This hike holds a special place in my heart. It was the first hike that two roommates, who would one day form Beers at the Bottom, ever took together. A meandering hike, with views of Mountains Shuksan and Baker, to the Galena Chain Lakes: Mazama, Iceberg, Hayes, and Arbuthnot. It's easy to see why this hike is one of the most popular despite its short window of availability every year.
The hike begins just at the base of Table Mountain accessed by the Artist Point Parking area at the terminus of Mount Baker Highway. Drop down through a small section of trees to find yourself on a rocky path along the ridgeline. In the distance, you can catch glimpses of the tip of Baker Lake, and the valley and foothills of Baker. The hillside here is rocky, with a thick layer of wild mountain huckleberry bushes which paint the ridgeline in autumn reds come late September. Listen carefully and you might hear ptarmigans or pika. During our first hike out on this trail, we saw a pair of ptarmigans right in front of us, cooing to one another as they waddled their way down the ridgeline. Pika are heard more than seen, their cheerful squeaks perfectly suited for their small rabbit-mouse like looks. The best advice for a sighting is to stand still for a moment and look in the rocks if one sounds close.
At the 1 mile point, you'll come to a junction in the trail. From here, continue to the right to follow the Chain Lakes trail. To the left, the trail leads along Ptarmigan Ridge to the impressive Coleman Peak and Camp Kaiser. The hike out can be quite dangerous as the snow doesn't fully melt until late August-early September. Camp Kaiser is a popular backpacking spot, and also functions as a base camp for climbers summiting Mount Baker.
After continuing right on the Chain Lakes Trail, come to the most challenging part of the hike as you make your way down to the base of Table Mountain and the moraines along its edge. You'll reach a valley, covered in wildflowers, and the first of the chain lakes: Mazama. The smallest of the four lakes, the far side of Mazama lake is a great site for overnight backpacking. Wander through wildflower dotted streamlets and over a small ridge to the largest of the lakes, Iceberg Lake. Named for the glacier which forms along the Table Mountain moraine, even in September you can still spot a snow drift along the edge of lake's far side. Iceberg Lake offers plenty of picnic spots, as well as picture opportunities. In autumn, the red huckleberry bushes, green alpine firs and, blue-green of the glacial waters make for a panorama of beauty.
Continue on, coming around a small group of trees to Hayes Lake (see top photo). From here, the Chain Lakes trail leads up Herman Saddle with views looking down on Hayes and Iceberg Lakes. On top of the saddle, it's possible to catch a glimpse of Iceberg Lake, with Mount Baker looming up above Table Mountain. Unfortunately, Baker was shrouded in fog for most of our hike. So instead, we chose to veer left off of the trail towards the Galena Camp. At Galena Camp, you'll find two more backpacking sites along with a trail that leads along the bank of Hayes Lake out towards Arbuthnot, or Lower Chain Lake. If you thought Iceberg Lake was clear, just wait till you catch site of Hayes Lake. Hike down one of the many paths to its bank and look down to the bottom of this glacial-blue alpine lake. It was in fact so clear that I was able to make out small fish swimming well below the surface. If you happen to catch a wild hair for a dip in the lake, I'd choose Hayes as it is noticeably warmer than Iceberg.
You can choose to turn around here after enjoying time at the lakes. Or, if you're feeling ambitious, keep going on the Chain Lakes trail along Herman Saddle before dropping down to Bagley Lakes, and completing the loop back to the Artist Point parking lot via the Wild Goose Trail.
For additional information on Chain Lakes, including more photos and detailed directions, check out the following:
Washington Trails Association (WTA):
US Forest Service: