Yellow Aster Butte Loop
From the trailhead, the trail begins and immediate ascent. You will share the trail with hikers bound for Tomyhoi Lake on this steep ascent, which gains nearly 1500 feet of elevation in just under a mile and a half. As the trail climbs, you switchback through an avalanche path (meaning this is a trail best done when snow-free) and enter a forest before popping out into a meadow. Pro Tip: Due to its popularity, the camping area is likely to be full by midday. Please only camp on snow, rock, or bare ground – the meadows here are as fragile as they are beautiful, and even a short overnight stay can seriously damage them. Note that this hike ends before the actual butte-- once you reach the 6,160ft you will see a saddle between you and Yellow Aster Butte. This saddle is narrow, and full of loose scree. If you choose to keep going recognize this is no longer part of the 'yellow aster butte trail' and you are now free climbing.
With views into Canada, fiery fall color and sweeping wildflower meadows, the trail to Yellow Aster Butte is one of the most popular in the North Cascades. Located in the Mount Baker Wilderness, the trail traverses the south-facing slopes of the High Divide. As you climb, you are treated to spectacular wildflowers shows in spring and early summer. Come autumn, the hillsides are vivid in orange, reds and yellows. This is a breathtaking area at any time of year, and so understandably popular. Expect plenty of company on trail and arrive early if you plan on camping. Try and identify the trees in the woods as you trek along, and in the meadow, look for Indian paintbrush, lupine, heather and fireweed, among others. Bringing a field guide is a good idea; with it, you can take breaks and identify interesting trailside trees and blooms.
For the more geologically inclined, rock formations carved out as the Puget Lobe retreated north provide equally fascinating distraction. And for photo buffs, there are of course the stunning views of Mounts Baker and Larrabee, the western section of the High Divide, and, in Canada, the Border Peaks.
Soon you reach the junction for Yellow Aster Butte – a mile and a half from the trailhead. Your destination is to the left. Heading right follows a trail to Tomyhoi Lake, another 2.5 miles away.
The trail to Yellow Aster Butte flattens out some on this next section, as you traverse around the south flank of the mountain. You can breathe easy and take in the views all around you for a little more than two miles, until reaching an unsigned junction 3.6 miles from the trailhead.
Backpackers may want to ditch heavy packs at camp. If so, head left. This trail descends on narrow, steep switchbacks to the camping area. Day hikers will want to head right, to the summit of Yellow Aster Butte. From here, the views are stunning, with Baker, Shuksan, Tomyhoi, and many other jagged, snow-covered peaks lining your horizon.
This is a great hike for children, it is demanding but can be done by most determined youngsters and well prepared parents!
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