Skip Top Navigation

Artist Point - Frequently Asked Questions

 

  1. When does the road to Artist Point open?
  2. How long does it take to open the road to Artist Point?
  3. When does the road to Artist Point close?
  4. Where is the road closed?
  5. Why do you close the road to Artist Point?
  6. How much does it cost to open the road to Artist Point?
  7. Why open the road at all when it's only open for a few months?
  8. Why not keep the road open all winter?
  9. Where is the road to Artist Point?
  10. What is there to do at Artist Point?
  11. Do I need a recreation pass to visit Artist Point?
  12. What are the trail conditions like at Artist Point?

 

FAQ #1: When does the road to Artist Point open?

On average, we typically get the road to Artist Point open in July. The opening date is dependent on a variety of factors, the primary factors being weather and snow conditions. We're talking about a mountain highway that's nearly a mile above sea level - the weather is pretty extreme up there and can make the task of clearing the highway difficult.

We coordinate the highway opening with the US Forest Service, since they are responsible for all the land and trails surrounding the highway. They operate the Heather Meadows Visitor Center when the road to Artist Point is open.

The earliest recorded opening is June 29, 2005. The latest recorded opening is Aug. 9, 2002.

For a year-by-year list of opening dates, visit our open/close history page.

top of page

FAQ #2: How long does it take to open the road to Artist Point?

Depending on the weather and snow conditions, the opening could take as little as two weeks or as long as six weeks. It just depends on a variety of factors.

The road is only 2.7 miles long, but, often times, crews have to dig through snow that can be 30 to 50 feet deep. We can't just blow through that much snow with a snowblower. It takes a team of equipment and operators working together. It's difficult, dangerous, and often slow-going work. 

top of page

FAQ #3: When does the road to Artist Point close?

It's important to note that we do not close Artist Point, but rather the road to Artist Point. Artist Point the location is open year round. We close the road when the weather conditions force us to do so. We usually end up closing it after the first substantial snowfall, which can come in late September or early October. 

The earliest recorded closure is Sept. 27, 2007. And the latest recorded closure is Oct. 26, 2011.

For a year-by-year list of closing dates, visit our open/close history page.

top of page

FAQ #4: Where is the road closed?

For most of the year when the road is buried with snow, the road is closed just beyond the upper Mt. Baker Ski Area lodge at milepost 54.7.

There is a second gate location that is used temporarily while crews are working to clear and reopen the road each summer, and that's located near the Heather Meadows visitor center at milepost 55.4. Once crews have cleared the first half-mile of highway of snow, they move the gate up to the visitors center. 

top of page

FAQ #5: Why do you close the road to Artist Point?

This is a mountain highway that's nearly a mile above sea level. The weather conditions up there can be fairly extreme. The sharp curves, narrow roadway and steep hillsides along this short stretch of road make it unsafe to leave open once ice and snow move in. There is very little in the way of safety features (e.g., guardrail, warning signs, etc.) along the road, so we close it once road conditions turn dangerous.  

We haven't installed additional safety features along the highway because they wouldn't last very long. We'd probably have to replace them every year because of the extreme conditions. Any guardrail we installed would pretty much get crushed by the weight of the snow. And the signs that we do have in place, we take down every year so they don't get destroyed. It just wouldn't be a wise or cost-effective use of resources.

top of page

FAQ #6: How much does it cost to open the road to Artist Point?

On average, it costs about $35,000 to clear the road each year. The cost varies every year. Some years it costs more and some years it costs less. For example, in 2011, we only spent $8,750 to open the first mile of roadway - we left the remaining two miles closed because there was simply too much snow. Then, in 2012, we spent more like $50,000 to open the road because of how much snow there was.

For comparison and perspective, here is what it typically costs to manage some of our other mountain highways: 

  • SR 20, North Cascades Highway: It costs approximately $150,000 to reopen the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) every spring. The total budget to keep the highway open for as long as we safely can is approximately $200,000 to $250,000. 
  • I-90, Snoqualmie Pass: It costs approximately $2 to $3 million to keep Snoqualmie Pass (I-90) open all winter.
  • US 2, Stevens Pass: It costs approximately $800,000 to $1 million to keep Stevens Pass (US 2) open all winter.

top of page 

FAQ #7: Why open the road at all when it's only open for a few months?

When the legislature paid for the construction of Mount Baker Highway, it established SR 542 to be as much of a benefit to the entire state as any other state highway. 

According to the Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism website, www.belliingham.org, approximately 65,000 people visit the Mount Baker Ranger District in the summer.

Opening the road provides a nice boost to the local economy. If you’ve ever been there on a sunny, warm weekend when it’s open, then you know it can be hard to find a parking spot up there. We receive emails and phone calls from people all over the state and British Columbia who are planning to visit Artist Point. Many of them want to bring out-of-town visitors to see the special area. A lot of visitors come from nearby, but a great many travel a decent distance, too. Many visitors frequent local gas stations, restaurants, stores and shops along the way, helping support the economy. Though the road may only be open for a short period of time, it has a pretty far-reaching impact on the economy. 

top of page

FAQ #8: Why not keep the road open all winter?

Based on the elevation, weather and snow conditions at a mile above sea level, we would need a separate road crew to focus just on this stretch of highway alone. It takes everything we have right now just to keep the road open up to the ski area. It would be way more challenging and costly to keep the road open above the ski area.

Let’s say that we hypothetically cleared the road in the winter, what would people do? It would be surrounded and boxed in by tall snow walls that are 20, 30 or even 50 feet deep. That's the snow depth after all the snow has settled and compacted. The snow total for the winter is far greater than that. The Mt. Baker Ski Area website reported more than 800 inches of snow fell the winter of 2011-12 at the ski area. And 1,140 inches of snow fell the winter of 1998-99 - the world-record snowfall year. In case you were wondering, that's 95 feet of uncompacted snow.

Also, there's a ski run that cuts right over the road in the winter. 

top of page

FAQ #9: Where is the road to Artist Point?

The road to Artist Point is a short, 2.7-mile-long stretch of highway at the very east end of Mount Baker Highway, State Route 542, in Whatcom County. It's located above the Mt. Baker Ski Area lodges.

Mount Baker Highway begins at Interstate 5 in Bellingham and continues east 57.24 miles to its end point at the upper parking lot for Artist Point.

top of page

FAQ #10: What is there to do when the road to Artist Point is open? 

When we open the road to the upper parking lot at Artist Point, it's an opportunity for people to drive up to an amazing scenic vista. On a clear day, the area boasts amazing 360-degree views of snow-covered mountains. There are unparalleled views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. It's also a launching point for many mountain trails. And it's a unique opportunity to play in the snow in the middle of the summer.

top of page

FAQ #11: Do I need a recreation pass to visit Artist Point?

The US Forest Service requires vehicles parked at Heather Meadows to have a Recreation Pass.

top of page

FAQ #12: What are the trail conditions like at Artist Point?

You'll want to check with the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for current trail conditions. The Department of Transportation only takes care of the road.

Please contact the Mt. Baker Ranger District at 360-856-5700 ext. 515 or Glacier Public Service Center at 360-599-2714 for detailed trail conditions.