An Autumn Stroll Around Bagley Lakes

Easily overlooked among the Mt. Baker area’s wealth of great hiking trails, the Bagley Lakes Loop is an autumnal delight. This short, easy trail that traces the shores of the sweet little lakes offers a chance for the whole family to savor the luminous colors of fall in a sub-alpine setting. One could complete the loop in an hour, or enjoy a languid afternoon of small discoveries and quiet beauty.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

These little lakes are set in a bowl beneath Herman and Table Mountains in the Heather Meadows area near the upper lodge of the Mt. Baker Ski Area. All told, there are about two miles of gentle trail that wind along and between the lakes—an excellent stroll on a cloudy day and a fine place to stretch your legs and admire the surrounding cliffs, waterfalls and meadows.

On busy autumn weekends, when Artist Point is overflowing with blissed-out hikers, things tend to be quieter down among the lakes. And as autumn progresses, this area provides late, lingering access to sub-alpine beauty when the high country that surrounds it is covered in new snow.

Basalt columns rim the lakes, interspersed with the delicate lace of alpine gardens. Swirling mists soften the sharp edges and twisted weather-beaten trees lend a melancholy presence, adding an impressionistic atmosphere to the scene. Table Mountain rises in the background above a year-round snowfield.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

 

From the parking lot, descend via a few switchbacks to lower Bagley Lake. The dam here is a remnant of days gone by, built to generate power for the Mt. Baker Lodge which once stood in Heather Meadows. This formidable lodge was a major attraction until it was destroyed by fire in 1931.

Turn left and follow the eastern shore through gardens of wildflowers beside tiny moss-lined creeks. Follow the tumbling stream that connects the two lakes in a series of splashing cascades to another junction. A right turn here leads to a graceful stone bridge that crosses the flow below the upper lake. Huge boulders offer inviting places to stretch out and contemplate the harmonious elements of water, rock and alpine vegetation in what feels like a sub-alpine Japanese Zen Garden. When calm, the surface of the upper lake is a reflecting pool for the surrounding mountains.

Photo by John D’Onofrio

On the west side of the bridge, a left turn leads to Herman Saddle via the Chain Lakes Trail and explorations in this direction, though more strenuous, are recommended.

Turning right, the trail heads back toward the lower lake on the west side, gaining a little elevation and affording fine views of the basalt formations across the water. Here below the slopes of Mt. Herman, boulders are strewn about, glacial erratics deposited by the retreating ice. Many are adorned with a chiaroscuro of black lichen. In autumn the mountain ash turns an incandescent yellow and luscious blueberries offer up an ‘all you can eat’ buffet.

The trail traverses above the lower lake and gently descends to the dam where you cross the outlet stream and return to the junction below the parking lot and trailhead.

It goes without saying that in such a delicate environment—located so close to the road—meticulous care must be taken to leave no trace of your presence. Obviously, no litter, but also no footprints in the wet meadows off the trail.

Access:  Drive Highway 542 (the Mount Baker Highway) approximately 21 miles east from Glacier to the upper Mt. Baker Ski Area. Just before reaching the upper lodge, turn right into the vast ski area parking lot beside the maintenance buildings. Proceed to the far right hand corner of this lot (near the outhouse) to locate the trail head. Turn right at the signed junction with the Wild Goose Trail and head down into the basin. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead.

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