Backpacking Yellow Aster Butte has been on my short list of trips I’ve wanted to take since moving to Washington in 2022. Finally, after a year, I finally found a time that worked. And, my gosh, was it stunning! The fall colors were magical, and spending a night during the week allowed me to enjoy it basically people-free.
Overall, the trail is fantastic. Your views are phenomenal once you leave the forest and enter the basin. And they keep getting better and better.
Additionally, I didn’t actually go up to Yellow Aster Butte, as I was more interested in the lakes below. But the split in the trail happens at the end, so you can take your time deciding where you want to go.
Below, you’ll learn all you need for hiking and backpacking Yellow Aster Butte – with a full hike breakdown in the middle!
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Your Guide to Hiking and Backpacking Yellow Aster Butte Near Mt. Baker
What you need to know before your trip
How to Get There
It should be around a three-hour drive if you have good traffic from Seattle. Once you exit the I-5 (there are different routes, but all of them are slower), you won’t be able to cruise as quickly as you’d like.
According to maps, the fastest route is to take the I-5 to Sedro-Wooley and then to take SR-9 up towards the 542.
You could also stay on the I-5 until Bellingham and then take the roads from there. It shouldn’t be too much of a difference.
The normal roads are excellent. As for Twin Lakes Rd, it is bumpy but surprisingly good from what I remembered in the past.
I just went (Sept 2023), and most of the 5-mile road is in fine condition. Some very pot-holey places exist, but a low-clearance car can make it just fine. (But not much past the Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead.)
You’ll have to park along the road, but there should be ample spots, especially on the weekdays. On the weekends, expect it to be very crowded, and I’d come early or mid-afternoon for a sunset hike.
How long is the Yellow Aster Butte trail?
The Yellow Aster Butte trial is around 8.5-9 miles, but could be more. At around the four-mile mark, hiking in, you come to a split. Right, to the top of Yellow Aster Butte. Or down to the lakes.
I went down.
If you do both and then explore the lakes area, I can see this trail being closer to 10 miles roundtrip. But you should 100% go down to the lakes. They’re magical and offer so many crazy views.
How hard is Yellow Aster Butte?
This is a challenging hike, though totally doable. The trail is split into thrids, with the first third and last third being the toughest and the middle part being a nice walk.
Overall, it has about 2,800 feet of elevation gain, but if you go to the top of the butte and then down to the lakes, you’ll likely have over 3,000 feet.
What’s the best time to hike Yellow Aster Butte?
There are only two seasons where this trail is doable.
Summer in the North Cascades doesn’t start until July. But once the trails thaw out, it’s fantastic. In August, wildflowers are raging and make the place light up. Sadly, summer doesn’t always last long. By the end of September, it could be chilly and fall colors out in force, like in 2023.
The Yellow Aster Butte hike is among Washington’s best fall color hikes. The reds are gorgeous and light up the landscape when they are backlit. It’s truly a mesmerizing sight!
How crowded will it be?
On the weekends, it’ll be very crowded. Even more so in the fall. As I was coming down on a Thursday, the trail was teaming with hikers of all ages. I loved to see so many people enjoying the great weather!
Do you need a permit for Yellow Aster Butte?
You do not need an overnight permit for the Yellow Aster Butte hike. If backpacking, please follow Leave No Trace to help ensure others enjoy this beautiful place just like you did.
Yellow Aster Butte: On the Trail
Day 1: Backpacking Yellow Aster Butte
The trail gets your heart pumping immediately.
You are hiking up, up, and up from the first moments. I would say the first 2 miles are the hardest, as you’re just constantly going up without a break. However, you are in the trees, so it’s nice not to be in the sun.
As for trail quality, it’s great, and you can move quickly if you want.
After mile two, you’re in the open (good for views and airflow, bad for the sun beating down on you). However, on my trek, it was cloudy hiking up, so I didn’t have the magical views most people will as they ascend. Though, I did enjoy the cooler weather for the most challenging section.
Once you reach the inner basin, you wrap completely around it, and it levels out for a while. This is a much-needed reprieve, with 35+ pounds on my back.
After a mile, you begin to go back up and have some switchbacks and wiggles to get you higher onto the mountain.
Then, after about two hours of hiking, you’ll come to your split in the trail. Up to the top or down to the lakes. (It’s about 500 feet up to the top and 250 feet down to the bottom.)
I headed down to find a camping spot.
Camping at Yellow Aster Butte
A few tents were right at the bottom, and I wanted to be a little further away and find one of the lakes I’d seen in photos.
There are a handful of trails, but I kept AllTrails out as I didn’t want to get lost on a random side trail. After walking an additional half mile, I found my home for the night and never saw another soul nearby.
Day 2: Backpacking Yellow Aster Butte
After an incredibly windy night with little sleep, I woke up for sunrise and enjoyed a marvelous morning. The fall colors were glowing, and I couldn’t believe how pretty everything was.
Furthermore, all the clouds had left, and I could finally see what all the fuss was about.
I spent two hours trying to find the Yellow Aster Butte infinity tarn, which was much harder than expected. But the payoff was immense, and I’m incredibly stoked to have gotten there.
Then, after hanging out at camp for a while, soaking in the views, I finally packed up and began the trip out. I clocked right around 2 hours on the way down. But I will tell ya, having hiking poles was great as the downhill is never-ending and seems much steeper than I remembered.
More Photos from Exploring the Yellow Aster Butte Basin
What gear should you bring for your trek?
Below is a breakdown of the gear I recommend for hiking Yellow Aster Butte near Mt. Baker.
- Mid-sized hiking pack
- Swimsuits if going in the summer
- 2L of water and a filter
- Light jacket for the top if windy
The Backpacking Gear that I Brought
The following is what I brought for a fall trip backpacking Yellow Aster Butte.
I didn’t have a temperature gauge, but there was frost on the trail, and lows at the trailhead were 44 degrees (I was told). I imagine my temperature was in the mid/upper-30s, with an even lower wind chill.
Where Could I Stay in the Area?
While rural, there are quite a lot of options to stay in the area thanks to smaller towns and plenty of Airbnb’s. Or you can stay a bit further away in Bellingham. Glacier and Maple Falls are the closest, with Bellingham about 90 minutes from the Yellow Aster Butte hike.
FAQ: Yellow Aster Butte Hike
Let’s answer some final things before we wrap up!
Can I bring a drone to Yellow Aster Butte?
No, you cannot drone at Yellow Aster Butte. You cross into a federally protected Wilderness Area, which prohibits all motorized vehicles, including drones. This saves everyone’s ears and your back as you won’t have to carry it.
Is there cell phone service at the lakes?
Yes. I was very surprised, but there is phone and internet. Yet, keep it on airplane mode and connect with nature.
Can I bring dogs to Yellow Aster Butte?
Yes, you totally can bring dogs on your Yellow Aster Butte hike. Make sure they are leashed, and you pick up their waste. This is a 100% Leave No Trace area.
What pass do I need to hike or backpack Yellow Aster Butte?
You’ll need your America The Beautiful Pass or Northwest Forest Pass to recreate on this trail. Both are valid for federal lands.
I want to backpack this for fall colors. What will the weather be like?
It could be great, or it could be pretty cold like it was for me. Fall in the PNW is very finicky. You could have great weather into October, or the rain comes in September, and your hiking season is done.
What other hiking trails are in the area?
Where can I eat before/after my Yellow Aster Butte hike?
Breakfast: Wake n Bakery is fantastic. It’s in the town of Glacier, about 20 minutes before your exit onto Twin Lakes Rd.
Lunch/Dinner: Chair 9 is supposedly a great spot to stop. I haven’t been before. I’ve also heard amazing reviews about Rifugio’s Country Italian Cuisine, but I haven’t been. I have been to North Fork Brewery and had their pizza. After a long day of hiking, it was terrific.
Wrapping up Hiking and Backpacking Yellow Aster Bute
You will have an amazing time on your Yellow Aster Butte hike and spending time up by Mt. Baker. The views are phenomenal, the trails great, and time in nature can never be discounted.
Enjoy your trek!
Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.
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This article originally appeared on Explore with Alec