While the summit is little more than a bump on an east-west ridge, this delightful little peak has some incredibly impressive North Cascades payoff views and neat little features itself. First, there are three trails to achieve the summit, each with its own merits and advantages. The easiest goes just over 3 miles with 1600 feet of gain but travels through forests with lakes and colorful meadows. You'll pass Damfino Lakes in under a mile. These were named when a ranger who was asked the name of the lakes replied "Damn if I know." At about 2.5 miles you will travel through beautiful meadows under the summit. Another goes directly up from Highway 542 for 4-5 miles with 3800 feet of gain. This trail faces south and melts out in May or June making for a good early season workout. The longest trail goes up through Welcome Pass and then is a view-filled ridgewalk. This last one is 7.5 miles to the summit with 4400 feet of gain from all the ups and downs.
Regardless which trail you may chose, the views are amazing. First of all, there is nothing higher between Excelsior Peak and Mt. Baker which is only 11 miles south. The views of the north side of Baker alone make this a worthwhile trip, plus, they come right at the end as you reach the summit so the payoff is huge. Aside from that, Shuksan is only a half turn to the left. To the north are the Border Peaks and other icy glaciated mountains far into Canada. On clear days, you can see the Olympics to the southwest as well. Meadows also are all around you on the summit.
This is a pretty popular hike as the Excelsior Ridge is close to a main road so accessibility is easy. Expect some people on the trail but not as many as you would think. This is still pretty far north and on a dead-end highway. You may run into some horses and riders near the summit. There is a great flat camping spot just a couple hundred feet below the summit but remember, this is grizzly country so be prepared and hang your food if you are staying here.
Excelsior Peak lies within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and you will need a pass to park and hike (see below for details). The summit was the site of a lookout from about 1035 until 1969 although little remains of it now. What does remain are incredible views in one of the best areas in the Pacific Northwest.