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Chain Lakes Loop Trail – Does This Hike Worth It?

chain lakes loop hiking trail

Hiking Lenght: 6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1820 feet

Hiking Time: 4 hours

If you’re in Washington state and looking for a day hike, Chain Lakes Loop is a great trail with rewarding scenic views.


This easy to moderate challenging trail is very popular because of the incredible scenery you experience along the way, including mountains, lake views, and unexpected wildlife.

Since we were in the Mount Baker area, we decided to give Chain Lakes Loop a try.

Here is what we experienced and everything you need to know for a successful and fun hike. Let’s dive in!

My all time favorite fall hike! It was a bluebird Saturday, and VERY crowded but beautiful nonetheless!

Margaret W, Pro Hiker

Where is Chain Lakes Loop? 

how to get to the chain lakes loop trailhead
How to Get to the Chain Lakes Loop Trailhead From Seattle

The Chain Lakes Loop trail is located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest of the North Cascades. The closest town to the area is Glacier, Washington, which is about one hour drive.

If you are coming from Seattle, you need to drive for three hours to get to the trailhead.

The Chain Lakes in Washington make the perfect destination for day hikes and have some of the most beautiful scenery in the state.

In the area, you can also catch views of Mount Shuksan, one of the most photographed peaks in the Cascade Mountains, which rises high over the North Cascades National Park. 

Chain Lakes Loop Trailhead (Starting Point)

Chain Lakes Loop Trail Map
Chain Lakes Loop Trail Map – Courtesy of Alltrails.com

Since the trail is a loop trail, there are three different starting points depending on which point you want to access it.

The two most popular options are hiking clockwise, starting at Austin Pass/Heather Meadows, or hiking counterclockwise, starting at Artist Point.

The third option is the Bagley Lakes trailhead. 

To access the Artist Point and Austin Pass parking lots, drive east on the Mount Baker Highway from Bellingham to the Glacier Public Service Center (about 35 miles). 

For the Artist Point Parking Lot

Once at the Glacier Public Service Center, continue for 25 more miles until you reach the Artist Point parking lot. 

For the Austin Pass/Heather Meadows Parking Lot: 

Once at the Glacier Public Service Center, drive for 22.5 more miles until you reach the Austin Pass Picnic Area parking lot, just past Picture Lake.  

How Long is the Chain Lakes Loop Trail? 

The Chain Lakes Loop hike is a 6.5-mile round trip trail. It takes the average hiker about 4 to complete and consists of moderately challenging terrain where you will experience an elevation gain of 1820 feet. 

Other Hiking Trails Nearby:

Description of the Hike

Chain Lakes Loop Trail
Chain Lakes Loop Trail – Courtesy of Frank Fujimoto @ Flickr

The Chain Lakes Loop trail is one of the most popular hikes near Seattle, both in the summer and the fall, so if you hike it during these times, you will likely encounter other hikers there.

We consider this trail an easy to moderate challenging hike due to the fact that you need to do some climbing at the end if you go counterclockwise, and it may not be the best for children.

Counterclockwise was the right way to go. Beautiful diverse geography and scenery and views throughout. Well maintained. Not technically hard but steep in places.

Jan Flowers Burke, Pro Hiker

You can camp along the way, but only at the designated sites along the trail. You’ll see these sites marked with a tent symbol, and you will find eight at Hayes Lake and four a Mazama Lake.

Dogs are welcome on the trail as well, but you must keep them on a leash at all times. 

All of the parking areas have restrooms for use before you start the hike.

If you want to complete the most challenging portion of the hike first, choose to take the trail clockwise and start at Austin Pass/Heather Meadows. 

Chain Lakes Loop Hike
Courtesy of Frank Fujimoto @ Flickr

If you parked at the Austin Pass/Heather Meadows parking lot, begin the hike by climbing up the Wild Goose Trail for an elevation gain of 1200 feet.

As you climb, you will see views of Mount Baker Highway, Mount Shuksan, and Bagley Lakes.

Once you’ve hiked for about a mile, you will enter the Artist Point Parking Lot, walk across the parking lot and locate the trail again on the northwest corner. It will be well-marked. 

As you continue along the trail, you will see Mount Baker coming closer into your sight and have amazing views of Mount Shuksan.

When you reach the intersection with the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, continue to follow the Chain Lakes Trail, and you will climb over the shoulder of Table Mountain.

You will then reach Mazama Lake (the first of the chain lakes) and then continue to Iceberg Lake and Hayes Lake. The entire time you will see beautiful wildflowers and ripe blueberry bushes. 

iceberg lake, Chain Lakes Loop
Iceberg Lake, Chain Lakes Loop

Once you reach Hayes Lake, you will climb towards Herman’s Saddle.

On this trail, you will gain an elevation of about 600 feet, and finally, you will top out at about 5400 ft.

You will see both mountains and the Bagley Lakes below. 

We recommend descent to the Bagley Lakes and loop around the lake, but you can make the short ascent back to the Heather Meadows parking lot.

If you started at Artist’s Point, you will have to make your way back up to the Artist Point parking lot by climbing up the steep Wild Goose trail.

Reward yourself on the trip home with some food and drink at the nearby North Fork Brewery in Denning. The beer and the pizza here are great. 

Best Time to Hike 

The trail is open from Spring to Fall, but the best time to visit is from June to October.

The Chain Lakes Loop weather can be unpredictable in early spring or late fall with the possibility of snow and ice conditions, so you should be prepared if hiking during these times.

In the winter months, the trail closes due to the road not being accessible. 

Hiking Tips and Recommendations 

Note that you must first have purchased a Northwest Forest Pass to hike in this area. You can purchase this pass online or at several different local retailers.

You cannot purchase it at the parking lots. If hiking in the late fall or early spring, you should have proper snow gear, including microspikes.

Be aware that the black bears can frequent the area and adequately secure food and other scented items.

You should consider bringing some good water shoes to hike in the summer as you may want to dip your feet in the lake, and the shores can be rocky. 

Happy hiking!