Yellow Aster Butte, located in the North Cascades of Washington, is one of most jaw-dropping trails near Mount Baker, with fields of vibrant wildflowers and endless views of soaring mountains. If you’re looking for one of the best hikes in the North Cascades, here’s everything you need to know about Yellow Aster Butte.
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About Yellow Aster Butte
- Length: 8.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,791 feet
- Difficulty: Hard; there are parts of the trail that straight-up feel like a Stairmaster!
- Dog-friendly: Yes, furbabies can come along but they need to be on a leash.
- Required pass: The trailhead is located in National Forest land, so you’ll either need a Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass.
How to Get to Yellow Aster Butte
To get there, you’ll need to drive along the Mount Baker Highway, which is excellently-maintained, and NF-3605, which is… not. My husband, Justin, and I saw several sedans drive up the washboarded and potholed NF-3605 just fine (even a Mustang, with seemingly paper thin tires), but if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, I’d strongly recommend driving very slowly and carefully to the trailhead.
It’s also worth mentioning that NF-3605 is narrow and quite windy. Given the popularity of Yellow Aster Butte, it’s not uncommon to get stuck in tricky traffic jams along the road, especially if you visit during the weekend or the busy fall season.
If you don’t mind tacking on a quarter mile or so to your hike, I’d recommend parking a bit south of the trailhead along the road so you’ll hopefully miss the worst of the traffic. And also please don’t park in a way that makes it difficult for others to leave or otherwise exhibit jerky behavior while parking- it makes everyone’s lives so much better!
When to Hike Yellow Aster Butte
The Yellow Aster Butte trailhead starts at around 3,600 feet above sea level, meaning the winters here are harsh and long. Given the heavy snowfall that Mount Baker receives, the trail is usually only accessible from July through October.
While the hiking season here may be short, Yellow Aster Butte is absolutely worth the wait, with stunning technicolor wildflowers in the summer.
However, if you’re looking for a real treat, I’d suggest coming in fall. The North Cascades are known for its hikes with stunning autumnal foliage, like the Heather Maple Pass Loop or Cutthroat Pass, and Yellow Aster Butte is no exception. The trail is so vibrant in the autumn, with flaming red huckleberry bushes and scarlet paintbrush.
Speaking of flaming, you may notice that our photos look quite smoky. Yellow Aster Butte’s short hiking season unfortunately also happens to align with Washington’s wildfire season, especially in the late summer and autumn, which tends to be the most popular time to visit the trail. Be sure to check smoke conditions before you go, so you stay safe and appropriately manage your expectations of the trail conditions.
What to Expect Along Yellow Aster Butte
As you depart from the trailhead, you’ll start climbing up the southern slopes of the High Divide, initially through an open field, thick with tall brush, and eventually, through a beautiful forest for the next mile or so. I’m not gonna lie- the trail certainly starts off with a bang, gaining almost 1000 feet in the first mile.
But stick with it! You’ll eventually pop out of the forest into a meadow, carpeted with huckleberry bushes and wildflowers. The elevation gain will even out a bit and, as you continue to hike along, the views just keep getting better and better, with views of Mount Baker, the High Divide, and even into Canada!
About a mile and a half in, you’ll reach a fork- the right fork continues on to Tomyhoi Lake, but we’ll continue on towards the left to Yellow Aster Butte. After this junction, the trail generally flattens out, allowing you to simply take in the views around you and, if you’re visiting in the fall, snack on the plentiful huckleberries lining the trail.
At 3.2 miles into the trail, you’ll start your ascent up a ridiculously steep and crumbly hill to the summit of Yellow Aster Butte, rising almost 500 feet in just 0.2 miles (it. is. a. buttkicker.). But after huffing, puffing, and cursing your way up the mountain, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Baker, Shuksan, Tomyhoi, and layers upon endless layers of the snow-capped peaks of the Northern Cascades, as far as the eye can see.
Most hikers stop at the first summit, but the trail actually continues on for another 0.3 miles to a second summit, accessed along a very narrow and often crumbly trail, with steep drop-offs. To be honest, after reading reviews of people complaining about the sketchy trail to the second summit and the identical views from the viewpoints, we skipped continuing on past the first one and I have zero regrets. But if you want to “finish” the trail, be forewarned that the trail to the second summit is probably not a good option for dogs, children, or beginner hikers.
Tip: Between the extreme elevation gain and the amount of sun exposure you get on this trail, we absolutely cooked through our water. I’d recommend bringing way more water than you think you need- we each bring one of these enormous Nalgene bottles (and more, if we’re backpacking) and a water filter on our hikes, just in case of an emergency. I also forgot sunscreen AND sunglasses and was absolutely kicking myself through squinted eyes the entire hike. Ultimately, plan and pack a whole lot better than me and you’ll enjoy the trail more!
Can you camp at Yellow Aster Butte?
Yes! While you generally cannot camp within one mile of the Yellow Aster Butte trail, you are allowed to camp by the glacier-carved tarns towards the top of the trail.
To reach these campsites, you’ll notice an unmarked junction 3.2 miles into the trail that leads off to the left before you ascend the aforementioned final Hill of Doom. If you’re backpacking, it’s probably a good idea to head down here first and drop off your pack before heading back up to the summit, both to ditch the weight and to claim your campsite.
Yellow Aster Butte is a popular hike that does not require a permit and thus, sees a TON of backpackers, who are all competing for not that many campsites. Be sure to always follow the leave no trace principles and only camp on durable surfaces, like dirt or rock, to ensure the beautiful wildflower-filled meadows can be enjoyed by future generations of hikers!
Pssst… new to backpacking? Check out our backpacking gear list for beginners!
There you have it- Yellow Aster Butte is truly one of the most spectacular hikes in Washington. Do you have any questions about the trail? Let me know in the comments below!