The Six Best Fire Lookout Hikes in Washington State

SelousScout / iStock /

SelousScout / iStock /

Washington Fire Lookouts are renown for their historical significance. These huts, manned by volunteers, serve as the first defense against forest fires. Some are still in use while others are derelict and open to visitors. The unobstructed panoramas from these fire lookouts are spectacular and worth the trek. These are the best fire lookout hikes in Washington state.

Desolation Peak Lookout, Desolation Peak , North Cascades
On top of the bald summit of Desolation Peak in the North Cascades is one of the most famous fire lookouts in the entire state. In the summer of 1956, author and poet Jack Kerouac spent 63 days here as a volunteer fire watch, and the lookout, now no longer in use, is the same as he left it. He used this time to pen The Dharma Burns, and Desolation Angels. The steep and strenuous trail starts from Ross Lake, crossing open meadows, rocky moraines, and promises incredible North Cascade scenery. Deer, bear, and cougars are frequent visitors on this hike.

Three Finger Lookout, Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie Forest, North Cascades
If dizzying exposure, glacial crossings, and climbing sketchy wooden ladders up the face of a cliff aren’t a problem, then Three Finger Lookout is arguably one of the greatest adventures in the state. Dramatically perched on a ridge overlooking Mt. Baker, the lookout offers free lodging to visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis. The tricky approach includes crossing the Three Fingers Glacier with gear, climbing a short rocky moraine, and ascending rickety wooden ladders to reach the remote hut. Looking over the snowy peaks of the North Cascades includes the best sunrise and sunset in the state.

Mount Pilchuck, Mt. Pilchuck State Forest, North Cascades
Built in 1918, the Mount Pilchuck Fire Lookout is one of the most popular trails in the state. The lookout is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and was staffed until the 1960’s. The view from the summit looks across two mountain ranges and over Puget Sound. The three-mile trail to the summit is strenuous and ice covers the upper half through most of the year. An overhanging rock pinnacle next to the fire hut is a popular dramatic photo opportunity. This hike is crowded during the summer; it’s best to do during the weekday or cooler months.

Jeff Goulden / iStock /

Freemont Lookout – Jeff Goulden / iStock /

Fremont Lookout, Sunrise, Mt Rainier National Park
The Mt. Fremont Lookout is one of the easier and shorter trails, with views that extend to Mt. Baker, Mt. Stuart, Glacier Peak and the entire Cascade Range. Mt. Rainier rises spectacularly to the north. The Lookout was built in the 1930s and is still in use. It’s a great place to eat lunch while taking in an expansive alpine vista. The Fremont lookout is on the northern point at the peak and not the true summit, so those who continue to the top will be rewarded with one of the best views of Rainier’s face.

Sourdough Mountain, Diablo Lake, North Cascades
Rising over the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake, Sourdough Mountain is a strenuous day-hiking trail in the North Cascades, and considered one of the hardest. In the 1950’s, poet Philip Whalen, a contemporary of Kerouac, staffed the Sourdough Mountain Lookout. Overlooking alpine scenery, the trail to the summit is tough and moderately technical, requiring a crossing of Diablo Lake, snowfields, subalpine meadows, and rocky talus to reach the top. The incredible panorama from the lookout watches over Diablo Lake, Colonial Peak, and the Picket Range. It is still staffed during the summer.

Winchester Mountain, Twin Lakes, North Cascades
Spend an enchanted night in a restored fire lookout atop majestic Winchester Mountain in the North Cascades. This hut was saved from demolition in the 1980s and the views from here look over Mt. Baker and the peaks along the Canadian Border. The remote trailhead starts from the spectacular Twin Lakes, and the trail isn’t as popular as the others, so it retains a feeling of pristine wilderness. Hikers climb through a snowfield and a thick forest of blueberries, pine, and hemlock. Staying the night in the cabin is free on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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