By: Paula Wallis
Head south on the Trans Canada Highway from Vancouver, through the Fraser Valley, and you’ll be greeted by the impressive sight of Mount Baker on the horizon. Mount Baker offers spectacular skiing and snowboarding in a particularly scenic area of the Cascade Mountain Range, located in Washington State. The mountain itself is actually an active volcano; it is also the second most glaciated mountain in the Cascades. It is also, locals will proudly inform you, known as one of the snowiest place in the world. In 1990, Mount Baker set the world record for snowfall in a single season.
All of these make for great reasons to throw your skis and snowboards on the roof-rack and head south of the border from Vancouver for some fun in the snow. Inexpensive lodgings and lift passes add two more reasons to that. There are no lodgings at the actual ski resort itself, which helps to maintain the rustic atmosphere the locals strive to maintain; but there are plenty of log cabins, chalets, and rooms for rent in the foothill villages of Glacier and Maple Falls and surrounding area.
Miles and miles of pristine wilderness, heavy snowfall, and cheap lodgings and lift passes make for a fantastic winter getaway; but what about the summer? Well, some would say that summer is the best time to visit the area. Even though I’m an avid snowboarder myself, I can’t say that I would disagree.
Where to stay
Although there are no lodgings available at the ski lodge itself, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to the surrounding areas.
The town of Glacier, at the foothills of Mount Baker, offers the closest accommodations to the mountain. Your best bet is to get online and check out www.mtbakerlodging.com, which pretty much provides information and links for every kind of rental in the Mount Baker area.
There are plenty of affordable log cabins, condos, chalets and houses that are great for couples or even large groups of people to rent out.
Maple Falls is in a somewhat central location if you want to do a bit of exploring while you’re here. There are cabins and chalets available to rent in Maple Falls, as well as a handful of bed and breakfasts to choose from.
If you’re looking for somewhere even more secluded, and incredibly beautiful, to bunk for the weekend, there are six rustic cabins available for rent overlooking Silver Lake, about a 10 minute drive out of Maple Falls. These cabins were built by the original resort owners in the 1940’s and have since been restored for visitors to the area to make use of.
Lakeside campsites are also available for tenting or RV’ing.
If you’re in the area to do a bit cross-border shopping, but still want to remain in close proximity to the mountain to do some hiking, biking, or other outdoor activities, there’s always Bellingham. Nothing rustic about Bellingham, but there is plenty of shopping, night life, casinos, restaurants, etc.
Bellingham is about 60 miles from Mount Baker, so it’s an easy, and picturesque, drive if you don’t mind commuting back and forth between the two.
There are a few bed and breakfasts along the Mount Baker highway outside of Glacier or Maple Falls; it just takes a small amount of research online to find the perfect one you’re looking for. They are all extremely affordable and hosted by very welcoming locals, in my experience.
Sumas Mountain Lodge, very near the Sumas border crossing, is also a great option; especially for those not arriving from the lower mainland area and need a cozy place to bunk for the night before driving toward the mountain. Rustic, log cabin style suites, some with their own wood burning fireplaces, are a welcome sight after a long day on the road. Head downstairs to Bob’s Burgers and Brew and you’ll feel right at home.
One further option, which may not be as outlandish as it sounds, is to consider looking at real estate in the area, especially if you live in the lower mainland. Vacation properties in this area are much less expensive than their Canadian counterparts and are easily accessible via a short drive across the Sumas border crossing. Just take a look at www.theglenatmaplefalls.com (under Lots for Sale) to see what I mean. And there are a few other facilities just like it in the region, priced along the same lines.
Where to play
The answer to this would be obvious if you were heading to Mount Baker during winter months. Strap on your boards and skis and hit the mountain, of course! However, during summer months, your options greatly expand and it can be difficult deciding what to do while you’re here. If you live in Vancouver, the solution to this conundrum is easily solvable; come back next weekend and see what you missed the last time around!
If you’ve driven from, say, the Okanagan, or even further, you want to get in as much as you can while you’re here, though. I’ve listed a few suggestions here to help you along with that.
River Rafting on the Nooksak River makes for an exhilarating and incredibly scenic ride. Glacial melts from Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and Goat Mountain feed the Nooksak River. Mid to late summer is the best time to plan for this. There are several whitewater rafting companies in the area, and if you choose not to book online, you can stop at most restaurants, pubs, or shops in Bellingham, Maple Falls or Glacier and pick up a brochure to help you find a guide or an outfitter.
Numerous trails throughout the Mount Baker area draw mountain bikers from all over Washington State and the lower mainland area every year during the summer months. Stop at Graham’s Pub in the town of Glacier and you’re guaranteed to meet more than a few trail riders stopping for a pint and a pub lunch on their way up the mountain for the next ride down.
Pick up some delicious sandwiches from the deli counter at Maple Fuels, a frosty bottle of Red Barn Cider and head to Silver Lake. Spend the day relaxing day along the shoreline or on the water in one of the canoes or rowboats available for rent. No motorboats are allowed on the lake so you can be sure of a peaceful day spent drifting along and soaking up the sun.
If you’re into motorized water sports, Lake Whatcom in Bellingham allows motorboats and jet skis and there’s plenty of parking for trucks and trailers along the shoreline.
Stop by the Mount Baker Vineyards for some award winning wines and great hospitality. Staff here is happy to answer any questions you have about the Mount Baker area or the winery itself. Not a bad idea to pick up some bottles while you’re here as well, since it’s so affordably priced. Just remember to check what you’re allowed to bring back across the border.
Miles of wilderness, wildlife, and trails offer countless opportunities for dirt biking, hiking, bird watching or wildlife photography. All of this is, quite literally, right at your doorstep when you stay in the Mount Baker region.
Where to eat
Following the Mount Baker highway from Bellingham to Mount Baker, I’ll give you the culinary rundown of where you should stop for a bite along the way.
Of course Bellingham has your choice of numerous restaurants and pubs; from franchises such as Applebee’s or Olive Garden to delicious Mexican fare at Taco Lobo or upscale dining at popular bistro Café Toulouse. It’s a safe bet you’ll find something for every palate while in Bellingham.
However, some of the more interesting local flavor lies closer to the mountain.
Il Caffe Rifuggio, located just past Deming, on the right hand side of the highway, is a cozy, family run café that’s well worth the drive from Bellingham. Set against a wooded backdrop and green fields, their patio is the perfect place to enjoy some home style Italian cooking on a sunny day. Try their Mexican hot chocolate and potato pancake benny for brunch.
Next up is the North Fork Beer Shrine, a micro-brewery that also operates as a pizzeria and, believe it or not, a wedding chapel. North Fork serves up some of the best thin crust pizza around; hand tossed and straight out of the oven with an eclectic choice of toppings.
There’s also a “beer backyard” with comfy deck chairs, water features and loads of flora to admire as you sip on some barleywine, handcrafted on location.
When you reach Maple Falls, a little closer to Mt Baker, you have your pick of a handful of restaurants, coffee shops, and a bakery to choose from. All of them serve cheap, good eats and each has their own unique atmosphere.
Joowana’s, a funky little bar/restaurant, is a great place to stop for hearty breakfasts, plus-size burgers, and even some Mexican fare. Joowana’s is also another place that boasts its own “backyard,” which makes for a fantastic live music venue during the summer. Pull up a stump by the fire, order something off the BBQ, and sip on some local microbrew as you take in one of their mini music festivals.
Maple Fuels gas station may seem like an unlikely place to stop for a meal, but try one of their made to order deli sandwiches. Amazing!
Other restaurants,etc, worth mention in Maple Falls include Frosty Inn (great breakfasts), Mountain Man Espresso (equipped with a drive through for meals on the go), and Harvest Moon Bakery.
Glacier is the last stop on the way up to Mt Baker, so if you’re driving up the mountain, you’d best make a pit stop here for some grub. Graham’s, Milano’s, and Wake and Bakery are your choices for meals in Glacier. And you’ll find that all three more than fit the bill for a great meal in a cozy environment.
Wake and Bakery is the perfect stop to grab a coffee and a fresh made pastry on your way up the mountain.
Graham’s, a pub style restaurant, is a local favorite. Graham’s plays host to some fantastic local bands on weekends, including one of my favorites; Bent Grass. You may stop in for a quick bite, but stay for the party. While you’re there, try their fish tacos. Not to be missed!
Stop at Milano’s for mountain view dining on their deck. Enjoy delicious Italian fare, with a wine list to match. Service here is always warm and welcoming, and the desserts are inspiration enough for the drive to Glacier.
For such a rustic, back-country seeming area, Mount Baker and the surrounding region has a surprisingly diverse and vibrant music scene.
The Nooksak River Casino puts on great outdoor music festivals during the summer months. Check their schedule online and plan a trip for a Blues, Jazz, Classic Rock or Country music festival. Outdoor beer gardens and food stands run by local First Nations serve up cheap beer and fantastic food to make it an all day (and evening) affair.
Joowanna’s in Maple Falls also puts on the occasional outdoor music festival in their back yard. Dine on BBQ by the bonfire and enjoy a cold beer while you take in local bands doing their thing.
Graham’s in Glacier is another great live music venue, generally hosting live bands Thursday through Sunday evenings. Enthusiastic fans and an intimate setting ensure a great night out dancing or just tapping your feet along with the music.
If you’re up for the drive to Bellingham, countless opportunities to take in a live show present themselves here. Look online or in one of the local papers and head for whichever watering hole sounds like your kind of place.
Now that I’ve given you some suggestions of what to see and do in the Mount Baker area, the only thing to do is grab your passport and hit the road. You’ll find there’s plenty more to explore when you cross the border and you’ll probably even find a few gems of your own. Feel free to share them with me if you come across something interesting that I haven’t listed here. And don’t forget your travel insurance!
About the author:
Paula Wallis makes her home in beautiful British Columbia in the Best City in The World, Vancouver. She spends her spare time seeking out the best beaches in the world and is a huge fan of hammocks. Follow her on fanaticnomadic.blogspot.com