If you are looking for trail that is relatively short and easy but doesn’t sacrifice views, Ptarmigan Ridge is one to consider. It lets your car do the hard work of raising from the valley floor towards the open alpine landscape of Mount Baker where you will find the trailhead in an area called Artist Point. If you ever admired photo of Mount Shuksan reflecting in the perfectly still water of Picture Lake, this is where the shot was taken. And there are many more amazing opportunities for photography right at the parking lot. As a matter of fact you can drive up there, never leave the trailhead, and you will most likely still leave satisfied.
But it would be a shame not to hit one of the trails in the area. There are several to choose from. Tabletop Mountain is a very short hike that will lead you atop a mountain that is as flat as, yes you guessed it, a table top. It offers views more expansive that the trailhead that are worth the steeper climb.
For a loop option you can choose Chain Lakes Trail, popular day hiking and backpacking destination. Along the route you can savor variety of views and visit several beautiful alpine lakes. In the summer wildflowers are in abundance and when the fall comes, the colors will leave you speechless. Several backcountry campsites welcomes you if you wish to spend the night but competition for them is fierce, especially during summer weekends.
Ptarmigan Ridge shares its first mile with Chain Lakes Trail during which colorful slope is traversed on a rocky but well established path. From the junction that is reached at the end of the traverse, the trail drops 200 feet and passes below a rugged rock face before regaining the ridge again on the far side. Berry patches are common during this part of the trail and if you come during the right time of the year (which varies from July to September depending on the season), you are in for a treat.
At 3.8 miles another junction is reached. It’s a great spot to enjoy snack. Those who are looking for easy adventure might even consider turning here as from here on the trail becomes narrower and steeper. At places it is not the easiest trail to walk on due to the amount of rocks that embellish it, and at times of lower visibility, it might not be always obvious where the path leads.
If you chose to continue, you will be rewarded with magnificent views of both major mountains in the area, Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, and everything else in between. At 4.5 miles you will see a large plateau on your left speckled with tarns. Several great campsites can be found here. Those closest to the trail have the best view of the mountains but depending on the time of the year might have the longest walk to a water source.
This is where on the map the trail ends. Past this spot, booth path continues for another 1.1 miles for even more close up views of Mount Baker and further camping possibilities. Campsites here provide more solitude than those found on the plateau and their proximity to a glacier usually guarantees water sources until late into the season.
From I-5 exit 255, go east 34 miles on SR 542 to the town of Glacier. Public restrooms are available here, and the Glacier Public Service Center can provide current information on conditions. Continue another 24 miles to the end of SR 542 at Artist Point, elevation 5075 feet. The large parking lot has room for about 160 vehicles, including RVs and buses. There are vault toilets and bear proof garbage cans but no water.