing conditions. You’ll definitely want a waterproof jacket and pants, along with wool or synthetic socks and base layers. Warm hats and gloves are essential. You’ll also need a pair of waterproof boots to strap into your snowshoes. Trekking poles with snow baskets can prove useful as well, especially on steep descents.
Finally, be sure to carry a proper map. Green Trails: Mount Shuksan No. 14 is most appropriate for this area. Digital maps are helpful as well — we tracked our hike using Gaia GPS.
Check out our Newbie’s Guide to Snowshoeing in Washington for more beginner snowshoe tips.
Featured photo: Rob Golkosky. Additional images by the author.