Much like its neighbor Church Mountain, Excelsior Peak will make your knees shake. There are two trailheads for this peak. I chose the one along Mount Baker Highway for my ascent. From the parking lot, the trail climbs through a thick forest. For much of the hike, this is what you will face as you trudge uphill. After about a mile and a half, you will reach a bend in the trail with a nearby waterfall. This appears to be the first campsite. But, it is small and looked blocked off. I wouldn’t count on it being a legal campsite.
After what seems like an eternity the trail finally leaves the woods and steps into a meadow. From this point you can rest assured that you will begin to be well rewarded for your suffering. The trail gives way to views of waterfalls and, at the time of this writing, fields of blooming wildflowers. After leaving the trees you can also see Excelsior peak if you look above the trail. After passing through the meadow it is a couple of switchbacks up the hill to arrive at Excelsior Pass. For some this will be a great place to stop and take in views of Shuksan and Baker before heading back to the car. For others the trail has much more to offer.
From Excelsior pass there are two options. You can follow the trail around the north side of Excelsior Peak. This trail will wrap around and take you to the top. Otherwise, you can head east along the high divide. On this day I decided to go right first and head down high divide. The High Divide trail east from Excelsior Peak trail and connects to the Welcome Pass trail. There is plenty of camping spots along the High divide ridge but they tend to fill up in summer. After being here it easy to see why. The views it provides go all the way into Canada and sweep south to Mount Baker and the North Cascades. The views along this trail are hard to beat and should be a lasting memory for anyone who wants to walk a few extra miles.
After returning from a stroll down High Divide, I decided it was time to head up Excelsior Peak. from the trail junction it is only about 500 ft of elevation gain and 0.1 miles to the top of Excelsior Peak. From the summit, there is a 360-degree view of the North Cascades. Somehow I walked the High Divide trail, climbed Excelsior Peak, and returned without seeing anyone. That is an accomplishment in the North Cascades and made for an incredible outing.
For a little easier route, you can use the Damfino Lakes approach to Excelsior Peak. I have never used it, but I hear the bugs are terrible during summer.