Washington Trails: http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/yellow-aster-butte
Location: 48.9435, -121.6625
Mountain Range: North Cascades, Mount Baker Wilderness
Distance: 8 miles, roundtrip
Time: 7hrs (3.5hrs up, 2hrs down)
Elevation gain: 2550 ft.
Highlights: 360 views, scenic the entire time, waterfalls, difficult beginning and end, fall foliage
Perhaps ones of the most beautiful fall season—and likely all-season—hikes around. Yellow Aster Butte gets rave reviews online and by me and my hiking partner. Fiery colors and views of the Cascade Volcanoes make this trail a 5-star, sweat-inducing, awe-inspiring trail.
While I’m not exactly sure the miles for this hike, I’m averaging AllTrails and WTA to 8 miles. Yet, the beauty in this hike is that you don’t need to hike the whole thing. I always say “do what feels right,” so whether that’s a 4 mile hike or a 12 mile hike Yellow Aster Butte has you covered. It’s breathtaking scenery the whole way, and if you really feel like exploring there’s plenty off-the-beaten path trails you can create around the campsite or lookout points.
The drive in is an adventure in itself. It’s 4.5 miles of gravel road to the trailhead located at a sharp switchback with parallel parking. A bathroom and trailhead signpost are at the entrance.
The first 1.5 miles is mostly shaded and can be cool even on a warm day. That, combined with the altitude at the top means: wear layers. In autumn I highly recommend a beanie and some gloves if you’re going to hang out at the summit. After this the incline gets more gradual and the views get more spectacular. See Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan, two of the ten Cascade Volcanoes in Washington. Not to worry, Mt St Helen’s is the only one to have erupted in the past century and none of the volcanoes are currently showing signs of activity anytime soon. Half aren’t even considered “major” volcanoes, whatever that means. If we had gone on a less cloudy day, it would have been an incredible view of Baker’s snowy top, which leads me to believe this hike would be worth it in cooler weather too.
Apparently it’s huckleberry season beginning on October. These berries look like blueberries, but range in color from blue to black. Keep an eye out, as we totally forgot to. They’re a favorite of bears, so keep an eye out for non-human foragers too. Next you’ll pass over a few little waterfalls and rockfall fields. If there was a cool night of precipitation there will also be a rather large snowdrift you walk through just before the first great lookout point, just left of the trail. This point is a great place to stop if you don’t have all day to be outside. Go through the trees and find a spot on the boulders to eat a snack or lunch.
Continue on and round the corner to a picturesque view of alpine lakes. You’ll immediately see the 400m, steep upward climb to the summit if you look right. The zig-zag to the top can hardly be called switchbacks, and plenty of people brought hiking poles no doubt for this section, so a pair of hiking boots with solid tread will help. We spotted a marmot (as you’ll see in the video) and a sooty grouse at this level. Upon summiting we spotted a black woolly bear caterpillar, but he got shy and didn’t want to be on video.
I think the pictures speak for themselves, but if you want a few words about the 360-view I’m more than happy to give them. The summit of Yellow Aster Butte makes you feel like you won something. It makes you feel lucky to be there, to see so much, and too be so small in such a large range of mountains. It also makes you feel like a true mountaineer. The final ascent combined with this gorgeous view will give you a sense of satisfaction beyond what other popular hikes in the area can give. I will be recommending this hike to everyone this fall. Go on a weekday afternoon if you can, as even then you’ll run into people often. No one wants to miss this.
Spoiler Alert: Trail Play-By-Play
Steep, shaded path through the woods
Mountainside slow incline
Junction at 1.5mi to Tomyhoi Lake Trail
Left to Yellow Aster Butte
Little waterfalls and rockfall fields
First great lookout point (left just off the trail)
Very steep 400m to the summit