clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
The Mount Fremont lookout tower.

Filed under:

11 iconic fire lookout hikes in the Cascade Mountains

These towers were placed for big views—and now, they beckon adventure

From Forest Service employees and Jack Kerouac to Instagram influencers and day hikers, Washington State’s fire lookouts have been a destination for the masses for decades. Originally used for exactly what their name states, today’s fire lookouts are dwindling in numbers. There are currently just 93 fire lookouts still standing in the state, down from the 750 that once topped mountain summits around the region.

While the need and usefulness for fire lookouts has mostly been replaced with technology, the allure of the structures perched atop the peaks only grows with time. Today, they beckon adventurers up to the summits, where they can enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific Northwest. After all, fire lookouts were placed for surveying as much of the area as possible.

While you can hike and climb to all the remaining fire lookouts, there are a handful of great ones in the Cascade Mountains to get started on your adventure. Whether you’re headed to Stevens Pass, Snoqualmie Pass, or Mount Rainier, these fire lookouts are sure to leave you in awe at the mountainous beauty of the Evergreen State. Keep in mind that some are falling down and many have been vandalized in recent years, so practice Leave No Trace ethics and obey posted signs so all can enjoy for years to come.

Near I-90

Granite Mountain.
Getty Images/500px

Granite Mountain

A 47-mile drive from Seattle will put you on the trailhead to the Granite Mountain Lookout above I-90. While the drive itself is short, be ready for a steep climb to reach this fire lookout. At 8.6 miles round trip, the trail gains 3,800 feet, reaching a maximum elevation of 5,629 feet above sea level. This hike is tough, and you’ll need plenty of food and water, but those who do make the summit will be rewarded with amazing views of the Cascades. Mount Rainier looms in the distance, while shimmering blue lakes surrounded by endless green trees can be seen below you.

Thorp Mountain

It’ll take you two hours to get to the trailhead of Thorp Mountain from Seattle, but those who do make their way across Snoqualmie Pass to Cle Elum will find themselves in a wilderness paradise. At nine miles round trip, gaining just 1,000 feet of elevation, this rolling trail gives you seemingly endless mountain views. The reward at the top is a classic fire lookout with impressive views of Lake Kachess and Mount Rainier. This is also a great hike for early season wildflowers, as it’s on the drier side of the mountains.

Red Top Mountain

Also on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, Red Top Mountain and Lookout is a classic trip, easy enough for families with kids. At just a mile and a half round trip and gaining only 350 feet in elevation, the views from the lookout at 5,360 feet above sea level are stunning. During the summer months, the newly restored lookout is usually open during daytime hours, giving you a chance to see the inside of a working fire lookout. This is an easy trek and a perfect option for an adventure if you’re already in the area.

Near Stevens Pass

Mount Pilchuk.
Getty Images/Mint Images RF

Mount Pilchuck

Two hours north of Seattle by car, the classic 2921 fire lookout on Mount Pilchuck is one that should not be missed. Found near Granite Falls a short drive from Highway 2, this short, 5.4-mile round trip hike is a little steep, gaining more than 2,000 feet. The combo of gain and distance makes it a good trip for intermediate hikers. There are some sections of scree and loose rock, so come prepared. Those who do make their way up will find an incredible view of the Puget Sound and North Cascades.

Evergreen Mountain

Located off Highway 2 north of the small town of Skykomish, the Evergreen Mountain Lookout is a remote destination that shows off forests and peaks of the region. At just 2.8 miles round trip, the drive here may take you longer than the hike itself, but if you pair this with a trip to Leavenworth, it’ll be totally worth it. On this hike, you gain 1,400 feet of elevation, making it quite steep for the short distance—a pretty advanced hike. The views at the lookout are impressive enough, but the true draw to this hike is the remoteness and solitude you’ll find.

Alpine Lookout

Above Lake Wenatchee, the Alpine Lookout is a great option for those already in the region. A few hours from Seattle, this 10-mile-round-trip trail climbs 2,600 feet before showing you a truly magnificent view from the top. The hike is a good, moderate adventure, climbing through old-growth forests and up the hillside to the last remaining lookout above Stevens Pass. With views of Mount Rainier, Mount Stuart, and Glacier Peak, you may never want to leave.

Near Mount Rainier

Tolmie Peak.

Gobblers Knob

As one of the strangest named hikes in Washington State, Gobblers Knob is a fun lookout to reach in Mount Rainier National Park. Eleven miles round trip, the trail here is for moderate hikers who are comfortable gaining 2,500 feet in elevation over that distance. The reason to come here, like many a lookout, is definitely the views. You’ll bask in the glory of the region’s mountains: Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mt. St. Helens rise up in the east, while the Olympic Mountains are visible off to the west. The star of the show is ahead of you, with mindblowing views of Mount Rainier and Tahoma Glacier.

High Rock Lookout

High Rock Lookout, built as a fire lookout in 1925, is one of the most spectacular places to stand and gaze at the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. With views almost as dizzying as the 600-foot vertical drop at your feet while you stand facing Mount Rainier, High Rock Lookout is a true bucket-list hike. The easy-to-follow trail climbs 1,365 feet in 1.6 miles, making it a bit of work for those not used to the climbs of the Cascades. While some consider it steep, this local favorite trail is frequented by visitors of all ages and hiking skills. After you reach the top and see the view, you’ll understand why.

Tolmie Peak

The drive to Tolmie Peak is just 72 miles from Seattle, but expect it to take a few hours. As you approach Mowich Lake, the paved road fades away, leaving you with a bumpy, gravel road to the trailhead. The effort is worth it though. This hike is a classic Pacific Northwest trek, letting you explore a small section of the Wonderland Trail. To reach the lookout, you’ll hike 7.5 miles round trip and gain 1,100 feet in elevation, but the hike goes by quickly. You’ll pass forests, lakes, wildlife, and wildflowers as you work your way up. Once atop Tolmie Peak, the views of Eunice Lake and Mount Rainier are staggering.

Shriner Peak

A few hours drive from Seattle in Mount Rainier National Park, the Shriner Peak Lookout is a great place to get away from it all. While the trailhead is found directly off of the paved road past Crystal Mountain, few hikers take this trail. Their loss is your gain, as the 8.5-mile-round-trip trail gives off views in all directions. While it does climb up more than 3,000 feet in elevation, those who make the slog up the slope will have wildflowers in the summer and fall colors in September and early October, with unrivaled mountain views on clear days.

Mount Fremont

Starting at Mount Rainier’s Sunrise region, the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail is a yet another classic hike that shows off the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest. From the top of this 1930s lookout, you’ll be able to see the Olympic Mountains, the tall peaks of the Cascades, and the wilderness around Grand Park. To get here, you’ll have to hike 5.6 miles round trip and gain just 900 feet of elevation. Not bad for being less than two hours from Seattle.

Glacier Peak

, , WA 98241

Snoqualmie Pass

1001 State Route 906, Snoqualmie, WA


, , WA 98801

Crystal Mountain

, , WA 98022

Mount Rainier

, , WA 98304

Wonderland Trail

Wonderland Trail, , WA