|Mount Baker and Yellow Aster Butte|
Difficulty: Moderate to lower peak; rock scrambling necessary to obtain higher summit
Access: Rough gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required
From its position north of the North Fork Nooksack River in the North Cascades, Yellow Aster Butte offers a commanding view of two giants, Mounts Baker and Shuksan, as well as a sweeping panorama of the rest of the North Cascades. The North Cascades is known for the difficulty of its hikes; while not an easy trail, Yellow Aster Butte is certainly an exception to the idea that every good hike in the North Cascades requires a mile of elevation gain. The second half of the hike is fully in the open, making this an utterly enjoyable journey through open slopes of heather and huckleberry to the top of a small mountain. Hikers who wish to add on a rock scramble can tag the true summit of the butte for a fun, short scramble and even bigger views. In autumn, the changing foliage of the berry bushes along the trail make this an excellent fall color hike.
I hiked out to Yellow Aster Butte on a September Sunday when summer turned to fall. Leaving Seattle, I took I-5 north to Burlington, then Highway 20 east to Sedro-Woolley, then Highway 9 north to its junction with Highway 542, the Mount Baker Highway. I turned right to head east on the Mount Baker Highway, following it past Glacier until I reached the turnoff for the Twin Lakes Road (if you cross the Nooksack River and see signs for the Silver Fir Campground, you've gone too far). I turned onto Twin Lakes Road and followed it over five bumpy miles to the Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead. The road is in poor shape, with a few severe, car-eating potholes and protruding rocks, but it was manageable in a sedan driving slowly. There is no real lot at the trailhead, but the road is wide enough for roadside parking on each of the two switchbacks on the road leading out from the trailhead; I arrived a little after 10:30 AM and parking was more or less full, as this is a popular hike.
From the start, the trail immediately embarked on an uphill climb, pushing through some short switchbacks in the forest before emerging into an open avalanche slope on a long switchback. The open slope allowed views back down to the cars parked alongside the road below, upvalley towards the mountains around Twin Lakes, across to Goat Mountain, and southwest to Mount Baker.
|Mount Baker view at the start of the trail|
|Entering the Mount Baker Wilderness|
|Views of Mount Baker near the Tomyhoi Lake-Yellow Aster Butte trail junction|
|Shuksan and Goat Mountain|
|Stream flowing off Yellow Aster Butte|
|Yellow Aster Butte|
|Shuksan and Baker|
|Fall colors at Yellow Aster Butte|
|Tomyhoi Peak and lakes|
|Shuksan along the final ascent|
|Final ascent to the summit|
|High Divide and the tarns below Tomyhoi|
|Ridgeline walk connecting the two peaks|
|Yellow Aster Butte rigeline|
From the summit, the view north featured Tomyhoi Lake at the foot of the Border peaks and Mount Larrabee. I also observed that the border was easy to discern: while the American side of the mountains is fully protected in the Mount Baker Wilderness, logging roads and a recent clearcut made clear where those protections ended and Canada began.
|Canadian Border Peak, American Border Peak, and Mount Larrabee rise above Tomyhoi Lake|
|Mount Challenger and the Pickets, Goat Mountain|