Finding an approachable hike in the North Cascades can be quite a daunting task. With over 10,000 square miles of protected wilderness but so few roads you can count them on your fingers, most trips into the Cascades require a serious backcountry slog. If you’re looking to bask in the astonishing beauty of Washington’s northern mountains but don’t want to blow a hamstring on a 25+ mile trek, Yellow Aster Butte is the crown jewel for amazing day-hikes.
Located just 38 miles east of Bellingham, the Yellow Aster Butte makes for a perfect weekend day-hike. It’s listed on the Washington Trails Association website as 6.8 miles roundtrip with 2,500 feet of vertical gain, but my GPS actually recorded closer to 9 miles and 3900 feet of elevation gain. Not exactly a casual stroll, but very manageable for most hikers in reasonable shape.
The first few miles wind through an old-growth evergreen forest, surrounded by lush greenery and mossy trees. After some fairly steep climbing you’ll break through the trees and traverse a gorgeous hillside with small streams crisscrossing the trail and sparkling alpine tarns dotting the surrounding hillsides.
The last push is very steep, and will definitely test your strength after the approach. Dig deep and charge up to the top to be rewarded with one of the most astonishing views I’ve found in the lower-48. Looking south you’ll see Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan towering above the Nooksack River Valley and to the north you have unimpeded views of Tomyhoi Peak, Mt. Larrabee and the Canadian border. We sat on the ridge for well over an hour watching the sun go down, and found the hike back to the car to be quite manageable in the dark (with a headlamp, of course).
With so much territory to be explored and so many miles upon miles of hiking trails, it takes quite an impressive trail to make me want a repeat. Yellow Aster Butte absolutely fits that bill, and I will be back.