Looking northeast from Mount Vernon, Washington you can see the very tip of volcanic Mount baker. From a few spots in this medium-size town on the Skagit River, the foothills give way to a valley that affords a good view of the mountain. For the most part, Lyman Hill and Mt Josephine at 4,257 feet and 3,956 feet, respectively, block the view of beautiful Mt Baker.
On a sunny and warm day very late in the season, I set out to find a route that would get me quickly over the foothills for a better view. Francis Road provides a quick escape from town. The road drops down 150 feet to the Skagit River Valley. Farm fields and the smell of freshly bailed hay greet you at the city limits. The Mount Vernon area has many modern conveniences, but also is seconds away from rural relaxation.
Francis Road twists along with the Skagit River to State Highway 9. Just a couple miles more and Hwy 20 takes me east to Hamilton. A right turn (north) onto Hamilton Cemetery Road takes me past homes and makes a 90-degree turn west. Just past this bend is Medford Road. If you cross the bridge over the creek, then you’ve gone past Medford Road.
From here, unnamed logging roads take you up into the hills of Mt. Josephine. The road climbs and the view of the Skagit River Valley opens up.
I tried several offshoots heading north in an attempt to find a good view of Mt Baker. All of them were fun roads to ride with grass down the middle from lack of use. This is just how I like them. They typically dead ended with evidence of leave plenty of trace camping. Makeshift fire pits and beer bottles were framed with shotgun shells strewn in all directions. Some people shoot guns for the noise of it. This seems to be the case in these wooded areas.
My secondary goal of this route was to find dirt roads that skirt the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) and connect with Baker Lake Road. This much was accomplished. The unnamed logging roads eventually spit me out on Baker Lake Road near milepost two, Just southwest of Grandy Lake. With exploring of offshoots the dirt route took approximately 75 minutes. Without exploring, time could be cut by 25 minutes or so.
The nicely paved and frequent curves of Baker Lake Road make it a joy. It is far too easy to outpace the speed limit. Be aware that it is a road designed for 60 mph or faster with frequent 35 mph zones patrolled by many policing agencies.
Head northeast on Bake Lake Road until the road curves to the right, passing over Boulder Creek. Mt Baker rises up above the valley making for an incredible photo opportunity. With the camera stowed in my tank bag, I round the corner from this viewpoint and turn onto Fire Service Road (FR) 1130.
FR1130 is a fun dirt road that climbs Boulder Ridge. Keep to the right of the “Y” junction just a mile or so down the road. The left option would take you up FR1131. During early summer, Rainbow Falls crashes down near the road causing a refreshing spray. The light deflects off this spray, spreading the spectrum and giving the falls a just name. This being September, the reduced volume of water clings tightly to the rocks. Still a pretty falls, it just lacks the refreshing qualities of the early summer rush.
The climb from 2,000 feet offer many views of Baker Lake and Mt Shuksan. Finally, near 3,500 feet the road looks like it will run smack into Mt Baker. The mountain fills the area cut through the trees for the narrow road. About a mile further and the road ends. Mt Baker, aka Kulshan, at 10,781 feet is in full glory at this point. The view is truly worth the trip up here.
According to Wikipedia, Mount Baker is thought to be the youngest volcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc. It is the third-highest mountain in Washington State and is only topped by Mount Saint Helens for volcanic activity in the Cascade Range. It is also one of the snowiest places in the world. The Mt Baker Ski Area recorded 95 feet of snowfall in a single season in 1999, a world record. In short, this is another incredibly beautiful place to have in my backyard. Encrusted below the surface is the true power of Mother Nature that is realized every few millennia, but deems respect for all time.
Be cautious on the roads in this area on your motorcycle. They are built from the Andesite rocks from the hills that they cover. These rocks can easily puncture well-worn tires. Rocks cut a triangle-type hole in rubber as pressure is applied. Ask me how I know! Throwing every plug I had at it wouldn’t seal the tire back up. Luckily, the Michelin Anakee 2 tire held up to 60 miles of complete deflation on the road to get me home.
Next time I may try to connect the unnamed logging roads passing back over Lyman Pass for a loop route that should afford good views of Mt. Baker. I only hope that the roads aren’t gated as so many others are in this area.