The Rambling Writer: Two Seasons at Yellow Aster Meadows

Join Thor, Bear dog, and me for one of our absolute favorite hikes to Yellow Aster Meadows — whether decked in early summer blooms or in autumn crimson.

Up a very rutted dirt road off the Mt. Baker Highway about an hour and a half from our home in Bellingham, WA, the trailhead to Yellow Aster Butte and Meadows welcomes us. I can’t decide which season I love most up here in the Cascade Mountains — early summer with lush greenery, rushing snowmelt streams, and wildflower blooms; or autumn when the slopes are (hopefully, not literally in our fire season) ablaze with crimsoned huckleberry leaves and their sweet berries. We just made our first visit this year to the meadow, and I pulled up last autumn’s photos to compare. Which season would you prefer?

After days of stagnant heat and smoke from wildfires in Siberia, Oregon, and northern California, a fresh wind has cleared the air and cooled things down. We seize the day! The Yellow Aster trail climbs switchbacks through forest until it emerges into alpine meadows with views of the mountain peaks still gleaming with snow patches. Here is Mt. Shuksan this week, behind a high tarn:

And almost the same view last autumn:

We love spotting different wildflowers among the lush meadows in summer, including heather, penstemon, bear grass, green corn silk, and of course yellow asters. This year, Bear dog really heard the whistling call of the wild among the marmot condos in the rockfalls.

And in the autumn, we gorge on ripe huckleberries amongst the fiery foliage.

After a hot, sweaty hike to the overlook above the tarns (round trip 11 miles), I can almost taste that cool water. Our favorite picnic and swimming tarn is the top one in the photo, with snowclad Mt. Baker (native name Koma Kulshan) in the background:

These snowmelt lakes are almost always cold enough to elicit a hoot and skin-tingled eruption from the water after a brisk dip. This summer, after the unusual heat wave, I was able to swim across and back a couple of times. (Yours and Thor’s mileage may vary, as I am part river otter.) In the autumn, the cold nights make it more of a challenge as they chill the water, but you can almost warm yourself with the fiery colors:

Whatever the season, Bear dog takes every opportunity to drink and dip in the streams and tarns. Behind him here, looking in the opposite direction from Mt. Baker, is Tomyhoi peak.

If you suffer from vertigo or fear of heights, it’s probably not the best trail for you, as there is a set of steep switchbacks from the cliff top to the tarns below. Bear dog looks over the edge…

…to the first of the tarns below:

And we’re heading back down the trail, with a last nod to Koma Kulshan as the shadows lengthen.


You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at




The Rambling Writer: Two Seasons at Yellow Aster Meadows — 4 Comments

  1. So refreshing to the spirit. So glad that snow, greenery, and fresh water exist somewhere. Here, it’s nothing but withering heat and wildfires burning the tinder dry chaparral.

    • Sherwood, I worry about all of you to the south! Every year it seems to get worse with the heat and wildfires, and even in the Northwest we are on high fire alert now. (“Some say the world will end in fire….”) I’m glad that you find a brief respite with my little excursions.

  2. I can’t decide which season I like better. I will have to keep comparing them. I will let you know when I make a final determination.