Excelsior Campground


Milepost 40, Mt. Baker Highway east of Glacier


Every day Seasonal


Excelsior is a pleasantly forested group campsite (reservation only) located along the banks of the North Fork of the Nooksack River. Two separate group camps are available. Site A is the smaller accommodating up to 50 campers while Site B can have as many as 75. Though larger, Site B is often preferred even by smaller groups due to its more private setting. Picnic tables, fire pits, and vault toilets are available but drinking water is not. Typically these sites are reserved separately or jointly by youth groups, churches, clubs and others utilizing an assortment of tent and car camping. Depending on current policies (it's best to check first), when not reserved, daytime picnickers and drop-in campers may be accommodated on a first-come basis. When a live-in onsite host is unavailable, a host from another nearby campground may periodically check on campers.

Despite its present natural setting of mountain, forest, and river, this location is the site of a rich and varied history of commercial development during the early part of the last century. Sharing the eastern boundary of the present campsite and using the same access road is the Nooksack Powerplant. Originally constructed in the early 1900s the plant has been supplying hydroelectric power to Whatcom County and Bellingham for more than 100 years. The area of the campground itself was the former town-site for workers and their families who lived here during the construction and early operation of the powerplant. Homes, shops, and even a private school for the children of the workers fitted into this little hamlet. While forests and time have managed to hide most evidence of this, ruins of building foundations and remnant debris such as broken toys, pots, pans, and hardware have occasionally surfaced. The century-old original brick powerhouse building still houses operating generators and is listed on the Historic Register. Despite this, however, the entire powerplant area is strictly off limits to the public but may be viewed at a distance from various points of the shoreline depending on the water level of the river.

The campground shares its name, Excelsior, with the formerly famous gold mine located across the river and a mile’s distance. Though both powerplant and mine were initially begun at the same time it wasn’t until a major rebuilding of the mine a decade later, that it became the closest customer of the powerplant. The powerlines, still active, that can be seen near the highway entrance to the campground mark another interesting lost site. Beneath the lines, a rocky talus slope appears as a scar in the steep forested hillside above the highway. Located directly below these lines and near the top of the slope is the buried portal of the First Chance Gold Mine. The visible rocky slopes are a combination of mine waste and rockslide. Ironically it was the powerplant that destroyed this mine. After clearing trees and shrubs from beneath the newly strung power lines, a brush fire somehow began in the dry slash and quickly swept over the mining camp destroying all the surface equipment. The stripped soil slid soon after burying what was left. The mine never a significant producer was never reopened.

In addition to the typical camping and recreational activities associated with a riverside campground there are several other nearby locations that are worth visiting. About ¾ of a mile from the campground entrance up the Mt. Baker Highway is the access road to the Nooksack Falls (see article this website). In addition to the exciting and often spectacular waterfalls, the inlet and penstock that supplies the water to the powerhouse can be seen. A little further up the highway is the old Excelsior Trail (related in name only). This trail is now considered part of the High Divide Trail. It climbs uphill through forests of large ancient trees and eventually reaches the open alpine slopes surrounding a former fire lookout site. Despite their close proximity to the campground, the difficulties of walking along the Mt. Baker Highway may unfortunately make driving to them the best option.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 4/30/2010


Excelsior Campground is located about seven miles east (up valley) of the town of Glacier. The entrance road is on the right, near Milepost 40. Drive down; take first right into the campground area along the river. [Straight at the fork leads to the historic Nooksack Powerhouse but there is no public entry.]


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