Miles: 11 (19 with High Divide trail)
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass (trail head) / Back country permits (camping)
Elevation Gain: 4000 ft. (TH elevation 1850 ft)
My Hiking time: 6 hours
Much like its next door neighbour, Church Mountain, Excelsior Pass / Peak trail will make your knees shake with exhaustion. From the parking lot on the side of Mt. Baker Highway the trail begins to climb through thick forest, and for much of the hike this is what you will face as you trudge up hill. After about a mile and a half you will reach a bend in the trail with a nearby waterfall. This is the first campsite, but it is small and nearly on the trail making it seem less than ideal.
After what seems like an eternity the trail finally leaves the woods and steps into a spectacular meadow. From here you can rest assured that after suffering through the first portion of the trail, you will begin to be well rewarded. In the open now, the trail gives way to views of waterfalls and, at the time of this writing, fields of blooming wild flowers. After passing through the meadow it is just a couple of switch backs up the hill to arrive at Excelsior Pass. For some this will be a great place to stop and take in views of Shuksan and Baker before heading back to the car. For others the trail has much more to offer.
By continuing to follow the trail around the south face of Excelsior Peak, you will be given two options. Eventually you can go to the left (Excelsior Peak) or you can go right (High Divide). On this day I decided to go right first (High Divide) hoping to enjoy more views of surrounding peaks and to lengthen such an incredible day. The High Divide trail continues past Excelsior Peak trail and along a ridge that connects the Welcome Pass trail to the Excelsior Pass trail. The views along this trail are hard to beat and should be a lasting memory for anyone who feels the energy to walk a few extra miles (up to 8 round trip)
After returning from a stroll down High Divide, I decided it was time to head up Excelsior Peak. from the trail junction it is only about 500 ft of elevation gain and 0.1 miles to the top of Excelsior Peak. From here you will have a nearly 360 degree view of the North Cascades making it a perfect spot to take in the view for awhile before heading home.
Somehow I managed to walk all of the High Divide trail, climb Excelsior Peak, and return to the car without seeing another individual. That is truly an accomplishment in the North Cascades and made for and incredible outing.
Miles: 8.5 round trip
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass required at trail head
Elevation Gain: 3600 ft (TH elev. 2400 ft)
Difficulty: Difficult to Strenuous (very steep, may make it more difficult for some people)
My Hiking Time: 5 hours
When you reach the end of the trail, you can choose to stop and take in the exceptional views, or if you choose you can continue on a little ways and then scramble to the actual summit (6100 ft). From here you can see well into Canada and will have a 360 degree view that is hard to beat.
The trail up Church Mountain is long, steep and at times, discouraging. It starts of from the parking lot on an old road and after a quarter mile it turns and begins the climb. Through thick tree cover the trail climbs up 17 switch backs and provides no views as a distraction. In all honesty this portion of the trail is unappealing and mind numbing. However, for those who can push through the monotony of the first portion will certainly reap their reward.
Now out of the trees, the view improves with nearly every step. It is something that must be experienced to understand. All I can say is that the mountain is aptly named and anyone who chooses to climb its steep slopes will be rewarded with some of the most astonishing views the North Cascades have to offer.
If you want to camp on Church Mountain then there are several options listed below*:
*note - After snow melt there is very little to no water near any of the camps. Make sure to carry a sufficient supply of water.
Miles: 8 Roundtrip
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass for trail head / possible camping permits depending where you stay
Elevation Gain: 2900 ft
My Hiking Time: 3 hrs (plus one hour for lunch and lengthy picture stops)
Even on a Gray northwest day the view from the pass was well enjoyed while snacking on some protein bars and taking a drink or two of water. The only thing that was disappointing was my inability to photograph very much at the pass. Just as I was arriving some rain rolled in and covered most of the mountains in a thick fog. I will have to take a few more photos when I visit near by copper ridge later this summer.
* If you want to make this an over night trip there are several camping areas that along the trail, but they each have different permit regulations.
The first camp is Hannegan camp ( about 1/2 mile before Hannegan pass)
The second camp is Boundary camp (about 1 mile past Hannegan pass)
*****After reaching forest road 32 go 1.3 miles and take the left fork. go another 5.5 miles until you reach the end of the road at Hannegan campground.
My name is Abrahm and I am a college student, and outdoor enthusiast . I spend much of my free time wandering through and photographing the great Pacific Northwest state of Washington.