Highway 542, the Mt Baker Scenic Byway, runs east-west from Bellingham to Artist Point. It is the access point to some of the Northwest’s best mountain terrain: fantastic trails, North Cascades National Park, mountaineering, skiing at Mt. Baker Ski Area, and some of the best backcountry skiing in North America if not the world.
If you are new to hiking, trail running, or new to the Pacific Northwest here are a few of the Hwy 542 trails that should be on your to-do list:
8 mile loop, 1,700’ climbing
Beginning in Heather Meadows this trail begins in the shadow of Table Mountain and climbs the Herman Saddle with epic views of Mts Shuksan and Baker. Dropping to the west the trail drops to collection of alpine lakes great for swimming before completing the loop around Table Mountain and descending the Galloping Goose Trail back to Heather Meadows. For more miles, add Table Mountain or an out-n-back along the Ptarmigan Ridge.
Copper Ridge Loop
34 miles, 8,600’ climbing
This big run should be on every ultra runner’s bucket list. The trail follows granite-capped canyons climbing to Hannegan Pass before disappearing into the heart of the North Cascades National Park. Miles of soft old growth forest trail followed by a grueling climb that gains Copper Ridge and miles of mind-blowing singletrack with persistent vistas of jagged glaciated peaks, alpine lakes, and mountain majesty.
9 mile out-n-back, 4,000’ climbing
Believers, agnostics, and atheists can all agree that the views from Church Mt. are exquisite. This trail climbs relentless switchbacks through the evergreen forest to a rocky summit with big views of Mt Shuksan, Mt. Baker, and the Cascades.
Whether you are looking for an introduction to trail running in the Pacific Northwest, or looking to connect with the PNW’s trail-running community, Aspire Adventure Running and Territory Run Co. are teaming up to host the first-annual Festival 542: A North Cascades Trail Running Retreat and Symposium. The trails listed above and more are included in the festivities.
Festival 542: A North Cascades Trail Running Retreat and Symposium
Fall is the ultimate alpine running season. Deep blue skies sharpen a skyline of glaciated peaks, huckleberries hang heavy and ripe on the heather, and the heat of summer is softened by cooling nights that set foliage ablaze in autumnal colors. This is the time to be in the mountains.
This event is a gathering of runners who love mountains and trails. This 4-night, 3-day event builds community and connection as people explore trails by day and convene each night to share meals, stories, and take part in themed lectures/discussions around the practice of running and the history and mythology of the North Cascades. Beer will flow and acoustic jams will fill the night.
The Mountaineers‘ Baker Lodge sits at treeline high in the North Cascades. This historic and rustic lodge can accommodate 60 runners in bunk-style accommodations that will restore the nostalgia of summer camps past. Hot showers are available as will be delicious meals of fresh seasonal Northwest fare.
Wednesday Night through Sunday morning, September 12-16th
The weekend is designed such that once folks have arrived they can either run trails directly from the Baker Lodge or jump on an Aspire shuttle to access trails along the Hwy 542 corridor. Each evening maps and trail descriptions will be posted along with departure times so that individuals can sign up for a specific run with a local. Folks will also have the option to explore the area independently or with friends.
The Baker Lodge sits on the edge of the Mt. Baker Wilderness. Built by volunteers in the 1950’s the lodge was designed for all season mountain access. Complete with showers, kitchen, a dining hall, a fireside lounge, and a dedicated floor of sleeping bunks the space is the perfect gathering place for a group of 50-60 mountain loving trail runners.
Core to the Aspire philosophy is the belief that the best meals should be shared with friends after long days in the mountains. With that guiding principle Festival 542 will host 3 dinners and 4 breakfasts and ensure that a selection of bars and lunch/snack food will be available to take out on the trail for lunches. Northwest fresh, local, and delicious is the standard along with a meat and vegetarian option for each meal. Other dietary needs can be accommodated upon request.
Each evening after dinner all are invited to an evening lecture/discussion on topics inviting attendees to reflect on their running practice and deepen their connection to the North Cascades. The following speakers have been confirmed:
Abe Lloyd is an adjunct professor of Natural History and Ethnobotany at Western Washington University and the director of Salal, the Cascadian Food Institute where he researches and promotes the region’s indigenous foods. He will be presenting on the history and practice of Coast Salish and other indigenous people living in the Pacific Northwest who, for thousands of years, valued the mountains for their excellent edibles.
Ras and Kathy Vaughan are team UltraPedestrian. Together they are the founders of the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge, parents, homesteaders, and fierce advocates for spending time in the hills. They’ll be reporting on their 3,000+ mile thru-hike linking sections of the Idaho Centennial Trail, the Oregon Desert Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pacific Northwest Trail into a great Inland Northwestern loop.
As more and more runners take to the trails, Festival 542 is a celebration of the community who take their inspiration from wild places. This event is an opportunity to explore and connect with a deeper sense of the place and possibilities that a passion for running has to offer.