The Ptarmigan Ridge hike is an off-shoot of the extremely popular Chain Lakes Loop Trail. Whether you do it as a day hike or a backpacking trip, the views are extraordinary and well worth the 10-mile out-and-back trek. The hike begins at the enormous Artist Point parking lot and trailhead. The scenery is astounding, and with Mount Shuksan behind you and Mount Baker dominating the horizon in front of you, there is no shortage of photo-opportunities.
You will fight the crowds for the initial mile, but keep left at the junction for Ptarmigan Ridge and the congestion immediately thins. The hike is rocky from start to finish, has very little shade, and there are no water sources until you reach the snow patches further along in the hike. Once you hike a mile past the junction, dispersed camping is allowed anywhere you see fit. Your total elevation gain is fairly moderate, but the continuous mile-high altitude can be an exhausting factor. At the three-mile-mark you will pass below Coleman Pinnacle, a popular destination for mountaineers looking to summit Mount Baker. This a favored spot for many day hikers to rest and have lunch, and whether you continue onward is up to you!
The trail changes abruptly from here. A primitive boot trail continues up East Peak (also known as the Portals East) and will ultimately lead to a dead end, giving you up-close views of Mount Baker in all of her glory. Route finding skills are necessary for this section as well as possible mountaineering experience (depending on the season). It is up to each hiker to decide how far they want to venture, but be extremely careful in the latter part of the hike. The landscape is spectacular, there are large groups of mountain goats to be seen, and there are plenty of huckleberries to be picked!