It's been a two-year wait for a chance to play in the midsummer snow, but oh, it was worth it.
With last month's clearing of Highway 542 to Artist Point, a popular Bellinghamster day trip became accessible for the first time since summer 2010.
Artist Point, at the end of the Mount Baker Highway, is a ridgetop vista that boasts a panorama of the North Cascades, with a commanding view of the 10,778-foot Mount Baker volcano to the south and an even grander look at the glaciers on Mount Shuksan to the east. Both are impressive, one-of-a-kind views.
Snow usually closes the last 2 miles of Mount Baker Highway from early fall to early summer, but greater than average snowfall over the past two seasons meant that last year the state Department of Transportation, which maintains the highway, cleared the road only to the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, just past the Mount Baker Ski Area.
That left Artist Point accessible only to hardy souls who made the trek on foot.
But now it's an easy - and scenic - drive to the top once again.
The 5,140-foot site is a starting point for several enjoyable day hikes, but those trailheads remain snow-covered and treacherous, leaving little else to do but enjoy the scenery and frolic in the snow - wearing only shorts and a T-shirt if the weather's nice.
That's what hundreds of visitors did on a gloriously sunny day last weekend. Many brought sleds and sliders, and others whooshed around on their feet or bottoms, tossing slushy snowballs, creating snow sculptures, or simply marveling at the 25-foot walls of ice that tower over the parking area. Even the restrooms remain covered in snow, with only a trench cut through two years of ice and snow to make them accessible.
Parking at Artist Point requires a $5 day pass or a $30 annual Northwest Forest Pass, both of which are available at the Glacier Public Service Center, around Milepost 34 east of Glacier on the Mount Baker Highway. The staffed ranger station also offers current information on weather and trail conditions. It's open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily through summer. Call 360-599-2714 for more information.
The Glacier station has clean restrooms with soap and water, making it an easy stop for families with children. Inside the ranger station, there's an impressive relief map of the Mount-Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, some natural history exhibits and a small gift shop. Outside is an 8-foot cross-section of a Douglas fir that was 730 years old when it was felled.
Another site worth a stop is the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, which was built as a warming hut for skiers in 1940. It is restored to its original condition and features a staff of knowledgeable volunteers, a selection of maps and literature, current trail reports and a small gift shop. Alongside the parking Heather Meadows parking area, Terminal Lake remains ice-covered and shines with a lovely glacial blue.
The elevation at Artist Point was corrected Aug. 7, 2012
ROBERT MITTENDORF is a Herald copy editor and page designer. Suggest your ideas for local family-friendly events or day trips at 360-756-2805 or at email@example.com.