Backpacking with Kids – Chain Lakes Loop

Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

The Chain Lakes Loop trail in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest should be at the top of everyone’s list for backpacking with kids. You’ll be treated to stunning views from the moment you leave the parking lot. And alpine lakes, and depending on the season, wildflowers.

As a moderate 7.2-mile loop, it’s ideal trail for families with children looking for a backpacking adventure. The trailhead is located near the Mount Baker Ski Area, approximately 2.5 hours from Seattle.

In which direction should you hike?

When we first decided to hike this one, the big question that kept coming up was which direction? However, it can be hiked in either direction. Ultimately, we decided to go clockwise and parked at the upper parking lot at Artist Point.

Both directions have their pros and cons. If you do hike counterclockwise, you will have the biggest climb in the beginning of the trip. This also offers the best views on day one.

If you start the hike going clockwise, it starts out easy peasy. The trail continues this way till you get to the lakes. If you are new to backpacking with kids, this might be just what you need to get off on the right foot. However, what I didn’t know was the climb we would have to make at the end of the hike to get to our car. It is the steepest section of the entire hike at all at the end. The last section just isn’t worth it as it. Following the road it is pretty much an upward climb the entire way. And after a night or two backpacking you aren’t setting your kids up for success asking them to climb the hill at the very end.

A note to anyone hiking it clockwise. Park at Heather Meadows but drop everyone off at Artist Point.. Then hike up to meet them without a pack. Alternately, you could run up to get the car. And have the rest of your party wait in the Heather Meadows Parking lot.

What to Expect

(this trail run down is from a clockwise perspective) Finally you are off and hiking, the trail sets off with incredible views of Mt.Baker . The grade is quite moderate making it an easy start for everyone. The trail eventually drops into the lake basin at an easy grade making it wast for a first time backpacking with kids. The lakes basin is where all of the campsites are located.

Where can you camp on this trail?

There are officially two areas to camp, one is by Mazama Lake, and the other area is around Hayes Lake. We chose to camp at Hayes Lake perched up high over the lake. It was a beautiful spot. However, I think I would camp over by the Mazama Camp next time. You are closer to views of Mt.Baker. This was my only disappointment about this hike. It offers STUNNING views during the hike, but majority of the campsites are tucked away from any sight of Mt.Baker.

Water supply and storing food.

One of the best aspects of camping by a lake is access to water. On this loop, if camping in one of the existing campsites, then chances are you have an abundance of water to filter. Please always remember to camp in an established campsite.

When backpacking the Chain Lakes Loop you will have to secure your food from bears, raccoons, rodents and other critters that are attracted to human food and scents. You have two options, you can hang your food in a sack or use a bear canister. I prefer a bear canister as I have struggle to properly get a sack hung up in the trees. Your sack needs to be hung a specific distance out from the tree as well as above the ground to be effective. I find this difficult. Bear canisters can definitely be both heavy and bulky but they can also act as a seat, work surface and they tend to keep things from getting crushed.

Evening Play Around the Lakes

One of the best things about backpacking (in my opinion) is later in the day when all the day hikers have gone and it feels like you have the whole forest to yourself. No backpacks. Weightless with nowhere we needed to be, we took the opportunity to explore Mazama Lake and Iceberg Lake as the sun set.

Its Popular so Plan Ahead

One consideration with the Chain Lakes Trail is its popularity. It’s such a sought-after destination that the ranger recommended tackling it on a rainy day to secure a campsite. Despite this advice, we opted for a clear day and crossed our fingers for luck. We had our pick of campsites, with only one already taken—an inevitable aspect of first-come, first-served sites.


  • Location: Mt.Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
  • Mileage 7.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,886 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Parking Pass: None
  • Trail Guide: Chain Lakes Loop


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