Summer is really the best time to visit the PNW, with the weather as good as it’ll get and the trails open for exploration. The North Cascades have some of the best hiking trails in the PNW — such as Heliotrope, or Lake 22 — but there are other destinations around Northwest Washington with much less trafficked and no less beautiful trails. One of those places is the Chuckanut Range — a small group of mountains nestled between Interstate 5 and the Puget Sound to the east and west, and Skagit Valley and Bellingham to the south and north. For our mid-week excursion, Brandon and I chose to go hiking to North Butte in the Chuckanuts — a route often passed over in favor of the more popular Oyster Dome just to its west.
Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes – every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man.Orison Swett Marden
The day’s start wasn’t too promising. A heavy fog blanketed the Valley, and droplets of rain peppered the windshield as I made my way north. After three weeks of constant sun, it seemed a cruel twist of fate that the rain would come then. But a little bit of rain is no reason to cancel plans in Washington, so Brandon and I met at the Park and Ride in Alger and drove up nearby Blanchard Mountain.
The way up to North Butte starts from the Samish Overlook and follows the Larry Reed trail before veering off on Max’s Shortcut to Lily Lake. Most of the hike is wooded, and that day the forest was filled with mist. The smell of earth was everpresent — loamy and fresh.
Lily Lake was our first stopping point, and we lingered by its shore as we ate our lunch and reminisced about an ill-fated camping trip we’d taken there years prior. That time the rain had been torrential, and the hike back down in the morning was a sodden, solemn affair. This visit was much more pleasant.
As we left the lake, the first rays of sunlight broke through the cloud cover overhead. Though Washington is known for its rain, the precipitation is often no more than a drizzle, and a day which starts out wet may very well be saved by a well-timed ‘sunbreak’. By the time we reached the viewpoint on top of North Butte, the fog had lifted and the heart of the Chuckanuts lay revealed before us.
Oyster Dome — perhaps the most popular viewpoint in the Chuckanuts — lays just south of North Butte. It’s almost always crowded, and for good reason. It offers expansive views of the San Juan Islands and the Puget Sound. But North Butte — a bit further inland and completely devoid of hikers — gave us those island views as well, with the added bonus of views up the range towards Whatcom County. It’s a beautiful spot, and the solitude there is reason enough to choose it over Oyster Dome.
Instead of turning back, we made a short detour to Lizard Lake before taking a side route back towards the Overlook. Lizard Lake is a bit bigger than Lily and has some great campsites scattered around its perimeter.
The way back felt like a walk through a different wood, with rays of sunlight streaming through the tree cover and dappling the forest floor. The refreshing cool of the mist had disappeared, and the shade made for a much-needed barrier against the warmth of the sun.
The Chuckanuts are one of those things most people drive past without realizing their existence. Dwarfed by the neighboring Cascade and Olympic ranges, the Chuckanuts are diminutive in comparison, but that does nothing to dim their charm. They’re a perfect spot for a weekend camping trip, and an even better location for a low-key, mid-week adventure.
Feel like trying out this hike yourself? Check out my Ramblr tracks to get the GPS data from my hike 🙂
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Man, I miss trees…