A loop hike to the base of Mount Baker or a rugged alternate route to Park Butte: take your pick. Along the way, soak in sweeping views of the North Cascades, gaze at Koma Kulshan’s glistening glaciers, munch on an inexhaustible supply of berries, and marvel at old-growth western hemlock forest.
In the early 1990s Forest Ranger Scott Paul conceived of the Sulphur Moraine Trail that would climb from old-growth western hemlock forest to the moraines at the foot of Mount Baker. He was supervising construction of a suspension bridge near Lincoln City, Oregon in 1993, when a cable snapped, wrapped around him, and plunged into a gorge. The Sulphur Moraine Trail was subsequently renamed to memorialize the man who designed this diverse and beautifully crafted alpine passageway.
The Scott Paul Trail is arguably easiest on the feet and more rewarding to the eyes when traveled in the clockwise direction. Start at the Park Butte trailhead, taking the main trail 603, and passing the first junction with the Scott Paul Trail and the wildflowers of Schrieber’s Meadow. Continue across the appropriately named Rocky Creek and into old-growth hemlock forest, reaching the second junction with the Scott Paul Trail 603.1 at 4500 feet and after two miles on the Park Butte Trail.
At the clearly marked sign, turn right and descend gently through the forest and skirting the Railroad Grade, one of Koma Kulshan’s glacier-deposited ridges that extends radially from the mountain. The terrain changes to alpine, with scant trees, myriad wildflowers (lupine, fireweed, and arnica predominate), and an unending gauntlet of blueberry and huckleberry bushes that flame crimson in the autumn. Watch mountaineers ascend the moraine on their way to base camp. The trail parallels the Railroad Grade for a short distance before descending to Rocky Creek. A suspension bridge is present from July through September, and it is recommended to check with the Forest Service beforehand as to whether the bridge is in place. Otherwise, this could be the most challenging ford on the trail. Ascend again, steadily climbing and weaving between moraines. As you climb along Metcalf Moraine, soak in the views of Baker’s snow cone to your north. As you double back, gaze upon Glacier Peak, Three Fingers, and Whitehorse to the south.
After 1.5 miles, reach a high point at 5200 feet. For the next 2 miles, the trail follows the contour of Baker’s base. The tread on this segment is rocky, and there are steep inclines to your side, so step carefully. After what seems like an interminable series of switchbacks and creek valley crossings, drop into the valley of Sulphur Creek, the fourth major creek for those counting. Some of the fordings, including this one, can be challenging, depending on rainfall and glacial runoff. Soon you will come to a boggy meadow, at elevation 4600 feet, with views of Sherman Peak (Baker’s summit) and Mount Shuksan. The vistas of these peaks are breathtaking.
At this point you will begin to descend into old-growth mountain and western hemlock forest; the full variety of this area’s mushrooms on prominent display. Continue downward 2.5 miles, eventually paralleling Sulphur Creek. When you hear the rush of water, you are nearing the junction with the Park Butte Trail. Cross a wooden bridge over Sulphur Creek, and turn left at the next intersection to finish the loop. You will be back at the trailhead 0.1 miles later.
WTA Pro Tip: If you're including the loop in your visit to the Park Butte lookout, the round trip hike is 11.5 miles. If hiking late in the season, bring ample lighting or start early enough to avoid finishing in the dark.
Scott Paul Trail
- 8.0 miles, roundtrip
- Elevation Gain
- 2,000 feet
- Highest Point
- 5,200 feet
Hiking Scott Paul Trail
Scott Paul Trail
Map & Directions
Co-ordinates: 48.7067, -121.8122 Open in Google Maps