Railroad Grade is an incredible hike and now is the perfect time to go! No...
Railroad Grade transports you to one of the highest points on Mount Baker that you can travel without technical gear and know-how. As such, the sense of adventure is immense, with stunning views along a dramatic trail that varies between alpine meadow and ridges of glacial moraine.
From the well-marked trailhead for Park Butte, head west for 100 yards to a major junction. Stay left and cross over Sulphur Creek on a sturdy bridge, and soon after enter Schriebers Meadow. This lush stretch of meadow makes for a very enjoyable warm-up, meandering for a lazy mile through huckleberry, fir, and heather.
At 1.25 miles, the trail opens up at aptly-named Rocky Creek. This wide jumble of boulders and braided streams has no bridge, so cross carefully. (There may be a make-shift bridge of logs and plywood to help in your endeavor.) Once across, the trial gets serious, gaining 500' on switchbacks in the next half-mile.
At just under 2.0 miles, reach a signed junction with the Scott Paul trail. Head left to continue onward towards Park Butte and Railroad Grade. A short distance further, the trail bends to the north and enters Morovitz Meadow. The views from here are already worth the trip, but push that lower jaw back up and press on to a signed junction at 2.5 miles. Head right at the sign toward Railroad Grade (left goes to Park Butte Lookout). The trail leads up a stone staircase and passes by the first of three designated camping areas (this one is Railroad Camp and has seven official spots). Views of Mount Baker really begin to open up here, and it only gets better.
At 3.0 miles, the trail dips down and across a small creek before heading up a stone staircase, finally depositing you atop Railroad Grade, a sharp ridge of glacial moraine deposited by the receding Easton Glacier. From here on out, the trail is a solid and steady uphill grade (hence the name), with wide open views of Mount Baker to the north and rugged peaks down valley. If you're lucky, you may also see and hear a marmot or two on this section of the hike.
At 3.75 miles, reach High Camp, an offshoot trail that leads to four campsites. Another quarter-mile and you arrive at Sandy Camp, several large outcroppings of rocks in the snow at the edge of Easton Glacier. This is base camp for one of the most popular climbing routes to the summit of Mount Baker, about six hours of climbing above where you stand. The views here are so spectacular, you're going to need to steady yourself to take them all in – every direction competes for your attention. On a clear day, you'll see Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak towering above the rugged peaks to the south, the Twin Sisters to the west, and Sherman Peak and the broad summit crater of Mount Baker above. Enjoy.
Permits & Tips
Northwest Forest Pass required. Toilets available at trailhead (and pit toilets at lower campsites). Water can be melted from snow or filtered from small creeks along the trail. Parking lot can be very busy on weekends, we recommend coming early to avoid the hassle – if you can't find a spot in the official lot, some parking is available on the shoulder of the road. Camping is allowed in designated-sites only, on a first-come, first-served basis at Trailhead Camp (4 sites), Railroad Camp (7 sites), High Camp (4 sites), and Sandy Camp (find a spot in the snow or rocks and bring blue bags). Horses allowed on Park Butte Trail. Do not shortcut switchbacks; the area is getting overrun. Trail is usually snow-covered until late July. Sunglasses and trekking poles recommended.
How to get there
From I-5, take exit 230 and head east onto Hwy 20 (plenty of signage). At 5.0 miles, enter Sedro-Woolley and veer left onto Hwy 9, then back right again onto Hwy 20. Straight through the traffic circle, and then drive 16.5 miles to Baker Lake Road.
Turn left (north) onto Baker Lake Road (there is a sign) and drive 12 miles.
Turn left just across a small bridge onto FS-Road 12 (gravel) and drive 3.5 miles, ignoring unsigned roads to the right.
Turn right onto FS-Road 13 (may be signed "Mount Baker Recreation Area") and drive for 5.0 more miles to the parking lot at the end of the road. Trailhead is near the toilets.